Dark Horse

Reckon I’m showin’ my colors, gorram it

Generally, I’m the first one to strongly dislike comics as side-products to another medium, a la television or film. Actually, drop the “a la” — they’re almost always tangential to television or film.

Yeah, continuity is overrated, and something of an obsession for our favorite medium, and despite being overrated, and often dubbed so by self-important folk like myself, we still obsess over it. Fact is when we’re talking about continuity, and we’re talking about comic book projects attached to larger productions, the larger production always wins.

Case in point — and I’m repeating myself here, I admit, but it’s one of the better known examples I can drum up off the top of my head — the original couple of Alien series from Dark Horse. Writer Mark Verheiden and his revolving team of highly talented artists created their own little pocket universe for the characters and creatures first introduced in Ridley Scott’s and James Cameron’s respective films. Both films were intensely different, but they resided in the same universe, and the comics based on them respected and expanded that universe. It worked.

Then of course Alien fans were treated to the third and fourth installments of said film series. Make your own judgments, but on a personal note, I felt like I took one of those barbed Alien tails through my eyesocket. Not so much because they were, well, not of the same quality as the preceding films, but because they messed with the universe. They pulled the rug out from under you, and not in a thrilling, carnival ride sort of way.

I bring this up because Dark Horse, as is sort of their specialty, recently published a three part comic that acts as a bridge between Joss Whedon’s abused and mistreated Firefly series and his critically acclaimed, ha-ha-I-told-you-this-was-good-stuff film Serenity.

Full disclosure: I’m a card-carrying Browncoat. Firefly is my jam, as those crazy kids say about their music these days. I have a certain predilection to Whedon’s stuff to begin with, and stick a guy with the last name Fillion in the lead for me to look up to, some quirky plots and add people cussing in Mandarin and I am in heaven.

It’s cowboys in SPACE, people! Come ON! Cowboy SMUGGLERS!

Sorry. Got a little out of hand. This stuff damages my calm.

Anyway, forget the fanboy stuff. I just wanted to be clear where my loyalties were. I bring this whole thing up at all because Whedon, with cowriter Brett Matthews, has made use of the comic book medium to squeeze out one last story that needed telling that falls between the last episode of Firefly and the opening scene of Serenity.

He’s at an advantage to do so, of course. He’s the creator of the series and he scripted the comic himself. It’s his universe to toy with. Most ‘tweener stories, including Dark Horse comics based on Whedon’s own television series, Buffy the Vampire Slayer and Angel, couldn’t be considered “canon” in the event something in the parent product, the television show, needed to contradict it. Extreme fans will buy anything; moderate fans might consider these stories in limbo a waste of time, as they’re not really adding to the overall development of the characters and the plot. They’re throwaways.

For fans of the show, and perhaps more so for fans of the film — fans, not just fanatics or fanboys or Browncoats or lunatics — the Serenity comic could actually be considered required reading.

It ain’t perfect, of course. It suffers from the same rushed feeling Serenity has, a rushed feeling that is probably only recognizable to the people most in tune with Whedon’s usual rhythms in his storytelling — as an unabashed and utterly biased fan, the thing that most disappointed me about Serenity itself was that there were many flashes where you could see the seams of an entire season stitched together in one two-hour skin. The comic is wounded as well by the absence of the cast, though artist Will Conrad does an at times freakishly convincing job of authentically rendering their expressions.

Frankly the overall product does not reach the quality of the television series or the film. It’s biggest achievement is making use of an entirely different storytelling medium to say things that needed to be said, that never had a chance to appear on the big screen or small. It’s a clever move. In an ideal world it would bring a few more people, either new to the series or Browncoats, into a comic book shop looking for those leftover crumbs of plotline. Granted that’s in an ideal world, but it’s pretty to think so.

It also gives one character a chance to say something that will, in hindsight, make certain events in the film all the more poignant. (“This is an unhealthsome gig, Mal. It’s stupid. Doing something stupid to keep the woman you love nearby, even for a little while…” Wash says, “Well, that’s the kind of stupid I don’t mind.”) I’m showing my colors by saying so, but it’s the sort of thing that very good serial stories can do that film does not have the time to.

It’s been an interesting experiment to watch, an auteur trying to find ways to keep his story intact using every medium he has access to. Granted for the unrepentant fans, it’s an experiment we’d rather not watch, in favor of, say, a five to seven season unbroken run of the series. But at least we got some answers, and some endings.