Comic Book Review: Ambassador of the Shadows by Jean-Claude Mézières and Pierre Christin
The universe is vast, and intelligent life has arisen on many worlds. Over millennia, these different lifeforms have spread out from their points of origin and met each other. Sometimes, these meetings have led to friendly interaction, sometimes they have ended in interspecies war. No one remembers precisely when, or who did it, but an artificial habitable environment was created to serve as a meeting place for diplomats. Each new species has added on to that space station to create Point Central, our last, best hope for peace.
Now at last it is Earth’s turn to preside over the Council in the Hall of Screens, and the new ambassador from that planet has big plans. Plans so big, he needs to be guarded by top spatio-temporal agents Valerian and Laureline.
Valerian and Laureline is a French comic book series originally published from 1967 to 2010, very popular in European comics, and an influence on the look and feel of the movie The Fifth Element. A new live-action movie version is coming out this summer, so I thought I’d check in on the source material.
The future Earth civilization, Galaxity, is based on time travel technology, which their space travel utilizes for faster than light speed. This technology is dangerous in the wrong hands, thus the need for special time/space agents.
Valerian is a native of the 28th Century, and initially is quite respectful of authority, and does not question his orders, even when they seem ethically dubious. That said, he is a good-hearted fellow who does the right thing as he sees it when the chips are down. While in Middle Ages France, he recruited Laureline as a guide, and she proved so effective that he brought her home with him as an agent.
While Laureline is a fast learner who quickly adjusts to her new surroundings, she has an outsider’s view of them. A fiery redhead, Laureline is impulsive and suspicious of authority figures, especially when their behavior is fishy. (She initially was scheduled to be a “girl of the week” but was so well-received by the audience that she became the co-star.)
Earth’s ambassador initially emphasizes the “ass”, but that quickly becomes moot, as both he and Valerian are abducted by mysterious parties immediately upon arrival at Point Central. Laureline must track them down through the labyrinthine construction and clashing cultures of the diplomatic station. Comic relief is provided by a cowardly protocol officer Laureline dragoons into service as her sidekick.
The story becomes something of a shaggy dog when things going on in the background make the heroes’ actions irrelevant in the big picture, but this volume is important to the continuity because it introduces two recurring elements. The Grumpy Transmuter from Bluxte is an astonishingly rare animal that can create copies of any item it ingests; since it’s a tiny animal with a small mouth, it’s limited to things like gems and pharmaceuticals. Since the galactic community has no common currency, it’s like a portable cash machine and becomes Laureline’s pet. Also, the Shingouz, greedy information brokers who will dispense helpful data in exchange for large payments. Laureline becomes one of their favorite customers and they frequently appear in later stories.
The art is good, with the setting allowing the artist to go wild with interesting alien designs. I’m not a fan of the coloring, though, which is often garish and inconsistent. In particular, the humans often have bright orange skin.
There’s some violence, but it’s non-lethal, and one scene takes place in an alien brothel where we see some scantily-clad aliens (including Laureline in a disguise.) Say a PG-13 rating.
Recommended to fans of science fiction adventure and/or French comics.
And now a special bonus review of The City of Shifting Waters, which is as of 5/13/17 available for free download on Kindle. This is an earlier adventure, when Laureline was still a new partner for Valerian. A mad scientist named Xombul has escaped confinement and used a one-way device to travel to New York City in 1986.
Time voyages to that era are forbidden as global disaster, including melting of the polar ice caps, wiped out the existing civilizations, and there’s a blank spot three centuries long in the history books. It’s not clear what Xombul is up to, but he must be stopped, so Valerian is sent back.
The secret time portal in the Statue of Liberty becomes inoperable shortly after Valerian arrives when the statue collapses, and the agent is pressed into service by a gang looting the flooded city. While Valerian does manage to find a clue as to what Xombul is doing, he can’t do much with it.
Until Laureline shows up. When Valerian didn’t report back in, she went to the time portal in Brazil and worked her way up to New York. Reunited, the time agents make a deal with the leader of the looters, Sun Rae. Since there are no historical records of this period, one petty warlord or another makes no difference but allowing Xombul to take over would change the future unpredictably. They’ll let Sun Rae keep any 1980s science Xombul has gathered in exchange for his help against the intruder.
Turns out Xombul has big plans indeed, and intends to spread his “benevolent” rule over all of space-time! Will our heroes (and their not so heroic ally) be able to stop him before the future vanishes?
The faces are a bit more cartoony in this volume; perhaps the artist hadn’t quite settled his style yet. Valerian also comes off a bit more sexist, with some stupid remarks.
Thankfully, even in this cartoonier style, Sun Rae (who’s presumably African-American) doesn’t look too much like a racist stereotype. When he’s first introduced, we learn he was a flutist before the Great Disaster, and he’s pretty sharp, instantly grasping the advantages of having scientific knowledge once he’s alerted to the idea. He also doesn’t go out of his way to be evil despite his ruthlessness.
Xombul’s a bit more of a stereotype, given to explaining his brilliant plans to his enemies before disposing of them, and wanting to try out new cool gadgets on human subjects before they’ve been completely tested. His captive slightly saner scientist, Schroeder, is clearly based on Jerry Lewis in The Nutty Professor but is better at social skills.
The writing isn’t quite up to the peak of the series, but is pulpy good fun.
Here’s a trailer for the movie!