“The first woman I fell in love with was probably Laureline,” Luc Besson, the French director behind the forthcoming film Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets, said last year. “She was totally free and badass, and ... was a very modern heroine at the time.” Besson was talking about one half of the duo at the center of Valérian and Laureline, the legendary sci-fi comic series his new movie is based on. Written by Pierre Christin and illustrated by Jean-Claude Mézières, the comics debuted in 1967 and follow the two eponymous “spatio-temporal agents” who work for an organization called Galaxity, and, later, as mercenaries. Valérian and Laureline travel as partners—both professional and romantic—through space and time to resolve conflicts and foil villainous plots.
In the 50 years since its inception, Valérian and Laureline has had a significant influence on sci-fi, including films like The Fifth Element and the Star Wars series. Part of the Franco-Belgian genre of comics known as bandes dessinées, the series is immensely popular in Europe, and Valérian and Laureline are among European comics’ most iconic couples. Yet the series—new special anthologies of which are being published this summer—remains little-known in America. And despite the adoration of fans like Besson, and predating sci-fi heroines like Star Wars’ Princess Leia and Alien’s Ellen Ripley, Laureline herself rarely receives the critical attention she deserves. Arguably the heart of the comics, she’s a remarkably powerful, and believable, feminist figure who still resonates today as a “very modern heroine”—though Laureline first arrived in an age when women in sci-fi were rarely presented as more than crude stereotypes.