Sunday, June 16, 2024

Does Firefly survive its move to graphic novels?

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Firefly…oh Firefly. I was going to start this by explaining why, if you ever bring this show into a conversation, the nerds will break through walls faster than a 90s kid who hears Bill Nyes name. We all know how amazing the show, and the film that followed, were. We all know that its cancellation was the biggest travesty in the history of television and that FOX should burn to the ground because of it.

Well maybe that last part is just me.

As I mentioned the movie Serenity was amazing, it felt like two part episode of the show more than it did a movie, which made me appreciate it even more. The higher budget and extra cast, including Chiwetel Ejiofor as The Operative, were even more appreciated. Yet as much as I loved this follow-up film it was lacking in one respect, it only answered one of the great mysteries never solved in the show: why did the alliance want River so bad?

There was much more that we wanted to see, from unsolved mysteries to where and with whom our favorite characters would end up; we were only given the bare minimum to sate our appetites. This is where the comics come in. Let me start by saying this is not a review of the graphic novels. They are very good, nearly flawless even. I was pleasantly surprised in how good they are and how well they handled picking up from where the show and film left off. Instead I’ll be discussing why the four volumes of the graphic novels are a worthy successor to the series. For clarity and organization I won’t be discussing the comics based in order of release. Instead I’ll break into three sections: pre- Firefly, during Firefly and Post Serenity. Of course, this piece will assume you have read the graphic novels or don’t care about spoilers, because spoilers there shall be.

Pre – Firefly

I’ll start grand, only because I wanted so badly to read the third volume of Serenity, “The Shepard’s Tale” before any of the other graphic novels. So to vicariously live through you I’ll begin there.

Shepard Book, ever the optimistic and lovable enigma spreading the word of God throughout the galaxy, an easier feat than trying convert Mal. Though his religious practices and hairstyle (heh) are always expected to govern his choices, one thing that is never reveled is his vast knowledge of Alliance military procedure and black ops protocol. To jog your memory, totally yours and not mine; there are several moments in various episodes where Book performs an almost deus ex machina and saves Serenity and her crew. One instance of this is in the episode “Safe” when Book tells the captain of I.A.V Magellan to check his ID and gets immediate attention and another more cryptically, in Serenity, when he warns Malcolm on Haven about the Operative.

"It will always be there...waiting"
“It will always be there…waiting”

Mal does approach Book about telling him the stories of how he knows so much to which Book tells him he never will, his death soon follows on Haven and after a really heart shredding goodbye it is carved in stone that it will remain a mystery to Mal, but not to us!

The comic begins during the attack on Haven, as portrayed in Serenity, as one of the children is asking how Book met the crew of Serenity. As he lays dying the story moves systematically further and further back into his history. We see him move back from a raging alcoholic, from a disgraced military officer for the alliance and even as a violent sociopath with a talent for torture. The most significant I think is his time with the Brown-coats. From here we even get a name from him, a troubled teenager named Henry Evans, with an abusive father who joins the Brown-coats to escape his life. He becomes a sleeper in the alliance, killing a man named Derrial Book to take his identity. This comic honestly did right by me, it’s hard to imagine our own sweet Shepard to be capable of such violence. But from a character development standpoint it was so well done that we are almost thankful that Mal never learned the truth.

Mal and Zoe, our big damn hero Brown-coats. Throughout the series we are shown flashbacks and told stories about the time they both spent fighting the war of unification. The pilot episode shows us an optimistic and cheerful commander Mal but it soon fades as a major defeat at Serenity Valley breaks him, even for a first look at his character we can justify the way he acts towards religion and any sort of goodness in later episodes. Stories like the apple grenades from “War Stories” and almost the entirety of exchanges between Mal, Zoe, and Tracey in “The Message” almost paint a picture of the war for us. It’s by great surprise that in the second volume “Better Days” we learn that our beloved Zoe was once a war criminal and terrorist.

Yes, you heard that correctly.

In this story the crew happens upon a job where they disable a very powerful mechanized transformer, or gundam wing, something like that. Anyway, job well done and the crew comes into a payout big enough to make each one of them filthy rich. Yet before these shenanigans take place Inara is servicing an alliance officer ( neak peak, she has a wet dream about Mal, cue the fanboy and fangirl screams) when she learns he’s hunting what are known as Dust Devils. Apparently these are radicals who continued fighting after the war and made life a living hell for alliance brass. They were responsible for extreme acts of sabotage and terror all over the system. Though I kind of spoiled the surprise prematurely, the officer describes them as “Headstrong, suspicious, usually some kind of petty thief…”. Clearly we were misled with that description. This perhaps was one of my favourite pre-Firefly revelations, it gives Zoe way more of a personality and viewpoint towards the war which most of the time was given over to Mal. It was nice to see more back story for Zoe than just your cliche woman with attitude and power, it added substance to her character and saw what the war did to her.

It's okay Mal, we don't believe you're a terrorist
It’s okay Mal, we don’t believe you’re a terrorist


Now while the bulk of the graphic novels take place between the either “Heart of Gold” and “Objects in Space” or “Objects in Space” and Serenity, not much seems to stick out in way of the general layout of how the series presents its story. Mind you this is not a bad criticism, familiarity is a good thing when it comes to such a loved series. Yet some risks are taken and they end up being for the best. As for the timeline, Joss Whedon likes to simultaneously break our hearts while giving us a proper time setting.

In “Heart of Gold” we are left saddened by Inara’s announcement that she is leaving Serenity, and in the final episode she is gone. Since she appears in the Pre-Serenity comics and constantly reminds Mal that he needs to bring her to a port, we can safely assume they are between the two final episodes. But I digress, other than the fact that the during Firefly comics we get an ample amount of fighting between Malnara(ship for life) the true gold lies in the reuse of characters we haven’t see for a long long time.

I only mean gold in the sense of stories of course, in “Those Left Behind”, we behold 3 of the most loathsome villains we’d kinda hoped never to see again. Trick question, it’s not Nishka, we solid? If you’re like me and your second favorite episode is “Ariel” you’ll know who the first two are…”two by two, hands of blue”. The two nameless men with weird eyebrows, blue gloves, and the terrifying face melting stick(yes it melts your face, if you haven’t read the comic…well now you know) return to the fold after the crew narrowly escapes a job gone wrong. We see them on Whitefall searching for a bounty hunter in the area, using those eyebrows as radar clearly, still eagerly hunting the Tams. The bounty hunter in question is our third return and actually really surprised me and created the hook to keep me interested in the comics.

Honestly anyone could make that mistake
Honestly anyone could make that mistake. Art credit to Will Conrad

Curtain rises slowly on the ex-agent Dobson! For those of you who don’t remember him he was in the pilot episode of the series who was following Simon aboard Serenity. To paint a better picture he was also the man Malcolm shot in the face after taking a big old swig of fuck it all and creating the ever deadly Deadshot! Oh wait, wrong fandom. These three big bags of murder join together to get Mal into a trap yet only succeed in indirectly causing a rift between Mal and Book that explains why he is living on Haven in Serenity. This also includes a failed attempt at taking Serenity by stealth (go, Simon go) and taking Mal unawares on the site of a massacre during the War of Unification. I thought the theme of blind vengeance on Dobsons part, half pun intended, was a bit cliche but it didn’t take away how well done the story of “Those Left Behind” was. While only the eyebrow men make it out of this fray alive, the ending is awesome when we see them contact the Operative, giving their failed mission over to him. While keeping on the theme of returned villains, I’ll move to the final section…

Those eyebrows are the true villains of Firefly
Those eyebrows are the true villains of Firefly


“Leaves on the Wind”…possibly the worst yet, best title for the first graphic novel to take place after the events of Serenity, touché Zack Whedon. We are given a system still heavily under alliance influence but a new uprising has begun in the wake of Miranda. New brown-coats are rising all over yet still too afraid to actually do anything without a symbol to back them: the Mockingj…I mean Malcolm Reynolds! Meanwhile the alliance sends out more Operatives to hunt down the now off the grid Serenity crew. Like I stated at the start, this is not a review, especially for this comic thats very long a multi plotted so I’ll keep this to the point. Problems arise for the crew when Zoe goes into labor(good for you Wash, getting in that last shot) and complications cause internal bleeding.

In order to save her they bring to an alliance controlled area where she is treated…and arrested. Now even though Zoe is abandoned for now we see two more blasts from the past! The first I was very excited for because I hated and loved this character just for his snarky attitude, Jubal Early! His second attempt at taking Serenity is almost as laughable a failure as the first but at least this time Kaylee gets to exact sweet revenge on him with a giant wrench. Does that seem right to you?

This is the face you make when beaten by a 90lb mechanic
This is the face you make when beaten by a 90lb mechanic

I’ll admit the second the second reveal made me scream like Jonah Hill. Mal makes a deal with these new Brown-coats, he helps them liberate a facility similar to the one River was held at and they help Mal rescue Zoe from a prison planet she’s being held on. As fate would have it, the operatives are guarding the hell out of this place. So Mal employs the help of THE Operative to take them out and let me tell you that battle was really fun to read. To be fair the rest of his inclusion was fun to read, I really thought his overall character had far more depth than his film counterpart. The facility itself was a nice touch as well, we finally get to see the weapons that River was supposed to become. Just one was powerful enough to take on the whole crew along with their help.

Just incase you forgot what this looked like
Just incase you forgot what this looked like

Finally, I’ve been itching to brooch this subject because beyond everything, I’m a fanboy at heart. “Heart of Gold” and Serenity left us feeling the love and anguish in Mal and Inara’s relationship. Were they good for each other? Of course they were. The constant bickering and fighting between the two only further proved to us that they were meant to be; other than when Inara took full advantage of Mal’s unconscious mouth in “Our Mrs. Reynolds”. In “Leaves on the Wind”, we were forced to assume that they finally professed their love for one another and went at it like bunnies the way Simon and Kaylee did. My only complaint is that their relationship was not explored further, it was barely even touched upon which plays equally as bad fan service and lazy writing.

Thus being said, it’s clear I enjoyed these 4 volumes, but are they truly good enough to take the mantle where the series stood? I think the potential is there, the comics felt like the show, our favorite characters hardly changed but when they did it was expertly transitioned. They carry on the Firefly legacy to new and uncharted territories. In short, yes they do take. But what I would like to see them do is surpass it, to evolve into something new and great. Maybe we’ll get that soon since there’s a new six part comic series coming out at the end of this month and I for one am pumped to see what new direction we’ll fly to.

Images courtesy of FOX Network

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