Serenity: Those Left Behind and Serenity: Better Days by Joss Whedon & Brett Matthews and Will Conrad
Before I left the USA in September 2002, I saw the first episode of Firefly (not the pilot – in their infinite wisdom, Fox had decided not to show that first). I didn’t see the remaining episodes until I bought the DVD box set a couple of years after that, but it was a great purchase and worth the wait. I really enjoyed this Western-meets-Sci-Fi series and was delighted when it was revived as a film (although I’ve never been a Browncoat). It seemed the logical extension to pick up the series in comic book form.
Serenity: Those Left Behind is a three-issue series that acts as a prequel to the film. The story is by Whedon & Matthews, with a script by Matthews (Whedon’s former assistant on his television shows) and art by Brazilian artist Conrad, whose work I’d never seen before. The crew are on a job, as usual, and then things get tricky with two men with blue hands are on their tale as well as Agent Dobson (a call back to the TV series, who I thought was dead, rather than just having his eye shot out). It also involves a battle during the war (a cameo from mobster Badger), and ends the story with Inara and Shepherd Book off Serenity and the securing of River by the Alliance has been given to another agent, who looks familiar if you’ve seen the film.
The story isn’t as special as one would hope for the connecting tale between the series and the film, and feels more like positioning of pieces. The dialogue is okay, with the occasional glimpse of the magic from the show (and Chinese characters for the Mandarin), but it doesn’t sing like it should – perhaps because Matthews scripted. The art is okay, competent but nothing special; the only trouble I have is that the likenesses aren’t great – it’s kind of important in a book that is derived from a television source (much like my thoughts on the Buffy the Vampire Slayer comic book).
This first book has a purpose, which is more than can be said for the second trade. Better Days is a story set within the time frame of the television series – as such, it doesn’t have a specific purpose to exist. There is a nice idea in this story – what would happen if the crew actually got all the money they would need on a job? – but it gets submerged in a story about Alliance hunting for a Dust Devil (a radical within the Independent ranks, considered as terrorists by the Alliance), which isn’t quite as interesting as perhaps they thought. The story also ends quite weakly, with the money being lost and Mal and Inara having a discussion that perhaps needs the actors emoting and using pauses to suggest the subtext – unfortunately, the art and the speech balloons don’t quite do the job.
The art is slightly uneven, especially after the first book – some scenes are sharply delineated and focussed, whereas other pages are softer and looser without purpose. This is particularly noticeable compared with the fantastic triptych cover by Adam Hughes, which is absolutely fabulous (the covers for the first series were very good, with artists such as Hughes, Tim Bradstreet, John Cassaday, Leinil Yu, Jo Chen and Sean Phillips). I would love to see Hughes drawing the Serenity book – his likenesses are perfect and he brings the characters through in the emotion on the faces.
Better Days does have one thing going for it – the second issue has the dreams of the crew if they had all the money in the universe, which are very funny and spot-on, and made me want the series to be back on our screens. The same issue also has the hilarious line from Jane: ‘… and then I stick it in?’ So it’s not all bad, but there’s not much to recommend. In summary: Those Left Behind, good; Better Days, not so good. And perhaps Whedon could have more input. I’ll leave you with the best thing about the series: Adam Hughes’ triptych cover.