Serenity: Better Days #1

By | Wednesday, March 12, 2008 Leave a Comment
If you're a Browncoat, don't even bother reading this review. Serenity: Better Days #1 has everything you loved about Firefly and Serenity including a very-much-alive Hoban Washburne and Shepherd Book. Stop right now, and go pick up a copy.

Now, for those of you who aren't already fans of "the Verse" I'll start with the introduction for the TV show and this comic...
After the Earth was used up, we found a new solar system and hundreds of new Earths were terra formed and colonized. The central planets formed the Alliance and decided all the planets had to join under their rule. There was some disagreement on that point. After the War, many of the Independents who had fought and lost drifted to the edges of the system, far from Alliance control. Out here, people struggled to get by with the most basic technologies; a ship would bring you work, a gun would help you keep it. A captain's goal was simple: find a crew, find a job, keep flying.

As is implied, the book's protagonists aren't always exactly on the right side of the law and the story starts with them robbing an art exhibit. The run afoul of a security robot that's not unreminiscent of RoboCop's ED-209s. They're able to not only elude the robot, but capture and deliver it to a buyer who points them to a hidden cache of money as payment, which turns out to be quite a bit more than they were expecting.

The first thing I'd like to point out is the artwork. Will Conrad handles those chores here, much as he did for Serenity: Those Left Behind. Early in my blogging career, I pointed to Conrad's work on that book in highlighting the difficulty in moving TV and movie properties to an illustrated medium like comics. I can't say if he got used to drawing the actors that brought Joss Whedon's creation to life, or if he simply improved his drawing ability, but the likenesses of the actors here in Better Days is remarkable. (I was particularly struck by the close-ups of Gina Torres on page 5 and Jewel Staite on page 18.) Conrad was able to convey the actors' likenesses very effectively throughout the book, often using a surprisingly limited amount of detailing.

As far as the story goes, I think just about everything a new reader needs to know is included in the issue. While not every character relationship is fully explored here (an almost impossible feat, given the size of the cast and relatively few number of pages to work with) there's enough for a reader unfamiliar with them to understand the basics. There's also the use of Chinese for various exclamations and cursing that, like in the show, probably adds a lot of color when properly translated, but is unnecessary to get the basic meaning across.

There's also several nods to the show's continuity with references to Simon Tam's first boarding of Mal's ship, Jayne's status as a legend in Jaynestown, and the like. These don't have enough of an impact on the story to really impact the story or distract from it for the uninformed, but they act as nods to long-time fans who are well-versed (pun intended) in the continuity of the property.

If there's any real fault to be had in the book, it's that there seemed to be a few lines of dialogue that might not read easily to newcomers. The overall language structure in the show relied fairly heavily on inflection, dialect and the overall delivery. Since comics have no sound, that portion of the story is absent and readers need to fill that in mentally. Those who have seen the show will have no problem "hearing" how every bit of dialogue was intended to be spoken. Malcolm Reynolds "sounds" like Nathan Fillon here. Jayne Cobb "sounds" like Adam Baldwin. But without those audible reference points, new-comers might have to re-read some of the dialogue to really understand how it's supposed to be read. There're only a few lines like that, but it might be distracting enough for some people to rate the book a notch or two lower than they otherwise might.

For me, though, having been a fan since the airing of the very first show, the book was immensely satisfying. Not only does it allow me to visit the Verse once again, but it does so with the same eye towards good, solid storytelling that Whedon had in the original.
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