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Serenity: Better Days #3

Posted: Saturday, May 17, 2008
By: Ray Tate / Jon Judy

Joss Whedon, Brett Matthews
Will Conrad, Michelle Madsen (colors)
Dark Horse Comics
Ray Tate: 2 Bullets
Jon Judy: 3 Bullets




Ray Tate: 2 Bullets

I really wanted to get behind this new Serenity mini-series, but too many problems prevented that. First, it's a prequel. This is largely to preserve the cast from the television series; two die in the movie. Second, it rehashes things that have been resolved in the film; a will they-or-won't-they relationship gets decided in the movie. Third, it's simply not as well written or well thought out as the television series or the film. There, I said it.

A case in point arises with the frequent use of the word "conjure." As in, "I conjure the notion." While once might have been indicative of Joss Whedon's future-speak from the series, too often the word appears. That takes away the word’s subtlety and novelty, and it fashions artifice in the culture being explored in dialogue.

The story continues to be split between Mal and his crew having money and an Alliance soldier seeking revenge against the Dust Devils--a terrorist organization, depending on who's writing history. Neither concept is given the depth needed to make the ideas feel complete. Though I can't help but think that if this story were acted, it would without a doubt play better.

The plots lace together in a rather clumsy knot involving a double-cross and a theft, but if you followed the series, you may expect the final twist. I certainly did.

The subplot involving Doc and Inara comes out of nowhere. It's almost as if I'm missing a page in the book, and it seems only to be included to infuse ersatz tension between Mal and Inara.

Art by Will Conrad this issue is very sketchy, unfortunately. His previous issues were stronger, but you can still see a few glimpses of the cast in the personae of the crew.

I'd like to see Serenity continue but from the point where the movie ends. Going back to Better Days just didn't work for me.




Jon Judy: 3 Bullets

Like Ray, I too really wanted to like this series. And initially, I did. This book started out with the proverbial bang, and here it ends two issues later with an utterly confusing whimper.

Ray very astutely identified one of the problems: As a prequel, it's incumbent on this series to tell us something we don't already know from the movie set later in these characters' lives, or leave us scratching our heads a little bit wondering what the point is of what we just read.

None of the characters are advanced in anyway, or changed in anyway. We don't learn anything new about them or their relationships except--as Ray pointed out--the business relationship between Simon and Inari, which seemed to come out of nowhere.

Further, the introduction of the Dust Devils is a natural extension of what we already know about the Serenity universe and could have made for an intriguing story, if it had been the book's focus, and if it had been given time to develop. Unfortunately, as Ray states, it wasn't given the chance to obtain any kind of depth.

Therein lies, I think, the real problem with this series: the lack of "page time" given to the characters and the concepts. A prequel need not inherently be something that does not add to the characters or their story. Think of "Out of Gas," which was for my money the best Firefly episode. However, my money doesn't constitute very much. I'm poor and cheap--a deadly combination--so I picked up the series used at a very low price.

Where was I? Oh, right, "Out of Gas."

Anyway, it was essentially a prequel episode, in which we really learned nothing new. Did we know Mal loved his crew, despite his gruff exterior? Yep. Did we know the sky meant freedom to him? Yep. Did we know Wash was a wee bit dorky for Zoe, but they loved each other anyway? Uh huh. Did we know Kayleigh would lube up a dude's piston in the engine room?

Okay, that one might have been new.

Back on course: Did we know Mal loved his ship? Oh, yeah. So what did we learn about the characters? Nothing really, but their relationships and the history of those relationships was explored eloquently and beautifully for 44 minutes, making them seem like richer, more realistic, more fully developed characters.

But Better Days didn't give any of the characters time to shine. The strange insertion of a business liaison between Simon and Inara could have paid off beautifully if it had been the center of the story. Imagine the possibilities: How would Mal react? I don't think he would have taken it anywhere near as well as he did in this anemic three-issue series. How would Kayleigh react? River? Can you imagine Jayne protesting to Inara that his cash is just as good as Simon's, and she should be willing to bed him too? Or how Zoe might react when she overhears Wash asking Simon to kiss and tell? That could have been a great story, and it could have expanded on this great cast of characters.

Or how about if the Dust Devils were the focus, and we learned more about Mal and Zoe's past, as well as the past that shaped this universe? That could have been a great story.

As it is, this series read like they were trying to give us a little bit of everything--some heist action, some war-related back story, some intra-crew conflicts--but in the end it added up to a lot of nothing. I think the action sequences are particularly telling here. I mentioned in my review of the first issue that the action was a little hard to follow. Well, I felt the same way about the second issue, and it holds true in the third. Consider the last panel of page twelve where the pilot attacking Mal and company pushes a button. Page thirteen cuts to another scene back on the ship. In the first panel of page fourteen, Mal is jumping for cover and telling everyone else to do the same. In the second panel, some unexploded missiles are jutting out of the ground, and Mal is perplexed as to why they did not detonate. Apparently, the pilot launched some missiles which then didn't explode.

Okay, here's the problem with this sequence. One, just seeing a pilot push a button doesn't mean he's launching missiles, but the only clues we get to what Mal is dodging come from (1) seeing that button being pushed and (2) seeing Mal express his confusion as he looks at the undetonated missiles. So the first clue was weak, and then we're interrupted by a page and a panel before we get the second clue, which comes after the fact. It left me confused for a moment, wondering where the hell the missiles came from, and I had to go flipping back a page to see the button pushing and infer the rest.

Hey, it's one thing to not spoon feed readers, to give them some things to figure out on their own. It's another to divide up a key action sequence, and to not actually show missiles dropping before they land without exploding.

In the closing text pages, editor Scott Allie maintains this comic could serve as storyboards for a direct-to-DVD movie. Ixnay. I hate when people insist that being like a movie is indicative of a comic book being good, but there are some overlapping elements between comics and movies. Even the most inept of filmmakers would know we needed to see the missiles being launched from the ship, and therefore would find these "storyboards" lacking.

And therein lies the point to my long tangent regarding the confusing action sequences in this series. They seem to be a byproduct of having tried to squeeze too much into a very limited limited series. At four issues, five issues, six issues, this series might have worked. At three, it seems forced and confusing.

I still think Ray's score of two bullets is a little harsh. As a fan of Firefly / Serenity, I can recommend this book to all other fans. You won't be thrilled, but you won't be ready to rip the thing up. Conrad really captures the look of the crew, and the dialogue is spot on. It's a little like getting to spend some time with some old friends, but not quality time, and not a lot of time. It's still time well spent, but not as well spent as it could have been.

Conjure the notion I'm 'bout done with this here review.



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