City Of Shifting Waters – a classic? I just can’t see it.

Published On August 30, 2010 | By Richard Bruton | Comics, Reviews

Valerian and Laureline: The Ciy Of Shifting Waters

By Pierre Christin and Jean-Claude Mézières


The 28th Century Terran Empire, a world seemingly at peace, where space-time travel is commonplace and so is the Spatio-Temporal Agents Service, patrolling history and the universe to safeguard the Earth and the Empire. Two of the service’s greatest agents are Valerian and Laureline, spirited, brave and always at the heart of any trouble going.

In The City Of Shifting Waters the Galaxity’s only serious criminal Xombul has escaped, stolen a spatio-temporal ship and has headed back to 1986 New York, a crucial time in the Empire’s history, the start of the forgotten era, the time of both the great cataclysm that wiped away the existing civilisation and also the time where space-time travel was invented, an era that saw mankind’s greatest calamity and the technology appear that would eventually save it and allow the current Empire to exist.

The adventures of Valerian and Laureline is, so I read, something of a classic bandes dessine and one of the top selling titles in Darguard’s history, with it’s influence everywhere in modern science fiction. (See this Will Eisner introduction to a previous English language adaptation for just how highly regarded it is).

But to me, it’s a classic that I don’t think has aged particularly well at all. 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.

(That’s the plot explained right there. From The City Of Shifting Waters, published by Cinebook)

And the rough, overly simplified cartooning just looks plain wrong, almost lazy at points. Although perhaps the most frustrating thing to my eye is the occasional panel or even rarer, the occasional page where something fantastic appears, some lovely line, a figure that jumps out as an example of what Mézières is obviously capable of. For example, in the page above, panel 1, the line of Laureline’s face is fantastic, but the rest of the page just turns me off completely.

Cinebook have been putting out some magnificent series, some good series that have flaws and sadly, just occasionally, a title I finish and wonder whether I’m just plain wrong when I think it’s pretty bloody awful. Valerian and Laureline is one of the latter I’m afraid.

But like I said, it’s an acknowledged classic, it’s a huge seller, it’s lauded across Europe. I’m just one voice, saying what I thought of it. You may argue I’m wrong. It has been known before.

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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.

6 Responses to City Of Shifting Waters – a classic? I just can’t see it.

  1. Sérgio says:

    If Valérian as a series is considered a classic it’s not because of this volume.

    This series began to be really great with the sixth book I think. The fact is that this series spans almost the whole comics career of Christin and Méziéres so obviously they are not at their best in this, they were just beginning.

    But I think City Of Shifting Waters has it’s moments. The story isn’t very good but watching New York completely flooded or Valérian and Laureline bouncing inside transparent bubbles on top of a lava field is pretty cool.

  2. Tony McGee says:

    To be fair, Cinebook are reprinting it from (almost) the beginning, and both Christin and Mézières have improved greatly over the 40-odd years since Valerian began. In later volumes Mézières refines his art into a less cartoony style with impressively detailed and influential backdrops. Perhaps one to re-evaluate later in the series. I’m just glad that after previous aborted attempts, such a classic is finally getting the translation it deserves.

    • Richard says:

      Yep, I knew this one would get folks a little riled. And yes, I know it’s only the first volume and is meant to get better as it goes on, but I have to stand by what I said about what I read. I think I’ll be taking Sergio’s advice and only revisit the series with volume 6. And then I’ll let you know if the early volumes are the exception to the series’ supposed brilliance.

  3. Patric Nilsson says:

    I disagree completely, this series is a masterpiece, the best sci-fi comic I’ve ever read. And I disagree that you only should start reading at book 6. Book 3 “World Without Stars” is really good, and funny. I also like book 5. “Birds Of The Master” very much. They are both great adventures and are studies on equal rights and the nature of power (albeit on a lighter level). The artwork is also improving significantly with each book. One mustn’t forget either that this series has always adressed, at the time of each books original release date, current political and cultural issues. So if you have no idea of political developments in Europe during the last 40 years you may loose that extra dimension to the books.

  4. Sérgio says:

    @Richard: I didn’t have a problem with you not liking this book (I don’t think it’s a masterpiece either and everybody is entitled to their opinion). I only thought you were too hasty to jump into conclusions about the whole series because of a first book.

    I’m glad you’re willing to take my advice about reading later Valérian comics 🙂


    @Patric: Well, everyone must have different opinions about Valérian. I haven’t read all the books (just about 8 or so) but the sixth volume (called “Ambassador of the Shadows “) was the first one I thought was great and, I think, is widely considered one of the first really great Valérian books.

    I also read “World Without Stars” and though it was OK. Didn’t like the conclusion of the story (the conflict was too easily appeased) but the art has evolved a lot.

    This debate made want to read more Valérian, I must read the other one you mentioned 🙂


    BTW, my favorite Valérian is the two-parts story “Metro Chatelet…”/”Brooklyn Station…”. It’s a mix of realistic spy story with the most far-out sci-fi/fantasy and it’s just amazing.

    I also recommend you guys to read this review about Valérian:

    Really good article.

  5. Niels says:

    @Sergio: I agree. Metro Chatelet/Brooklyn Station are two of the comics I’ve read most times – I’ve owned my copies for almost 30 years. The early Valerian comics are not that great – but the stories are important to understand the entire story of the series. The complete arc started off as forgettable – but in my opinion it ended almost worse. The last 2-3 parts (19-21) didn’t have the cohesion and quality of the comics from the 80ies.