Writer Pierre Christin and artist Jean-Claude Mézières' spatio-temporal agents Valerian and Laureline return in the second book of their series to be published by Cinebook, The Empire Of A Thousand Planets.
It is the 28th century and the two agents have been sent to discover if Syrte, the planet at the heart of an empire of 1000 worlds, is a danger to Earth. Working undercover on the planet they discover that the ruling family are remote from the people who instead look to the mysterious masked sect known as the Enlighteneds. Their cover is soon blown and, despite being captured by the Enlighteneds, the pair make their escape into the swamps before returning to the city and meeting up with the leader of the rebellious Merchant Guild. As the Enlighteneds are affecting their trade, the Guild are preparing an attack on the Enlighteneds planet of Slohm and request Valerian and Laureline's help.
Christin's plot is a fairly complex affair with the various groupings on the planet being introduced in sequence before everyone heads off to a different world for the final battle, although there are rather too many plot holes when thought about too deeply such as an empire of 1000 planets where space travel is being curtailed or it being extremely distant from Earth but the Earth is worried that this empire poses a threat. However, unlike the previous book, The City Of Shifting Waters, the humour content has been toned back and The Empire Of A Thousand Planets makes for a pleasing, if undemanding, read.
Originally published in 1971 as the second of the now over twenty Valerian books, it does rather betray its age in the artwork which has a sixties feel to it especially with its now somewhat juvenile looking spaceship designs. Yet again compared to the previous book, Mézières art is better by leaving the humour behind and treating this book as the straight adventure title it should be. His alien landscapes are interesting and the sheer number of different characters and races that he illustrates are impressive.
The Valerian books have an impressive reputation amongst their fans with many seeing echos of Valerian in the Star Wars movies and this book includes a final page of pictures comparing six Valerian frames with Star Wars images. While I can see the similarities, one could point to many other sources that these and other Star Wars images are similar to.
Cinebook label the book as 12+ and while some parts are plot and text heavy, I don't really see any reason why it shouldn't be read by children of late primary school age. I do wonder however that if the series does get as good as it is supposed to be, why Cinebook just don't skip these early titles and get on to the supposedly better later books - after all they jump around in the original publishing sequence of other adventure titles such as Blake and Mortimer or Yoko Tsuno.
Valerian and Laureline - The Empire Of A Thousand Planets is an improvement on the first book and is a good solid read with more than enough to keep a young Star Wars fan entertained for its duration.
• There are more details of the Valerian and Laureline books on the Cinebook website.
• There is more information on the Valerian books on Jean-Claude Mézières official website (in English).
• Jean-Claude Mézières will be appearing, in the company of artist Dave Gibbons, at the BD and Comics Passion event at the Institut Francais in South Kensington, London on Saturday 8 October 2011. There are mores details of the event and how to book tickets on the Institut Francais website.
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