Thanks to the hype surrounding them, you’ve probably heard of Wonder Woman, Spider-Man: Homecoming, Logan, and the upcoming Thor: Ragnarok and Justice League. But there is one other comic book-based movie this year that you may not know about that also deserves your attention: Valerian And The City Of A Thousand Planets.
“Valerian and what?” you say? Well, the upcoming Luc Besson film (The Fifth Element, Leon, Lucy) is an adaptation of popular French science fiction comic series Valerian And Laureline, created by writer Pierre Christin and artist Jean-Claude Mezieres.
First published in France’s Pilote magazine in 1967, the series is, arguably, one of the most important sci-fi comic books of all time, its blend of adventure, science fiction, and space opera influencing the likes of Stars Wars, The Fifth Element, and other science fiction properties.
Valerian And Laureline is set in a future when humans have discovered how to travel through time and space almost instantaneously, and where Earth’s capital, Galaxity, has become the heart of a Terran Galactic Empire. In this future, the Spatio-Temporal Service is an agency that protects the empire from temporal paradoxes caused by rogue time travellers, and the dashing Valerian is one of its best agents.
In the first Valerian And Laureline story ever published, Bad Dreams, Valerian travelled back in time to 11th century France. There, he meets Laureline, a beautiful red-haired peasant girl who helps him on his mission and eventually follows him back to the future to train as a spatio-temporal agent and become his partner.
In a 1984 interview published in Solaris magazine, Christin said that the main idea for Valerian was a hero who is the opposite of the sort of characters dominating the market at the time – American superheroes, and fearless Franco-Belgian boy scouts like Tintin.
“I wanted to create a character that would be totally untraditional on that front. Valerian is a banal character; he doesn’t have any extraordinary means of action,” he said in the interview.
Laureline, however, was a different matter all together. While initially portrayed as more of a sidekick in Valerian’s shadow, she gradually grows into the real driving force behind the duo. “She’s the one who keeps things moving; she thinks faster than Valerian,” Christin said in the Solaris interview.
The writer also said that the character came about by chance, and that he and Mezieres “fell for her” while producing Bad Dreams. In an era when most female comic book characters were portrayed as bimbos or damsels in distress, Christin reckoned that Laureline was one of the first “interesting and rounded-out females” in comics.
“There were readers who wanted to see something else than big-breasted females, and we got many letters saying that she was nice and interesting, so we decided to keep her,” he said.
By 1971’s World Without Stars story, Laureline had stepped out of Valerian’s shadow and proved herself worthy of having her name in the title. On the other hand, Valerian grew progressively stupider and more useless as the series went on.
With the 1984 story The Ghosts Of Inverloch, the creators eventually decided that the character had hit rock bottom and needed a boost. Commenting on the subject, Christin said that Laureline had “almost taken too much room” in the series and that “Valerian had become too pitiful”.
“There are guys who break their neck falling down; it’s when they are on the ground that you have to help them. The time has come to like Valerian,” he added.
It is worth noting that Valerian And Laureline actually predates the release of Star Wars. In fact, there were so many similarities between Valerian and Star Wars that Mezieres was reportedly “furious” after he watched the movie. He later produced a cartoon depicting Luke and Leia Skywalker meeting Valerian and Laureline at an alien bar, with Leia saying, “Fancy meeting you here”, and Laureline saying, “Oh, we’ve been hanging around here for a long time!”
Another movie that is heavily influenced by Valerian And Laureline is Besson’s 1997 cult sci-fi hit The Fifth Element. It’s not just the futuristic concepts and designs that draws from the comic, though – Mezieres himself worked on the film, producing concept art for the film in 1991.
Besson also changed the occupation of The Fifth Element’s lead character Korben Dallas (played by Bruce Willis) from a factory worker to the driver of a flying taxi after reading the Valerian And Laureline story The Circles Of Power, which features a similar character.
Following the success of Bad Dreams, Christin and Mezieres went on to produce another 21 Valerian And Laureline stories, with the final one, The Time Opener, published in 2010. The upcoming movie draws heavily from one of these, Ambassador Of Shadows (1975).
Alpha, the so-called “City Of A Thousand Planets” in the title, is based on Point Central, a vast space port featured in this story, and other elements such as the money-minded information dealer Shingouz, the shape-shifting Suffuss, and the cute (but grumpy) “converter” (a creature that can make copies of any substance in the universe) all feature as well.
Fun fact: the original comic book story was essentially a solo Laureline tale with Valerian spending almost 80% of it being kidnapped.
Ultimately, it is unlikely that Valerian And The City Of A Thousand Planets (out on Thursday) will make as much money at the box-office as Wonder Woman or Spider-Man: Homecoming. But one thing is for sure: the comic book’s legacy will live on long after the film ends its cinematic run.