If you know anything about Joss Whedon’s Firefly, then you know that it ended much too soon. There are 14 TV episodes and one movie, Serenity, and what exists is wonderful–but also makes it pretty clear that there was meant to be a much longer story arc, if only the show hadn’t been canceled. With that context, you’ll understand why I was excited to hear there are Firefly graphic novels, written by Whedon. Maybe some of those unexplained mysteries and lingering plot threads would be resolved!
So were they? Well…yes and no.
To give you just a little Firefly context, it’s a space western, set in a future where humanity has left Earth and spread to new worlds–rich at the center, scraping along on the frontier. Mal is the captain of Serenity, a Firefly-class spaceship, and leads a group of more-and-less misfits, theoretically merchants but not above smuggling or stealing–anything to keep flying.
Don’t read the graphic novels unless you’ve seen the show and the movie–there are spoilers, and possibly more important, there just isn’t much context provided in the novels. So from here out, I’ll assume that you know the show.
The three graphic novels I read are Vol. 1: Those Left Behind, Vol. 2: Better Days, and The Shepherd’s Tale. Don’t be fooled by the volume numbers–Better Days is chronologically first, though the plots aren’t directly related.
Better Days and Those Left Behind are essentially two new Firefly adventures, set between the TV show and Serenity. In BD, the crew gets unexpectedly rich, and then has to figure out what to do when they aren’t scraping to get by. My favorite part was seeing each character’s dream of what a better life would be. And of course, complications ensue. I found the ending confusing, though at least the poor plot conclusion is followed by a sort of epilogue with Mal and Inara that was sweet. TLB is set closer to Serenity, and is mostly interesting because it explores why Inara and the Shepherd left the ship. It does the most to fill in a missing chapter (though a couple more chapters wouldn’t have hurt!)
The Shepherd’s Tale had me the most excited. I think he’s the one who got burned worst by the early cancellation of the show, because it’s obvious that he has a secret past they meant to reveal gradually–and then never had time for. This book does reveal a lot–but left me wanting to know so much more. There are some revelations, though at the same time some of it feels obvious once you hear it. And I still don’t understand what exactly happened in “Safe,” when the Alliance seemed awfully respectful of him.
I do love the way TST is told, though. It’s chronologically backwards. We start at Serenity, then jump to a moment that could have been in the TV show, then jump to a moment before that and a moment before that…all the way back to childhood. Each transition is tied together by a phrase or an action–Kaylee tells him, “You’re gonna come with us,” and from there he flashes to an earlier moment hearing that phrase. It moves like memory, and it’s a neat way to tell the story–although it takes a little effort to follow. I went through it again backwards after I got to the end.
I should also comment that I loved the artwork in BD and TLB. There are beautiful drawings, and the characters look perfect. TST is no doubt good artwork for its kind, but it’s a more minimalist, cartoon-style that doesn’t appeal to me as well.
All in all, if you like the series these are well-worth reading to get a couple more adventures and answer a few questions. There are apparently a few more comics floating out there too, but I’m not sure how to get them and they don’t look like they’re going to resolve my remaining questions anyway. You see, I still want more about the Shepherd’s past, and something post-Serenity to finally resolve the Mal/Inara romance, and also something to reveal that a certain character’s death was all a hideous mistake and never really happened. Which is kind of where I was before I read these three.
Oh well. At least I got a few more Firefly adventures.