Generally speaking, comics based on television shows are tough to get right. There are a few little niggles that always seem to be there; the characters (regardless of licenses) look nothing like the actors, they never grow or develop beyond the confines of the show (admittedly a necessity where the show may be ongoing or the comic is set at a specific historical point) and if a character says something once on screen that becomes popular with fans, then it often become so overused to the point of catchphrase in comic form. ‘There are exceptions, though, most of which seem to come from Our Lord and King, Joss Whedon. So after the relative success of Buffy: The Vampire Slayer can Dark Horse comics do it again with Firefly?
You know Firefly, of course, it’s the most popular show on television that was handled badly by broadcasters in America and had already been cancelled before the rest of the world could import their DVD box sets. There’s nothing more to be gained on arguing exactly how badly handled this show was, suffice it to say that there is a huge fanbase considering all it has to go from for continuity are thirteen episodes and a movie.
And now we have Serenity: Leaves on the Wind. A six part mini-series that has fans excited. This isn't the first time Dark Horse Books have published books based on this property; Whedons Joss and Zack have both worked on titles before which are all worth looking out for and are considered to be Firefly canon… but whether it’s timing, the talent involved or something else entirely, Leaves on the Wind is something people are getting excited about.
Issue one is set nine months after Serenity. We know the events of that movie have changed things in the ‘verse though how those changes will affect the surviving crew members is unknown. It would seem, though, that their days of going by relatively unnoticed have come to an end. Everyone is asking the same question. Where is Serenity?
As a continuation of the series, the first issue does a fantastic job of not only reminding us of previous events, but it also points out how much was left unresolved after the credits of Serenity rolled. The Reaver revelation was less an explosive finale and more Mal lighting the fuse. Zack Whedon takes his time showing us the impact of those actions on every scale and expertly manages to fit a lot of exposition into these 27 pages without once feeling rushed. In fact the pacing feels perfect with panels that know when to flood the reader with dialog and when to let them, and the characters, have a quiet moment to let events sink in.
When characters do speak, their words not only fit the universe, but also the characters we know and love. They maintain the spark without relying on lines that have become literal clichés (13 episode, 13 billion firefly t-shirts, there’s bound to be some repetition) and for the most part it is easy to feel like you’re watching an episode of the show. In fact they almost go too far in trying to not rely on well-known speech patterns; there’s no cussing in Mandarin, and not a single, “shiny” is exclaimed.
When the characters aren't speaking the artwork on display expresses just as much as the words. Characters are perfectly expressive with every emotion, subtle or otherwise, on display. It’s such a shame, then, that the artist doesn't have the actors’ likenesses down with more consistency. The first time we’re reintroduced to the crew the reader should be thinking something more affectionate than, ‘is that supposed to be River or Kaylee?’ It has to be difficult drawing so many panels where likeness is important, there’s a reason comic book characters tend to have distinctive visual cues after all, but when the rest of the art is so wonderful it’s a shame when you’re seeing Simon and Mal talking, for example, and it’s not quite clear which one you’re looking at. And the rest of the art really is beautiful. You can tell that this was drawn and colored with affection for the source material. Every panel is filled with life and details that would be missing from lesser titles. City views are full of billboards and people going about their lives, if there are two people talking in a scene, there could be ten others in the background adding thematic weight to proceedings. It’s a “no corners cut” approach that makes this feel like a high quality production even and it’s more than enough to make it worthwhile re-reading the whole issue over and over to catch the more subtle little touches.
Serenity: Leaves on the wind starts with a near perfect issue, giving us a fitting continuation to a beloved sci-fi series. It’s not the new series fans want, but it’s good enough to feel like more of what we love. Firefly is definitely in good hands. It gets 5 cunning hats that let you know you’re not afraid of anything, and issue two can’t get here soon enough... just please don't kill anyone off!
Serenity: Leaves on the wind is published by Dark Horse Books and will be available January 29th 2014.