When we left Valerian and Laureline at the end of Wrath of Hypsis, Earth, Galaxity, and most of the human race vanished in a space-time paradox. Valerian and Laureline still wander the galaxy, thanks to a favor called in to the Hypsis "gods", but they no longer have the backing or the money of humanity's superpower behind them. Since then, their adventures have focused on providing for themselves as smugglers with an aging spaceship. But at the planet of Rubanis (last seen in Ghosts of Inverloch), the couple's luck has finally run down alongside their spaceship. Repairing a spaceship from a model line that no longer exists and no longer has spare parts is prohibitively expensive, and Valerian and Laureline do not have the money required.
Salvation shuffles in on the clawed feet of the stool pigeon shingouz, alien spies who have a job for their good friends. For a 10% cut of the profits, of course. Colonel T'Loc of Rubanis needs a pair of spies to sneak into a region of the planet known as the Circle of Power, once the seat of power giving orders to the government, now nothing but a font of gibberish. Valerian and Laureline accept, as the deal will cover their repairs twice over, and are reunited with Laureline's favorite pet--a Grumpy Transmuter of Bluxte able to copy any jewel he eats. With the help of an amorous and reckless cab driver named S'Traks, Valerian and Laureline must navigate the undergrounds and factions inhabiting Rubanis to find a way into the Circle of Power.
Strangely, in Rubanis, the circle with the least power is the commercial class, who suffers the violence and the consequences of the other circles' fights. While the other classes are able to influence their futures, all the merchants and financial folks can do in the face of adversity is accept it--or hurl themselves out a window. The transnational mega-corporation dystopias favored by cyberpunk and 1990s American science fiction contemporary to The Circles of Power is not evident here.
The characters continue to develop from their Ghosts of Inverloch reboot. Valerian now has a rival for his Laureline in S'Traks, although Laureline isn't swayed by the cabbie's advances--or the kiss the cabbie forces on her. His hyperfocus on the mission and the need to work with S'Traks means that Valerian remains rather passive in driving away his rival. He remains tactically adept but socially inept, an annoyance to be sure, but still light years away from his pre-Ghosts of Inverloch Flanderizing into idiocy. Laureline has taken a page from her Valerian and is not above the occasional burst of violence when needed. However, she still uses her charm first to maneuver into the best position possible before striking. Instead of the movie's portrayal of her as a sullen Action Girl, Laureline in the comics is an opportunist that uses her quick wit, charm, and a smile to create plenty of opportunities for a sucker punch. And she'll get plenty of opportunities for such when she falls into the clutches of the underworld faction. Fortunately for Valerian, her attraction to him never wavers. The shingouz even show a bit of character development, as their previously vaunted negotiation skills are now only useful for dickering an ever-declining share of Valerian and Laureline's transactions. ("1% and that's our final offer.")
The art remains consistent with recent volumes, relying on the contrast between palettes of reds and blue instead of a more natural coloration. Valerian remains a heroic image, although the crags and shadows deepening on his face indicate he's approaching middle age. Laureline has grown completely out of her teenage years, and her poses in many panels turn into preening. The effect can be jarring as Laureline's poses are for the reader and not a harmonious composition with the other elements of the panels. In other words, Laureline has become a fanservice character--as a quick flip through the more blatant Hostages of Ultralum can attest. Also as jarring, the new characters' designs are more cartoonish than in previous volumes. This comparison is not helped by S'Traks' uncanny resemblance to the aviator Dinky Little of the 1980s' cartoon The Littles, nor by crime boss Na'Zultra's KISS groupie makeup.
November 2017 marks the 50th year of Valerian and Laureline, a year that will finally see the translation of the last volumes of the long-running series printed in English. And perhaps we will also see confirmation of the sequel to Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets that filmmaker Luc Beeson has been teasing.