Serenity 2: Better Days by Whedon, Matthews, and Conrad: B

serenity2From the back cover:
When the Serenity crew uncovers a heaping pile of cash—marking their first successful heist—they divulge their most outlandish fantasies, and look forward to a little R&R in a tropical paradise. Unfortunately for these space cowboys, someone is hot on their heels in search of a prize more precious than money.

Joss Whedon, creator of Buffy the Vampire Slayer, joins Brett Matthews and Will Conrad—the team that brought you the smash hit Serenity: Those Left Behind—with a new chapter in the lives of Malcolm Reynolds and his roving band of space brigands in Better Days.

While Serenity: Better Days is the second comic miniseries based on the TV show Firefly to be released, I am not sure whether its events take place chronologically after the end of the show or not. The one thing that would help establish its place in the timeline—Inara’s decision to depart the ship—is not mentioned at all, nor is any reference made to Shepherd Book’s wish to leave (first stated by him in Serenity: Those Left Behind). While the story works just fine without knowing when it happens, this still bugs me a little bit.

The plot of Better Days is extremely simple. For once, things go well and the crew of Serenity is suddenly rich. Several members share the way they plan to spend their money in scenes that nicely capture the warm, family-like times the crew occasionally shares. Meanwhile, the Alliance is looking for Mal (when are they not?), though this guy is special in that he’s one of Inara’s clients, and a builder whose drone Mal stole is out for revenge. I must admit that this peril did not interest me very much, though I’m used to looking past occasionally lame plots in Whedon shows in favor of character interaction. The best character goodness happens here between Inara and Mal, especially in their final scene together, though there’s also some nice continuity between Wash and Zoe as well as an intriguing tidbit regarding Inara and Simon.

Will Conrad is back as the artist for this miniseries, and seems to have a little better feel for the characters now. The likenesses are more consistent and Inara is vastly improved, finally meriting some impressively realistic close-ups of her own. Although a new cover was created for this trade paperback, the original covers of the three comic issues—forming a triptych that depicts the crew lounging atop sacks of money—are reproduced within.

I have now read all of the Firefly-inspired comics currently in existence and enjoyed them a good bit. Any time Dark Horse would like to make more, I’ll be happy to give them my money.

Serenity 1: Those Left Behind by Whedon, Matthews, and Conrad: B+

serenity1From the back cover:
Here’s how it is—in a universe filled with hearts and minds as cold and dark as the reaches of space, one small Firefly-class starship named Serenity takes its ragtag crew of mercenaries, outlaws, and fugitives in search of a job, any job, that’ll earn them enough cash to afford that most elusive commodity—peace.

Joss Whedon, creator of Buffy the Vampire Slayer, unveils a previously unknown chapter in the lives of his favorite band of space brigands in this prequel to the Serenity feature film—the blockbuster follow-up to Whedon’s cult-hit TV show, Firefly.

Serenity: Those Left Behind takes place shortly after the final episode of Firefly, “Objects in Space.” Inara has not left yet; while the ship is en route to her destination, they’re taking jobs along the way and though Mal proclaims this is necessary it’s Wash, who’s well acquainted with doing stupid things (like working a dangerous job when he could make a cushy living) to remain near the woman he loves, who realizes that he’s just trying to keep her around a while longer.

After one such job, a bank heist, goes poorly, the crew is offered another job by Badger: to retrieve a stash of cash left at the scene of one of the bloodiest battles in the war. Meanwhile, Dobson (the federal agent who appeared in the first episode of the series) is teaming up with the hands-of-blue fellows to track them down. It’s unclear whether Badger is in on this or not, but it all boils down to an ambush in a field of spaceship debris, no payoff, and Dobson’s death. Too, in the final page, we seem to be witnessing the moment that the Operative (from the feature film) receives the assignment to bring in River. Another important thing that happens here is that Book decides he needs to leave the ship. He’s an active participant in helping the crew escape at one point and later hits Mal, something that the Captain is ready to forgive but which Book is not.

For the most part, Will Conrad’s art is decent. In some panels, the characters don’t look much like the actors who played them—Simon and Inara fare pretty poorly in this respect—but Conrad is an absolute ace at close-ups. There’ll be a page, for example, with a vaguely Kaylee-looking person in a few panels and then, once you zoom into her face, it’s “Oh, now she looks like Jewel Staite!” This happens with Mal a few times, too, and there are also a few outstanding close-ups of River. Different artists have also contributed some color portraits of members of the crew. Again, Simon and Inara get the short end of the stick—are their actors just too pretty to be drawn easily or well?—while Book (drawn by Tim Bradstreet), Jayne (Brian Hitch), and Wash (Sean Phillips) look fabulous! Honorable mention goes to Jo Chen’s Kaylee who, while she doesn’t really look like Jewel Staite, is positively adorable.

All in all, while this isn’t as good or as fulfilling as an episode of the show, it’s really great to see all of these characters again and fill in a little background for where we see them in the movie. Now on to the second comic miniseries, Better Days!