[Review] - Serenity: Leaves On The Wind

Courtesy of Dark Horse

We need to talk about the Whedon Brothers. See, Joss has went about the world creating something of a reputation for himself, as a creative force. He can write, he can direct, he can make huge portions of the populace fall in love with his genre works. He is a world builder, but more importantly he is a character designer. The reason his works are as popular, and generate the kind of crazed followings they do, is that he builds his worlds on the foundations of complex and evolving characters. Even on the Avengers, when he was working with previously established characters, he breathed new life through new understanding, into Black Widow, and the Hulk, and even Loki. There certainly would not have been talk of solo films for each of those characters before Whedon reminded the audience of what all they were capable.

And then you have his brothers, Jed and Zack. Both are writers in their own right, but both have an issue of falling back into their brother's worlds. Both have worked out in the wider world, but both inevitably seem to fall back into the gravity of their elder brother's works. Jed is co-runner of Agents of SHIELD, a show Joss pitched and nurtured (and is almost certainly the only reason it was piloted, let alone picked up). And Zack has just finished the six issue miniseries Serenity: Leaves On The Wind, touted as being the first substantial canonal continuation of the Firefly/Serenity story, picking up nine months after the end of the film. And it has very much the feel of a younger brother playing with his bigger brother's toys. The pieces are all here, but it lacks the spark that makes it special. There is a lot of drawing on the past, and not in a good way, and a lot of filler in order to top up the full six issues. And sadly, it adds very little to a verse so many adore.

Hit the jump for the review, which contains spoilers that take to the sky, to see where it leads.

Off the bat, the first issue has a lot of promise. In nine months, much has changed on Serenity, as much as one might expect. Like the gap between films, the characters haven't stood still, while still remaining moored to their general comfort zones. The ghost of Wash doesn't just hang over the ship by way of the subtitle, as Zoe is about to pop with the next generation of Washburn. Mal and Inara have put their adversarial nature to good use by bunking up together (and Inara apparently having given up her trade in favour of a yelling at Mal while wearing a catsuit). Jayne has departed to seek his fortune elsewhere, and River has plateaued her crazy. Elsewhere, the revelations that Mal made concerning the behaviour of the Alliance has made him one of the most wanted men in the verse, while the outer planets champion him as a natural leader for a second Browncoat rebellion. All of this means that Malcolm Reynolds is keeping a low profile when the series opens.

And that is a fair amount of room to play in. It shows that things have kept moving while we weren't looking, but at a pace that seems about right with what we've previously seen. And it introduces some interesting things, like the Browncoats using the Reavers as political motivation to kick up some trouble once again. The first issue hints at a larger political fallout within the Alliance from the events of the film, but that's something we never get to see any more of, because the story of Firefly is the story of the oppressed, not the story of the elite (though it is worth mentioning because an interesting story might be worth telling, no matter how it conforms to a pre-existing narrative). The Browncoats hero-worshiping Mal is a nice touch, glamorizing his actions during the war, making assumptions about his convictions based on hearsay and wish fulfillment. The new character Bea is a nice addition to the verse, something of an audience surrogate, representing all the droves of real world Browncoats who cosplay to look like Mal, who idolize the actions of what is clearly an anti-hero, and who demand more and better from him when all he wants is to be left alone.

The following five issues take all of that promise, and have no idea what to do with it. Previous Serenity comics have been one-offs or two or three issue miniseries, and I feel that this one should have been too. But Dark Horse wanted the press of putting out a proper six issue series, despite the story ultimately not warranting that much ink. There are essentially two storylines. One, Zoe gets arrested shortly after giving birth, forcing Mal to create a rescue plan. This is where the story is the most over inflated. The second is Bea's search for the mythic Captain Reynolds, savior of the Browncoats, destined to lead the independents to new glory. And while the latter story does provide a convenient and logical way to get Jayne back on the ship, that story doesn't really go anywhere. Or where it does go, doesn't make a lot of sense.

None of this seems like it was made for the right reasons. None of this seems like a story that demanded to be told. All of this seems like a way to get four bucks a month out of desperate fans for six months, or to quiet the con questions on when Serenity will return. It all feels like fan masturbation. And you need look no further than the rotating door of Special Guest Stars and bizarrely over-inflated action sequences that dot the run, like a reunion special done exclusively for the publicity. Jubal Early still alive? Bring him back. The Operative, why not? An army of brainwashed psychic ninjas? Um, OK? A full on Browncoat assault that results in... umm, the capture of one hostage? Sure. They even reuse the barn-swallow scene from the film, because the readers will recognize that! All this does is distract from the core story, which is breaking Zoe out of prison (she gets nothing to do while in there, expect punch some folk and have absolute faith in Mal). But a simple prison break story wouldn't have filled six issues, so all this extra stuff that has very little purpose gets added in.

Because there is so much focus on over inflating the story, the characters get almost no attention. The Bea storyline could have been the opportunity to further explore the thesis of the series and the movie: you don't win, not big; you don't lose, not completely; in life, the best you can hope for is that you get to keep flying. Malcolm proved time and time that all he was ever concerned about was protecting his own. His every action on the series was directed towards keeping his crew safe. Even the broadcast in the film was done, not to highlight the hypocrisy and injustice of the system, but to hurt the Alliance in a way that would make them back off from coming after him. Bea's storyline is begging for some deflation. She needed to see her hero in a realistic light. She needed to obverse his selfishness, perhaps as he rescued Zoe, to understand that this was not the leader the Browncoats needed. This realization might have spurred her on to becoming the leader the movement needed herself.

Because as much as Mal may have softened over the time we've spent with him, his character arc is pretty close to complete. In fact, the condition Whedon left most of the crew in doesn't demand re-visitation. The characters are the best versions of themselves at this point. Bea offered a new opportunity to explore the establishment through fresh eyes, and get some fresh development to carry the story on, and they wasted it. Instead, Mal and co. get to be the Big Damned Heroes yet again (please fans, remember that when that line was said, it was done sarcastically), showing Goliath that the little guy doesn't lay down so easy. Which goes against the purpose and point of the show we fell in love with. This series reads like officially mandated fan-fic, a hyper-awareless symphony of what fans think they want, without any of the depths that actually spurs their affection.

Considering this is a comic, I should mention the art work, as it is fifty percent of the product. Art duties were held by Georges Jeanty, who established himself on the Buffy Season 8 books, and whose abilities fall somewhere in between what the series needs and what it deserves. It is fitting in a book that seems at times like a pale imitation of what it meant to be aping, that Jeanty's art doesn't always match the reality it is copying. His backgrounds are beautiful, and any excuse to get him to draw something in space is a good use of talent and time. And the original characters, or action scenes work effectively. But like the Buffy books, when he's drawing a character based off an actor, the results are mixed. The facial expressions all have a baby-faced sameness that makes it hard to identify exactly who is meant to be represented (I, for one, had a hard time keeping Kaylee, Inara and River separate, especially if their clothes weren't in view). Serenity though, never looked better. As you would hope, any panel that sees the ship sliding beautifully through the void captures her in her unique glory. Its only when things comes down to eye level that issue arise.

In the past, I've advocated that Firefly/Serenity be left in peace. Thirteen episodes and a film that are practically perfect and don't need further exploration. To demand such from each cast member and creative force behind the show on Twitter and every single con is selfish and gluttonous and the show deserves better behaviour and more respect from those that claim to love it so. This series is as perfect an illustration (ironic, considering it's a comic) that the verse needs to be left alone. If an element isn't adding anything to the collective story, then it is subtracting, and more stories of this quality (the final issue ends on a tease, because of course it does) will only hurt the reputation of Firefly. I certainly don't want it to turn into the monster of not knowing when to leave the party that Buffy and Angel have become in comic form. My suggestion, if you want more Firefly, is to binge watch the series again, and be content with what you have.
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About MR. Clark

Adopting the descriptor of "successfully unpublished author", MR. Clark began writing things on the internet in 2012, which he believed to be an entirely reputable and civilized place to find and deliver information. He regrets much.

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