Serenity: Those Left Behind (2nd Edition) Review

Serenity: Those Left Behind (2nd Edition) Review Exploring the space between Firefly and Serenity.

What They Say:
Joss Whedon, the pop-culture mastermind behind Buffy the Vampire Slayer, bridged the gap between his cult-hit Firefly TV series and his Serenity motion picture with this three-issue mini-series, penned by Whedon and Brett Matthews, a Firefly show writer. The ragtag crew takes on a scavenger mission with the promise of a big payoff. Only too late do they realize the gig is orchestrated by an old enemy eager to remake their acquaintance.

Creators:

  • Story by Joss Whedon and Brett Matthews
  • Script by Brett Matthews
  • Art: Will Conrad
  • Colors: Laura Martin
  • Letters: Michael Heisler
  • Cover art: Adam Hughes

The Review (Note that content portions of review may contain spoilers):

With the Joss Whedon written and director Avengers having raked it in at the movie houses over the summer and the cast of Firefly reuniting at Comic Con to celebrate the 10th anniversary of the show it is the perfect time for a rerelease of a story that was told to help bridge the gap between the last episode of the fan favorite Firefly and the feature film follow up Serenity which introduced a new threat and showed that a few familiar faces no longer made their home aboard the small ship.

The story begins not too terribly long after the last episode as the crew of Serenity are still trying to make their living at the outer edges of the frontier and maintain their ability to live and keep the ship moving by taking on jobs of a dubious if not outright criminal nature in order to survive free of the Alliance’s influence while also trying to keep one step ahead of the no small number of people who want various members of the crew captured or dead.

The current job in question has the crew facing their usual amount of luck as Malcolm, Zoe and Jayne having discovered that their plans have hit a snag as another group has been dispatched on the same heist which has created a standoff between the two parties in the midst of the act. Willing to part with the treasure Mal attempts to back down but when his opponent asks for more than Mal is willing to part with the standoff erupts in gunfire that unfortunately alerts the town people that Sheppard Book had been giving a sermon to as a diversion that they need to grab their guns and head for the bank. Thanks to some quick thinking and a bit of playing with some of the doctrinal tenets, Sheppard manages to help with the escape though the mood of the crew is decidedly less than happy when the ship manages to make its way off planet.

With tensions fraying and various members at their breaking point Mal accepts a new job that is supposed to be incredibly lucrative though simply earning money may not be his sole reason for accepting the task. Unbeknownst to him however the mysterious duo with blue hands have tracked down a long forgotten and believed vanquished foe who has more than a small vendetta against Malcolm and who has spent some time coming up with an appropriate plan to carry it out. With members perilously close to mutiny inside and a now powerfully connected foe outside has the crew of the Serenity’s luck finally run out?

While the specifics of the stories in Firefly may not be familiar to all the corner of science fiction fandom in the States, those that haven’t at least heard of the series is pretty small and likely constantly shrinking as the series created a very devoted and vocal fanbase, one which managed to convince Universal studios to fund a feature film off the series that ran but a single year. This comic in some ways is very much in keeping with the film in that it assumes those picking it up are already acquainted with the characters as it spends no time introducing them but launches immediately into their newest adventure while also continuing some of the threads left hanging by the end of the TV series with Inara looking to make her departure from the ship yet being stymied as Malcolm has been taking a number of jobs along the way to dropping her off.

The comic even begins in a fashion  that series fans would expect with the crew trying to accomplish a job and coming into it as it has already turned South (or whatever direction one would use in space) on them and devolving into a fight for their lives escape. From there the story plays on the emotions of its characters as it shows the tension that had been building after certain events in the TV series and which are still bubbling over in the feature film as Malcolm is having troubles coming to terms with all that is going on and his actions in response to them are taking a toll on all around him. In large part this book works well in recapturing some of the magic of the series in no small part due to the fact that along with series creator Whedon working on the idea the script was written by one of the writers who worked on the TV show and worked with Whedon on the idea for the story. This allows for a fair amount of the flair of the series to be retained, though some of the sparkle is still lost as the cast was capable of bringing a good deal of spark with their performance which just doesn’t come across here.

Perhaps in part this recreating some of the TV series energy is due to the artwork which captures well the essence of the characters, though the artwork also works against the events as well at times as the style just doesn’t communicate subtleties and details as well as one might hope meaning that the situation and dialogue has to carry the lion’s share of conveying a sense of how the dialogue should be read and while this works for much of the comic it dulls some moments, particularly the Chinese parts almost feel like guess work as to just how the line is to be read and what tone is meant to be conveyed in doing so. Overall it the artwork carries alright but one can’t help but wonder if just a bit more detail in facial expressions couldn’t have carried the material even farther.

The only real downside to this book is that it tries to do so much that it feels like a compilation piece where a larger arc was edited down to make a presentation that takes much less time (and requires fewer issues) to tell. The leap from Firefly to Serenity wasn’t small and three issues don’t seem to do the gap justice. Granted going from one to the other based just on the material presented in the series and film isn’t the smoothest of transitions as Sheppard’s absence was the most noticeable jump (Inara’s was already being worked toward in the single season end) but this bridge feels like the attempt was made to explain not only these character’s absence. If that weren’t enough (and it is plenty), the series also seems determined to explain the appearance of a new feature film foe as well as explain a not really needed bit on why Badger was not present in the feature but the part that may leave some readers feeling the most hollow is just how much of the comic seems to mimic some of the events and settings seen in Serenity which creates a bit of a feeling of a cop-out at times that undercuts its power by being just to similar in places with the feature film. Overall the idea works but one can’t help but suspect that this 3 issue series contains at least half a TV season’s worth of material and plot points condensed and whose impact as such was diminished for it, but what is here is a fun ride that stays true to the core of the series as it navigates the space between TV and the cinema.

One extra note- the release contains a number of goodies for series fans as Nathon Fillion (Malcolm Reynolds) pens a foreword and the release also contains some production artwork designs for the feature Serenity as well as a production note setting up the universe penned by Whedon in a preproduction memo to help establish the series universe and which contains some ideas and background that never made it onto either screen that the series and its follow up film appeared on.

In Summary:
The road between the TV screen and the Silver screen wasn’t an easy one for the Firefly franchise and given the different vibe and make up in the crew between the two it clearly wasn’t for the fictional crew either. First appearing in single issue format the year after the feature film debuted and finally back in print in collected format, Serenity: Those Left Behind works to establish what happened that lead to some of the dramatic changes amongst the crew, their camaraderie and also their chief pursuers. Fans of the franchise who haven’t already discovered this story that fills in the gap left between the two ventures will find a story that carries the adventure and emotion they missed from the show though some minor flaws may keep it from being a crown jewel in the fan’s treasure box of memories from the franchise.

Grade: B

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Serenity: Those Left Behind (2nd Edition) Review