Tuesday, January 17, 2012

GN Review -- Serenity: Better Days and Other Stories / Joss Whedon, Brett Matthews, Will Conrad, Zack Whedon, Patton Oswalt, Chris Samnee, Jim Krueger, and Patric Reynolds

It is with a heavy heart and a hopeful longing that I review the final volume of Serenity comics that are currently in existence.  While I won't go into much detail about how very awesome is the show they were spun from, the all-too-brief Firefly, I will say that it was the show that made me love Joss Whedon's writing skills.  It's the show that made me give Buffy the Vampire Slayer (and, by extension, Angel) a second chance, and when I got through the show and the feature film it spawned, I was upset that there weren't more stories to tell.  The emergence of the comics from Dark Horse were like a god-send.

Better Days and Other Stories is chronologically the second volume of stories, after the magnificent Those Left Behind and before the surprisingly disappointing The Shepherd's Tale.  It includes several stories from various creative teams, including "Better Days," in which the crew happens upon an obscenely wealthy payoff and muses on what they plan to do with it before typical circumstance pulls it away from them; "The Other Half," a short piece where the crew wards off a pack of Reavers while River saves them from a fate they couldn't have known about; "Downtime," a character study of the crew that gives an idea of what they get up to when they're not actively thieving; and "Float Out," a post-movie story about several of Wash's old friends christening a ship in their deceased comrade's name.

The writing in all four stories is very well done.  It's always fun to see Serenity's captain and crew both in and out of action, and the dialog, pacing, and plotlines all work like short episodes of Firefly.  Whether they're pulling Mal out of yet another grim situation, bantering and bickering with one another, or guessing slyly at one another's secrets, the characters are true to the portrayals of their on-screen counterparts.  The storytelling might not stand on its own for the casual reader, but I think it's safe to say that these books are meant for the fans, and they are a treat for those Browncoats who wanted more stories from the show.

Art-wise, I think it's unfair to compare anyone else's illustration work to Will Conrad's uncannily spot-on renditions of the characters.  It's honestly like some photographer took still shots from some lost Firefly episode, filmed but never distributed, and gave them to Conrad to do the line work.  His portrayals of the characters look that close to their actors.  Patric Reynolds's work is pretty close to the mark as well, while Chris Samnee's efforts are the most cartoonish, though I will say that doesn't detract from the story in "Downtime."  It's merely a different form of expressiveness that satisfies in a different way.

Overall, I think this is a wonderful collection of stories, certainly the most varied in the Serenity volumes that have been released.  This is definitely fan material--while I'm sure the stories are good enough sci-fi/western/action fare on their own, there's definitely more of a payoff for those who have been devotees of the show, the movie, and anything else Firefly.  For my part, it's a complete and total treat, one that makes a worthy addition to my own collection.  Highly recommended.

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