Everyone’s favorite band of space smugglers are back in the black with Boom!Studios comics revival of Firefly.
Fans of the criminally short lived Fox tv series Firefly have been waiting for a continuation of the beloved series. After the big-screen Serenity ended the series with a bang the property lay dormant for a few years. Every now and then a new graphic novel would drop but those all took place after Serenity or heavily featured flashbacks to tie in dead characters. That is until Boom! Studios took the reins and re-launched Firefly in comic form. The smartest decision they made was to set the new comic series between the show’s last episode and Serenity, meaning Wash and Book are still alive and the crew is still learning to work and live together. The first of these new adventures is the three-volume Firefly: The Unification War, written by Greg Pak and illustrated by Dan McDaid and colored by Marcelo Costa.
I’ll address the Big Bad in the room now, “Created by Joss Whedon” is on the cover of the books and in the credits, but he does not seem to have had any creative input into this story and has contributed no other content, not even an introduction. So if you were leery about engaging in a Joss Whedon property due to his involvement if he had any here it was minimal and un-credited.
The story starts (like most of the episodes) in media res. Serenity is in space and on fire after a sub-par (cheap) part in the engine has failed and the crew is moments away from death. Captain Malcolm “Mal” Reynolds expresses concern to pilot Wash, engineer Kaylee has a bold idea, the rest of the crew argues, and the teenage River Tam ends up saving the day through her reckless actions. As soon as that problem is solved they stumble into the path of an Alliance warship which fires on Serenity, forcing them to eject their fuel cells and crash land onto the planet Bethlehem. While looking for money to buy new fuel cells and get off the planet, the crew takes a job escorting religious pilgrims to a sacred site and protecting them from bandits. Meanwhile, the Alliance ship, lead by bounty hunter Boss Moon, is on the hunt for Mal and his first officer (and Wash’s wife) Zoe Alleyne, for war crimes during the Unification war, which their side, the Independents, lost. What follows is a series of misadventures and continuous escalation until the universe stands on the brink of another Unification war and the deaths of thousands, including the crew of Serenity.
Because Firefly: The Unification War is a three-volume story it is far more complex than I can adequately summarize here. Given the focus on the Unification War most of the dramatic weight is on Mal and Zoe. Through events in the story, the crew is split up so there is not a lot of moments where the entire crew is working together. Usually, they are spread out on multiple planets all working toward the same goal, more or less. Inara Serra is largely on her own, Zoe is separated early on, leaving Kaylee, Wash, Book, hired gun Jayne, Simon Tam (a doctor and brother to River), and River to sort of wander to and from the action, mostly spending their time getting captured by, and escaping from, various hostiles. In typical Firefly fashion, Jayne’s hot temper and egotism cause problems more than once further complicating things for everyone, including himself.
The illustrations do a good job capturing the characters but are not as dedicated to capturing the actor’s likenesses 100%. The writing mostly supports the characters as we know them, but in many ways, this book resets the narrative to zero. Unless you are already familiar with the show and the characters, and very familiar at that, you are probably going to keep asking yourself “Who are these people? Why are they together when they don’t all like each other?” while reading. For instance, it’s been a while since I watched the show and I struggled to remember why the crew puts up with Jayne’s conniving and constant backstabbing.
Worse, some character moments don’t feel genuine, such as when Zoe shoots Wash in the leg to prevent him from following her on a dangerous task. This is sort of in Zoe’s wheelhouse so I went with it. But then Wash turns around and shoots Zoe in HER leg which I was unable to get behind. Wash knows Zoe is going to do what she is going to do regardless and he just drastically reduced her chances of succeeding. It doesn’t help that these injuries sort of vanish from the narrative after a few scenes so other than trying to capture a vibe of “These people are quirky!” turnabout the scene is superfluous. Later Inara uses her contacts as a Companion to gain an audience with a system governor and he refers to her repeatedly as “Ambassador Serra”. I’ve watched this series more than once and I couldn’t remember why Inara was an ambassador or if it had come up before. There is no explanation for these snatches of dialogue so I can see a neophyte getting confused and overwhelmed quickly with references that have no clear meaning.
The distinctive Firefly patois of interspersed Chinese words with English is also largely absent. Kaylee calls things “shiny”, Mal is cutting and quick with his mouth, and characters spend a lot of time talking to and around each other, another hallmark of the series. However I don’t think Pak quite captured how those characters talked on the show, and this flattens out some of the interactions rather than making them pop. Some lines are recycled from the show, but none here stand out as classics in their own right. The series trope of enemies becoming friends, or at least neutral parties, at key moments does liven up the action considerably and I was glad to see it return. Enemies are always a lot more interesting when you can empathize with them.
For a first time out Firefly: The Unification War is a good start to get Serenity flying again. The action hurtles from scene to scene, strung together by witty dialogue and beautiful illustrations. If you are a fan of the show I recommend checking it out. This is an ongoing series, so even if you are not thrilled with this installment there are more coming. To wit, volume 3 includes an excerpt from Delilah S. Dawson’s graphic novel, Firefly: The Sting, which sees the women of Serenity extorted into joining forces with Saffron to take down a wealthy target in an elaborate con. From the excerpt, Dawson appears to have a much better handle on the dialogue and I’m looking forward to reading what appears to be a twisty-turning adventure.