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Serenity: Better Days and Other Stories (Vol. 2)
Serenity: The Shepard's Tale (Vol. 3)
Serenity: Leaves on the Wind (Vol. 4)
My first venture into the digital comics was the four volumes that have been published for the Serenity franchise. If you're not familiar, Serenity was a movie that came out in 2005, as a continuation of the short-lived but amazing TV show Firefly. These comics take place over a span of the timeline, mostly being used to fill in gaps between the show and the movie. Volume 4, Leaves on the Wind, is the official follow-up to the movie.
Out of the gate, let's make one thing clear: there will be spoilers here. I'll try to keep the comic spoilers to a minimum, but if you haven't seen the show or movie, turn back now. Then come back after you've watched it, because holy crap, western in space. Seriously, this show was so underrated.
Those Left Behind is a mini-series that was put out in 2005 as a bridge between the show and the movie. The crew of Serenity are attempting a heist on a border planet, while Shepard Book is giving a sermon as a diversion. Another team steals the job from under them, and alert the townspeople to Mal and his crew. Shepard Book "borrows" some transport, and the team race to the ship.
The Hands of Blue reach out to Lawrence Dobson for help in locating River and Simon Tam. I'll admit, when I was reading the comic I was scratching my head trying to remember who this character was. Turns out he's the Alliance agent in the pilot episode of Firefly, who Mal shot in the eye and left for dead on Whitefall. It's been awhile since I've watched the show, and the comic doesn't really offer any hints. I had to look up information online to figure out who he was.
The crew return to Persephone, and take another job from Badger, another character from the show. Refusing to detour for Inara's duties as a Companion, Mal gets in a fight with Book over the validity of his word.
The job goes south, and both the ground crew and those left on the ship are left facing adversaries with Dobson and the Hands of Blue. We're left with Inara's departure from Serenity, and Shepard Book announcing his own intentions of leaving the ship.
This was a good bridge, even though it wasn't everything I wanted it to be. I was hoping we'd get an explanation of Haven (the world Book ends up on in the movie) and perhaps a little more information as to why Inara chose to leave in the first place. There just wasn't a lot here in terms of character development. But the story was good, and it was nice to see the return of some characters from the show.
The artwork is decent, though it's nothing like the covers. This is an issue I have with a lot of the Dark Horse media tie-in graphic novels. They use photo-realistic art for the covers, and not for the comic itself. The people tend to feel a little flat in the art, recognizable only by a few trademark differences.
Serenity: Better Days and Other Stories collects a variety of short stories into one volume. Better Days is another mini-series that was set between the show and movie. However, it takes place before Those Left Behind.
Better Days has the crew pull a job, only to be hounded by a new security drone from the Alliance. They manage to disable and steal it, in exchange for money that's been hidden in a temple. Upon collecting their payday, the crew realize that it is far more money than they were expecting. Several of the characters share their fantasies of what they would do with such wealth, as they take a vacation to a luxury world.
Inara's client is an agent who hunts down "Dust Devils"--rogue Browncoats who continued to attack after the War and are considered terrorists. He targets Mal and Serenity, leaving the crew to deal with a standoff.
This was a good story, with the crew all together. It was fun to see the different fantasies of the characters, and it fleshed them out. Overall, I really enjoyed it. It was also interesting to see the Alliance's view of remaining Browncoats, especially as it makes a lot of sense. We don't see Mal and the crew as bad guys, because they're lovable scoundrels. But there are Browncoats out there still acting like the War is on, and yeah--they would be considered terrorists by the ruling government.
The other stories in this volume are shorter. "The Other Half" features the crew trying to transport an injured passenger, who is their cargo for their current job. River detects something isn't right about the man, and her psychic abilities save the day.
"Downtime" is a short featuring a bit of daily life on board the Serenity. Zoe and Wash enjoy some quality time together, Kaylee and Inara fantasize about food, and Jayne comes to Simon with a sensitive problem.
"Float Out" is set after the movie, and features three men christening a new ship. They share stories of their lost friend Wash, reminiscing on their past adventures. "It's Never Easy" is also set after the movie, well into Zoe's pregnancy, as the crew depart for supplies and a would-be passenger tries to steal Serenity.
I enjoyed the shorts collected in Volume 2. They provided a bit of character development, and were fun. My least favorite was "Float Out," mostly because the three men telling tales are people we've never met, and Wash barely features in the stories or artwork. It's all mostly about clever flying, so is mostly action scenes of ships. It was apparently the first reveal of Zoe being pregnant, but as I read the volumes out of order, I already knew about it, so the reveal was wasted.
The Shepard's Tale gives us the much desired backstory of Shepard Book. Told in flashbacks, we get glimpses of his life leading up to when he joined the crew of Serenity. I won't give anything away here--but it was a fascinating take on the character.
My one complaint is that, in hindsight, it makes the events in the episode "Safe" make less sense. But as a backstory, it was great.
Finally, we get to Leaves on the Wind. Oh my god. This book. Honestly, it's everything I could hope for as a follow-up to the movie.
The crew of Serenity, minus Jayne, has gone into hiding after the events of the movie. Zoe has her baby, and complications demand that she be taken to a hospital. She begs Mal to leave her, knowing that she'll be captured, so that the Alliance doesn't get her baby too.
The crew then have to figure out how to rescue her from a remote prison planet, while the New Resistance recruits Jayne to help them find Mal.
I'm not going to say anything else about it, because honestly, this is one that you want to go into spoiler free. All I can say is, I can't wait for more.
The Serenity comics are solid pieces of work. Joss Whedon had a hand in all but Leaves on the Wind, which he passed off to his brother Zack. However, they are not good jumping on points for those not familiar with the series. These are true tie-in pieces, meaning that watching the show and movie are required before reading.
Final Verdict: If you're a fan of the series, absolutely check out these comics. I don't think you'll be disappointed. If you're interested in the series but haven't been exposed to it yet, start with the TV show, watch Serenity, and then tackle the comics.
Rating: 4.5 out of 5
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