Several comic book stories have been released under the Serenity title, set in the fictional universe created for Joss Whedon's Firefly television series and Serenity film, and which are considered canon. As of 2014, eight Serenity stories have been published. Written by Joss Whedon and Brett Matthews, and illustrated by Will Conrad, the first miniseries, Those Left Behind, was created as a bridge between the events of the series and film. Those Left Behind was popular: the first issue was the highest-selling comic published by Dark Horse Comics until the release of Buffy Season 8 in 2007, while the trade paperback is still one of the highest ranking items by sale quantity from that company. In early 2008, a second miniseries was released. Titled Better Days, it was set before Those Left Behind, with the storyline based around a heist that went in the characters' favor. In addition to the miniseries, a one-shot comic written by Jim Krueger and titled The Other Half was released in the August 2008 issue of Dark Horse Presents.
Later installments focused on the backstories of the characters. The first to be announced was The Shepherd's Tale in late 2007, focusing on the pre-Firefly history of the Shepherd Book character. Originally to be released in late 2008 as a three-issue miniseries, this date was not met, and there was no news until March 2010, when the comic was reannounced for a November 2010 release as a hardcover graphic novel. Accompanying the reannouncement of The Shepherd's Tale was news of a one-shot comic focusing on Hoban "Wash" Washburne. The comic, titled Float Out, was released in June 2010. In November 2010, the USA Today website published the "slice-of-life" short story Downtime as part of the Dark Horse: High Definition program. For Free Comic Book Day 2012, the story Firefly Class 03-K64 - It's Never Easy was paired with a Star Wars comic in a double-sided book.
Reaction to the comics has been mixed: while widely accepted by fans of the cancelled television series and film, several reviews have commented that the comics are inaccessible to those without this prerequisite knowledge, are a poor substitute for the filmed works, and often try to cram in too much information to the detriment of the story. Better Days was nominated for the Hugo Award for Best Graphic Story in 2009, and came second in its category.
Whedon invited Brett Matthews to co-write a story to bridge the series and the film. Matthews had previously worked as Whedon's assistant on several Buffy, Angel, and Firefly episodes, and had written the script for Firefly episode "Heart of Gold". According to Matthews, Those Left Behind was originally an anime project, but difficulties led to the story being released in comic form.
Those Left Behind
Serenity: Those Left Behind is a three-issue limited series, created in 2005 as a tie-in to the film Serenity. The series was written by Joss Whedon and Brett Matthews, illustrated by Will Conrad, lettered by Michael Heisler, and colored by Laura Martin.
The story is set between the Firefly series and the film, and was intended to bridge the two and lead into the movie. It is used to set up the beginning of the film by depicting Inara's departure and Book's intention to leave the ship, introduces several characters important to Serenity’s storyline, including The Operative and Mingo and Fanty, and resolves the Hands of Blue plotline. The comic also re-introduces Lawrence Dobson, an Alliance agent who was (apparently) killed by Mal in the Firefly pilot episode. Whedon had always planned to bring back Dobson, but did not have the opportunity before the series was cancelled.
Two collections have been released, both with new cover art. The first, published in January 2006, featured Mal and Inara on the cover, with Serenity taking off in the background. The second, a hardcover collection released in October 2007 featured Mal, Zoe, and Jayne on the cover. The original nine covers appear in both releases as chapter dividers. The first issue was reprinted in 2010 and released as part of Dark Horse's "#1 for $1" promotion.
The first issue begins with Shepherd Book giving a sermon on a border-planet town, which Mal, Zoe, and Jayne use as cover for a bank heist. The heist is interrupted by a rival crew, working for Mingo and Fanty, who in the ensuing firefight escape with the money, while a grenade explosion draws the townsfolk. Book steals a vehicle to collect the others, while Wash and Kaylee use Serenity to knock over a water tower to stun the pursuing townsfolk. Back aboard the ship, Inara reminds Mal that she is leaving Serenity. Meanwhile, on Whitefall, the Hands of Blue appear and kill the bodyguard of the man they want to see.
Issue #2 continues with the Hands of Blue, and reveals that the man they seek is Lawrence Dobson, who fires a warning shot at the Hands. The Hands reveal that they and Dobson are seeking the same thing: Serenity. Dobson clarifies that he only wants Mal, and that he has a plan to do it, but could use the Hands' assistance. On Persephone, Serenity's crew encounter Badger, who talks of a major space battle during the war, which he claims was over a shipload of cash. The crew dump Badger and discuss the job, during which Inara demands that she be taken to her destination first, and after Mal refuses, he and Book have an argument which results in the shepherd punching Mal. Serenity arrives at the debris field from the battle, and while Mal, Zoe, and Jayne investigate one of the ships, the Hands of Blue find Serenity.
Issue #3 begins by depicting Mal, Zoe, and Jayne as they search the ship for the money, while the small craft used by the Hands of Blue sneaks up and docks with Serenity's underside. River Tam, sensing the presence of the Hands, tries to overdose on anesthetic, before revealing to Simon and Inara that something is wrong with Serenity's 'belly'. Mal and company reach the coordinates supplied by Badger to find the waiting Dobson and his group. Mal kills Dobson in the ensuing firefight, then shoots him again to ensure he is dead. At the same time, Kaylee and Simon investigate the underside cargo hatch, and find the Hands of Blue trying to break in. Simon, Kaylee, and Book hold off the Hands, while Wash flies through the debris field to try to scrape the Hands' ship off. Mal, Zoe, and Jayne are collected at speed, before Wash destroys the pursuing ship by going to 'full burn'. Inara is delivered to her destination, although Mal is unable to say goodbye. Later, when in space, Book announces to Mal that he intends to leave Serenity. The comic ends with The Operative retrieving the remains of the Hands, and accepting the assignment to locate River.
The second three-issue miniseries, Serenity: Better Days, was announced by Dirk Wood of Dark Horse Comics during WonderCon 2006. The three issues were released in March, April, and May 2008. Whedon, Matthews, Conrad, and Heisler returned, but colourist Laura Martin was replaced by Michelle Madsen. Unlike the previous series, Adam Hughes illustrated the three covers, each of which depicts three of the nine cast members, and together form a triptych. The trade paperback cover was drawn by Jo Chen.
Again, the mini-series is set between the series and the film. However, Better Days is set before the events of Those Left Behind, in order to have all the characters aboard the ship, and to better capture the "heart and status quo -- in as much as there even is one -- of the [television] series". The comic sees the crew of Serenity pulling off a successful job, which results in unexpected wealth and the related complications.
The three issues were collected as a trade paperback in October 2008. This work won Diamond's 2008 Gem Award for "Licensed Trade Paperback of the Year". A second collection was released on August 31, 2011. Titled Better Days and Other Stories, the hardcover volume includes the one-shot comic Float Out and the short stories The Other Half and Downtime in addition to the three issues of Better Days.
In 2009 Better Days was one of six nominees for the inaugural Hugo Award for Best Graphic Story. The miniseries came second to Girl Genius, Volume 8: Agatha Heterodyne and the Chapel of Bones.
Issue #1 opens with an unnamed man demonstrating a new automated security drone. It cuts to Mal, Zoe, and Jayne robbing an art gallery, with Simon advising on the value of the works. While trying to escape in a delivery van, the four attract the attention of the security drone, which chases them; when the van is destroyed, the thieves are shown to be using their hovercraft 'Mule'. Mal and company lead the drone into a trap, where it is disabled by Kaylee: the drone is the Serenity crew's actual target. Meanwhile, Inara is with a client: Ephraim, an Alliance special operations agent tasked with hunting down Independent terrorists known as 'Dust Devils'. Mal delivers the drone to his client, and in exchange for the vital component, the man tells them of a stash of money hidden in a temple by a gang whose members killed each other before they could collect it. The crew retrieve the cash without incident, but on checking it, realise there is significantly more than they expected.
The second issue shows the fantasies of several of the characters as to what they would do with unlimited wealth, while they take a vacation on a luxury world. Inara, after arranging to meet a client, asks Mal about the Dust Devils, while Ephraim briefs his team to take down Mal. The drone operator tortures Mal's client to find Serenity's location. Mal and his crew foil a robbery at the resort, after which Mal and Zoe note the landing of an Alliance special ops ship, with Mal theorising that the ship belongs to Ephraim, and that he is after the Dust Devils. On going to investigate Inara's shuttle, Mal sees Simon leave, before he is knocked unconscious.
Issue #3 begins with Mal tied to a chair and being beaten up by Ephraim, while Zoe confronts Inara about Mal's disappearance. Zoe then reveals that she, not Mal, was a Dust Devil, and offers herself in exchange for the captain. The rest of the crew plan to use the exchange to rescue Mal, but they are interrupted by the Drone Operator, who attacks both groups from his ship. Robots deployed by the ship are dealt with by the Serenity crew and Ephraim's assistants, while Mal and Ephraim team up to successfully destroy the ship. The two groups go their separate ways, but upon returning to Serenity, the crew find that they have been robbed. Inara suspects that Mal organised the robbery so the crew would remain together—unlike the others' fantasies on how they would like to live, Mal is already leading his preferred life.
The Other Half
The August 2008 issue of MySpace Dark Horse Presents included a single-shot, eight-page comic titled Serenity: The Other Half. While Conrad remained responsible for the artwork and Heisler stayed on as letterer, the author and colourist were replaced by Jim Krueger and Julius Ohta respectively. Joss Whedon is credited as the executive producer. The story was later reprinted in August 2011 as part of the Better Days and Other Stories hardcover collection.
The story revolves around the Serenity crew aboard a hover-stagecoach, protecting it from Reavers as they try to deliver their seriously wounded passenger to their destination, in order to claim the second half of his fare. While helping Simon to keep the passenger alive, River detects that their passenger is an Alliance agent who tracks smugglers and leads Alliance soldiers to kill them. Aware that River may be the escaped psychic the Alliance is hunting, the agent tries and fails to shoot River when Simon is knocked unconscious. In return, River shoots the agent with his own gun, which she then disposes of. While the rest of the crew assume that stray munitions from the Reavers killed the agent, Mal takes River aside, tells her that he "had a bad feelin'" about the passenger, and welcomes her to the crew.
This one-shot comic focusing on pilot Hoban "Wash" Washburne was announced on March 9, 2010 and published on June 2, 2010. While guest starring on Whedon's television series Dollhouse, Patton Oswalt requested permission to write a Serenity comic. One of several pitches made by Oswalt was accepted by Whedon, and Oswalt began to work on the script, with Whedon's input. Around the same time, illustrator Patric Reynolds was finishing work on an Abe Sapien one-shot; he was encouraged to apply for the comic, and was accepted by Oswalt and Whedon. Oswalt's enthusiasm for the project and the lack of releases since Better Days led to the decision to use the comic to fill in a gap in the Buffy Season 8 release schedule. Jo Chen, who drew the cover for the Better Days trade paperback, returned for Float Out's main cover art; the original of which was donated to the charity Can't Stop The Serenity for auction. An alternative cover was created by Frank Stockton. The story was later reprinted in August 2011 as part of the Better Days and Other Stories hardcover collection.
Following Wash's death, three former colleagues pool their resources to purchase a ship (a Firefly-class ship of a different model to Serenity), which they intend to name Jetwash in honor of their friend. At the floating out ceremony, they are initially unable to find the right words to christen the ship with, and instead tell each other stories about their interactions with the pilot. A common theme—that Wash would always look out for his friends—emerges, and the three men decided to use this sentiment to christen the ship. However, the traditional champagne bottle has been taken by Wash's wife, Zoe; she instead offers a bottle of cheap Asian liquor called un-ga-pae, which Wash was highly fond of. The final page reveals that Zoe is pregnant with Wash's daughter.
The Shepherd's Tale
Prior to the 2007 Browncoat Cruise, a Firefly convention held aboard a cruise ship, Ron Glass asked Whedon for some information to answer the inevitable questions on Shepherd Derrial Book's backstory. At the time, no new comics for the Serenity series were planned, but Whedon emailed Glass some facts from Book's past to reveal, along with permission to announce that the character would be the subject of the next Serenity comic. Scott Allie, senior editor at Dark Horse, only found out about this because he was copied in on the email. The comic, originally to be titled A Shepherd's Tale and released as a three-issue miniseries, was later verified by Allie, who stated in the letters section of Serenity: Better Days #1 that a comic based on Book's past was slated for a late 2008 release. As it is focused on a single character, Allie stated in a June 2008 interview that it was an opportunity for the Serenity comics franchise to "go in a real different direction."
This release date was not met, and no news was forthcoming until March 9, 2010, when Dark Horse announced that the work would be published in November 2010 as a hardcover graphic novel under the title The Shepherd's Tale. According to Allie, the three-year delay was because no appropriate author could be found to write the story from Whedon's outlines, until Joss brought his brother Zack in on the project in late 2009.
The comic starts off by depicting the attack in which Book was fatally wounded during the film Serenity, then expands upon the character's life by flashing back to events in the character's life, then stepping back to the decision that led to each event, all the way to his childhood. After running away from home and his abusive father, the young Henry Evans falls into a life of crime, then is recruited into the Independence movement. As tensions between the Independents and the ruling Alliance increase, Evans volunteers to infiltrate the Alliance military and spy on them using a video transmitter implanted in his eye. After killing a man named Derrial Book and stealing his identity, Evans joins a law enforcement agency, from where his ambition and drive attract the attention of the military. When war breaks out, Evans/Book attempts to orchestrate a simultaneous six-planet strike to end the war "in one day", but instead presides over a massacre of Alliance forces, including the loss of the starship IAV Alexander and the 4,000 aboard. Book is discharged and dumped on a nearby planet by escape pod. Several years later, Book wakes up in a homeless shelter after being beaten by Alliance soldiers for his role in the Alexander disaster, and has a spiritual revelation while eating a bowl of soup, which prompts him to join the church and train as a Shepherd. Ten years later, he leaves the church as a missionary, and takes passage on the transport Serenity (as seen in the episode of the same name).
Serenity: Downtime is a comic that was released by Dark Horse Comics on November 11, 2010 on the USA Today website as part of the Dark Horse: High Definition program. Described by writer Zack Whedon as a "slice-of-life, day-on-the-ship story," the comic depicts the crew of Serenity stranded on an icy planet in the middle of a storm after a heist. Zoe and Wash enjoy their time together, while Inara and Kaylee fantasize about food and complain to Mal about it, and Jayne approaches Simon about a burning sensation after a night in a brothel. The crew are completely unaware that a band of locals are searching for and have found them, only for River to deal with them by killing them all. As the storm abates and Serenity is taking off, River reveals that she knows Shepherd Book has a secret, that it is as easy for him to kill people as it is for her.
The story was later reprinted in August 2011 as part of the Better Days and Other Stories hardcover collection.
It's Never Easy
Serenity: Firefly Class 03-K64 - It's Never Easy is one-half of a double sided comic book that was released by Dark Horse Comics on May 5, 2012 for Free Comic Book Day. Written by Zack Whedon with art by Fábio Moon; the other half of the comic is a Star Wars story also written by Zack Whedon. The story is set during Zoe's pregnancy, and involves an attempt by a prospective passenger to steal Serenity while landed in the countryside.
Leaves on the Wind
A six-issue series by Dark Horse Comics will begin in January 2014. Titled Serenity: Leaves on the Wind, it will take place after the events of the film. It will be written by Zack Whedon, with art by Georges Jeanty, who is taking inspiration from the artists Moebius, Geof Darrow and Walt Simonson, as well as the films Blade Runner, Outland and Alien.
According to Dark Horse Comics, the trade paperback of Those Left Behind had sold 85,000 copies as of October 2007. Sales data from Baker & Taylor lists the trade paperback of Those Left Behind as the most popular graphic novel not published by Marvel or DC Comics between June and December 2006, while Diamond Comic Distributors listed Those Left Behind as the 49th highest selling graphic novel in 2007 by units sold, although the retail ranking was only 187th. It was the third-highest selling Dark Horse graphic novel in 2007, behind a hardcover edition of 300 (5th on the Diamond list) and the Buffy Season 8: The Long Way Home trade paperback (30th). Scott Allie claims that Those Left Behind was significantly more popular than expected, and that Issue #1 of Those Left Behind was the highest selling comic published by Dark Horse until the first issue of Buffy Season 8.
Most reviews for the first two Serenity miniseries state that while enjoyable and rewarding to fans of the television series and movie, the comic is unsuited for uninitiated readers. One review pans the lack of background and plot in Those Left Behind, while praising the artwork and commenting that the comic has an "aura of character study" that fans will enjoy. Another stated that those unfamiliar with the background and the characters would be better off acquiring the series and movie before reading the comic. Reviews for the first issue of Better Days were similar: claiming that if non-fans "didn't know who these characters were, you just wouldn't care," but praising the artwork and overall storytelling while claiming the miniseries would be interesting and hold promise for many readers. However, later issues were less well received: Issue #2 was panned for poor dialogue and viewed as being worse than the television series and film, and by the final issue, reviewers were unhappy with the series; the lack of character development was a major sticking point. A review for Comics Bulletin noted that that trying to compress too much action and too many subplots into three issues was another of Better Days' downfalls, sentiments echoed in reviews of the one-shot Float Out.
In reviewing Float Out, Miguel Perez of IGN praised the writing and artwork, but commented that the comic did not add anything new to the understanding of Wash, and that as the stories are told primarily through the narration of the three friends, the scenes depicting Wash are few and far between. He also stated that the main reason for reading Float Out is for the last-page reveal. Reviewing the work for ComicsAlliance, Chris Murphy echoes Perez's complaint about the lack of Wash, stating that reading about "three mostly undeveloped strangers for the bulk of the twenty-four page comic is a little disappointing" for fans of the show. He also believes that the comic was let down by being a one-shot: the three reminisces would have had more impact as individual issues in a miniseries, with more space for detail on each incident and development for both Wash and the new characters.
Reviews of The Sheperd's Tale were mixed. Sean Kleefield praised the storytelling, both its content and structuring, but reiterates previous comments that the comics are hard to comprehend without knowing the television series. However, he opines that this may be a calculated decision to target the most likely market for the comic. David Spira of The Geek Whisperer echoed Kleefield's comments on the story while also praising the book's artwork, but felt the comic's release as an expensive hardcover was not justified by the content, and agreed that Book's tale was "completely meaningless unless you are a Browncoat". The reviewer for Daemon's Books found the recurring flashback structure confusing, and complained that the attitude of the Alliance towards Book in the episode "Safe" no longer made sense. The goodtobeageek reviewer, Jessa Phillips, felt that the flashback structure was overused, and agrees with Spira's comment on the value for money, but highly praises Chris Samnee's artwork.
Despite requests from fans, Joss Whedon has stated that Serenity is unlikely to be released as a regular publication series. He believes that the pacing and storyarc structure he created for Firefly would work poorly as a regular series, and unlike the monthly-issued Buffy Season 8, Serenity does not have the wealth of background material generated by seven seasons of television to draw from. However, Dark Horse senior editor Scott Allie wants to produce new miniseries on a more regular basis, reducing the three-year wait between Those Left Behind and Better Days.
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- MySpace Dark Horse Presents: Issue 13 (August 2008) - Includes Serenity: The Other Half.