Valerian & Laureline – The Land Without Stars.

Published On May 24, 2012 | By Richard Bruton | Comics, Reviews

Valerian And Laureline Volume 3: The Land Without Stars

Pierre Christin and Jean-Claude Mézières

Cinebook

When a rogue planet threatens a new Human colony, Valerian and Laureline are sent to investigate and discover a barren, rocky surface… and a whole world beneath it! The people who live inside Zahir have never seen the stars. Divided along gender lines, torn by a senseless and bloody war, they are unaware that their planet is hurtling towards disaster. To stop it, the two agents of Galaxity will have to infiltrate both sides and force a reconciliation.

Oh dear, here we go again, Volume 3 of Valerian and Laureline, one of the greatest sci-fi epics in printed form…. except I still don’t really see it. Granted, I’m warming to it, I really am. With Volume 1, I just couldn’t see it, it all seemed a little too dated and staid:

“It reads and looks to my uncultured eyes like a badly produced late 70s cartoon series, the kind with badly drawn characters against static backgrounds who always found themselves with every plot device meticulously explained to the point of near irony and every situation the hero finds himself in has some immediately available solution.”

There was more to enjoy in Volume 2:

“… still not the classic I keep being told Valerian is, but the improvement here on the first volume is profound. I can only hope that, as so many of you have promised, this series keeps on this upward curve. Because at this rate, somewhere around volume 5 or 6 I imagine I may well be agreeing with you about it being a bit of a classic.

This one starts with a problem and quickly ascends at least partway to the wonders I keep being promised. Problem first.

Valerian and Laureline is often hailed as something of a masterpiece in humanism, but all the way through The Land Without Stars the humanism has a distinct smack of chauvinism about it.

Take the first few pages and the repeating gag of Valerian delivering the farewell speech to the colonists of the four planets of the Ukbar system. He finds himself doing the space equivalent of nipping through to the billiard room for brandy whilst the little women chat about knitting or such-like:

And that feeling carries through the volume, as Christin splits up the pair to investigate the planet careering into the Ukbar system, plunging into a society split across gender lines. Valerian finds himself a slave warrior to the female amazons of the city of Malka, and Laureline a bride in the male dominated city of Valsennar. But there’s little subtlety, little avoidance of the worst stereotypes. And unfortunately it seems so ancient, so out of date. Am I being hopelessly reactionary? Overly sensitive? Should I simply look at it as a product of its time?

But what saves this one is that, once you look past the sexism, there’s something important here; Laureline comes into her own, isolated from Valerian, the conflict is solved through negotiation, thinking, diplomacy, the worlds are saved by adapting the political and social ideologies of the people, not through force. It relies not on force, but on the inventiveness of the protagonists, and of course, the inventiveness of the man writing these protagonists.

And even better, what really makes me think that, even though it’s not there yet, but at some point I’m going to be fully on-board with all the fans is sheer out and out epic stuff going on in the sci-fi, specifically the quite wonderful planetary geography of the planet Zahir:

Yes, okay, hollow planets are nothing new, but there’s a real sense of the “wow” in the manner in which Christin, and especially Mézières just throws us into the situation. That sort of legendary imagining is the sort of stuff that I wanted much more of.

But sadly, after that early bit of rather impressive wonder it does settle down to a somewhat pedestrian affair, although like I said, I did appreciate Christin adopting a far more thoughtful resolution than much sci-fi manages.

So, just like with Volume 2, I find myself coming to the end of another Valerian and Laureline review with a sense of “maybe I’m missing something?”, or maybe it’s simply, as I keep being told, a series that takes off in a couple of volumes time. This one was good enough, but it’s still not up there in grand epic stature yet.

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About The Author

Richard Bruton
- Started in comics retail aged 16 at Nostalgia & Comics, Birmingham. Now located in Yorkshire, he's written for the Forbidden Planet International Blog since 2007. Specialising in UK Comics and All-Ages comics, Richard's day job in a primary school allowed him to build the best children's graphic novel library in the country.

7 Responses to Valerian & Laureline – The Land Without Stars.

  1. Martin Wisse says:

    No, you’re right, the early volumes of Valerian aren’t that good and now somewhat dated. It’s only with the fifth volume, The Birds of the Master that the series really starts to find its voice.

  2. Patric Nilsson says:

    You’re also judging it like it was a completely new product, a bit unfair. Of course, some attitudes will seem old-fashioned now, more than thirty years later. When the reality is that Valerian was progressive when it came out. I simply think that you’ve already decided not to like this series.

    • Richard says:

      Patric; Nope, not decided to dislike it, but not finding it the masterpiece it’s often described as. And as Martin says in the comments, and many others have said in the past, the series is meant to really pick up soon. I’ll keep reading, with an open mind.

  3. Patric Nilsson says:

    I agree that “The Birds Of The Master” is really good, but I also like this one and “Welcome To Aflolol”. I still maintain though that you can’t judge it by todays standards. But I’m glad your adamant that you haven’t decided one way or another. :)

    • Richard says:

      Absolutely. I’d love to be blown away by this, I really would. And if, or when, that happens, I’ll gladly admit it!
      It has happened before – I’ve been wrong on things, and when I’ve realised it, I’m quick to come forward and say just how wrong I was. fingers crossed I will with this.

  4. Grumpy Frenchman says:

    “Heroes of the Equinox” and “Ambassador of the Shadows” really are the two that ought to do the mind-blowing. Oh, and “Sur les terres truquees” which English title we haven’t decided yet. :p

    The chauvinism in the book really is a product of its time and culture. This is the volume where it’s pretty much established that, while there will still be a condescending male attitude in the future (hard to argue against it even now…), Laureline for one isn’t going to take crap from anyone, not even her own good-hearted Valerian. So while the background discourse and setting may reflect the 60s and 70s way of life, the authors do give us a heroine who’s REALLY a heroine, not a sidekick. In fact, several of the later volumes almost make Valerian feel like a sidekick, while Laureline does all the thinking!

    What it means is that, unfortunately (or not, in a way) this is definitely a piece of work that should be judged in the context of its time and place of creation.
    In my book, it IS a classic. For the fact that it’s one of the earliest and best of the few sci-fi offerings from France. For the visual influence it’s had. For that female lead. For the humanism. For the quality of the stories (overall!) It’s a reference, unavoidable if you speak of French BD.

    That doesn’t mean you must love it! :) Dickens might be a classic of litterature, and I can see why, but it still bores me to tears!

  5. Latecomer says:

    “the humanism has a distinct smack of chauvinism about it. … [Valerian] finds himself doing the space equivalent of nipping through to the billiard room for brandy whilst the little women chat about knitting or such-like.”

    I get the impression you missed the satire of this bit. The Galaxity colonists are established as a modern (for the 1970s) western culture with traditional gender roles (mild patriarchy, if you like). This foreshadows the “battle of the sexes” theme of the coming adventure. It helps relate the outlandish societies in the hollow world to something more familiar, and shows us the main characters’ background so their culture clash becomes clearer (e.g. Valerian, used to being part of the respected elite by his sex and position, is reduced to a slave).

    Besides, rather than belittling women, it shows Valerian as a drunken buffoon (the similarity to the pampered, perfumed patriarch of Laureline’s captors is surely no coincidence), while Laureline is the responsible, level-headed one. Quite the role-reversal at the time!

    Sure, the gender commentary is a bit outdated 40 years later, but this particular bit is not reactionary in the way you suggest.

    Also, I would argue that in this volume the series is starting to truly come into its own in terms of the drawing, with well-rendered characters and magnificent environments. Because it has been so influential (this particular album was pretty much pillaged by the Star Wars movies) it may not seem as much of a revelation today, but everything from the nomads who live in houses on the back of giant caterpillar-like creatures to the alien cities to the zeppelin vs. dragonfly battles are still plenty wow-worthy, in my opinion.