Review – Serenity: Leaves on the Wind HC (Dark Horse/Turnaround)

Publisher: Dark Horse Comics / Turnaround
Writer: Zack Whedon
Artist: Georges Jeanty
Release Date: 20th November, 2014 (UK)

With the hardcover edition of Dark Horse Comics’ New York Times Bestseller being released in the UK at the end of last year, we thought it might be time to have a look back at just how impressive this mini-series truly was.

So sit back and peruse our issue-by-issue breakdown from Chris and Ross, and soak in just how utterly fantastic Leaves on the Wind is, both for newcomers to the fanchies and die-hard fans alike.

23608Issue #1

I really didn’t know what to think going into this book, I was a massive fan of all things Browncoat and still am (I used to use the stage name “Hero of Canton”) so I really wanted to like it, but at the same time was wary about it continuing so long after the series had finished. The story outline of the issue was pretty much perfect, and from the opening dialogue to the final scene it’s very clear that the Serenity is flying high again.

Zack Whedon manages to perfectly capture what made these characters instantly likeable and relatable, making it feel like they’ve barely been gone at all. The art, however, fell slightly flat for me; while landscapes and facial expressions were spot on, body proportions were off and oddly distracting, and certain characters just didn’t have the same “look” I felt they should have.

Overall, it was the emotional rollercoaster I expected, was well written and for the most part looked good. Dark Horse have done what we all hoped they would and proved once and for all that you can’t stop the signal.

Rating: 4/5.

23609Issue #2 

If there’s a single thing that makes Leaves on the Wind great, it’s that title. I’ll readily admit that I immediately fell in love with Firefly and Serenity the first time I laid eyes on ‘em – its characters, its setting, its heart – and the whole leaf on the wind thing always tolls a sombre bell.

As Dave alluded to in our Group review of issue #1, this does mean that it veers dangerously close to over-produced fan-fiction territory – though in my humble opinion, it manages to not stumble over into the fawning implicit in that particular criticism; instead, it winds up feeling rather authentic, and that’s no bad thing.

The character art is still problematic, despite vast improvements over the previous issue. It’s the inconsistency in the faces that’s the rub there – particularly in the small, less detailed panels. Characters shift from looking spot on, to looking like some other character from some other series (I swear I saw Zatanna rather than Inara at one point) to just looking generic with little to no warning.

It’s a shame, because the scenery and ships are still terrific – detailed, evocative, and capturing the frontier vibe that perpetuate the show rather elegantly. There’s some nice wee character details too – such as River adopting Wash’s distinctive pilot’s outfit from the film, and the design of the various sidearms that get to be pulled this issue.

Thankfully, the strength of the writing shines out through the artistic inconsistencies – Zak Whedon continuing to capture the characters’ voices and mannerisms to a tee. In particular, he deftly handles the welcome return of Jayne Cobb to the mix. As has been said, he’s not quite Joss, but then who is?

The plot developments are solid, if still in the early stages – this issue more or less marks the closing of the first act, ending on a cliffhanger that sees the threads converge for what promises to be a thriller of a third issue.

All-in-all, if you’re already a fan, this will win you over – as it begins to feel more complete, its authenticity is falling into place. If you’re not a fan, go out, buy the DVDs, become a fan, then come back and read this. But either way, sure as I know anything, I know this – I can’t wait for the next issue.

Rating: 4/5.

23610Issue #3

First rule of writing Firefly (and also flying)? Love – and what’s becoming increasingly clear is that there’s a lot of love being thrown into the Leaves on the Wind project, despite its artistically shaky start. Zack Whedon is very clearly intimately aware of the what and the why of Firefly being quite so loved as a franchise, and given that he’s now knocked three issues completely out of the park, we can only hope that they let him keep doing it, on a par with what Dark Horse are also doing for Buffy.

There’re no less than two ‘YES!’ moments in this issue – magic throwbacks to both series and movie, but both turned neatly on their heads in smile-inducing ways. Gone are the vibes of the over-produced fanfic that even we thought it was threatening to become, and it now feels like just another episode. Which is just dandy, let me tell you.

The story has hit its canter as well, with Zoe incarcerated, Jubal Early stalking Serenity once more, and Jayne safely back aboard with his new ostensible love-interest,

The art is still the weakest aspect, but it’s at least getting more consistent – though it may simply be that we’ve been forced to get used to slightly-lumpy-faced Mal, and slightly-too-pretty Jayne. There is, however, one newly returning character who Georges Jeanty absolutely nails, which does raise the question of why there are said lumps and too-prettinesses.

Still, it’s going from strength to strength – a must buy for any fan, and the series is quickly becoming as good a jumping on point as any for the franchise as a whole. Long may it continue.

Rating: 4/5.

23611Issue #4

What is there to say that hasn’t been said? If you’re a Firefly fan, this should be on your pull list already – the series as a whole is a wonderful continuation of the characters you know and love. It just feels right, and that fact alone is a hell of a lot more than certain other TV-show-to-comic adaptations can make claim to (we’re looking at you, 24).

This issue sees what we can only assume is the end of the second act come to pass. His forces gathered – including the Operative, whose presence is strangely glossed over – Mal just has a few finishing touches to apply to his plan to rescue Zoe from the Alliance prison, with a little help from the Resistance, and maybe even the Alliance themselves. On the inside, Zoe gets acquainted with just how hopeless her situation is. With her fists.

Jeanty’s art doesn’t fluctuate from the functional form it settled in to in the previous issue, though with new characters being introduced, it does feel a little like an improvement, as he’s not having to recreate recognisable faces.

To look at it from a more critical angle – and I’m told that I must, with threatening eyes and brandished dictionaries open at ‘critic’, so I won’t argue! – it’s still almost completely inaccessible, and inappreciable as a non-fan. If you’re familiar with the film or series, following the actually quite convoluted plot is a breeze, but anyone who doesn’t know these characters and their backstories will continue to be left out in the cold.

There’re also issues with the execution of said convoluted plot – one particular turn lacks anything resembling exposition. Whilst it was suggested as an option in the previous issue, here it suddenly becomes the status quo with no deliberation. Then there’s the glossing over of the Operative being aboard Serenity mentioned previously.

Both of these would are odd decisions at the best of times, despite there being a dozen ways that the characters could’ve come to make them that would’ve made sense. It feels like they just skipped over explaining it to save space, relying on fans to connect all the dots themselves. It’s a possible sign of the story breaking under the burden of expectation – there’s so much to cover, and who knows when they might get to cover it? The result is this issue feeling a little crammed-in, which is bordering on disappointing.

It doesn’t manage to completely derail the plot – as said, if you know these characters, it’s easy to fill in the blanks – and the series as a whole remains a fascinating and exciting one, still nailing the little idiosyncrasies that made Firefly feel like Firefly, page after page. It remains to be seen quite how essential the series will end up being, and this is perhaps the final bit of groundwork before what promises to be an explosive finale. In a weird, meta-fictional way, the series has already critiqued itself with a scrap of dialogue from issue #3:

”I’m sure you met smarter, but I know you never met no-one can shoot like me. That ain’t nothing.”

Make of that what you will.

Rating: 5/5 for Browncoats, 3/5 for the rest of yous.

23612Issue #5 

I read an article a few days back that argued rather strongly against Firefly making a return. Poisuo’s point is that it’s built up too much in fans’ heads, and cites the return of Futurama as an example of a fanbase enshrining something so high up that when it does make a comeback, it’s just never as good. Even if Joss Whedon were to knock it out the park,

If Leaves on the Wind is anything to go by, Firefly continues to be absolutely immune to this conceit. And this isn’t even being written by Whedon Prime. Who knows what could be pulled off, given that one’s new-found sway, and eminent style, if it were to return to our screens. And it’s hardly like Zak is doing a bad job here.

Firmly entrenched in the third act, the promise of an absolutely blinding denouement is followed through on here – we’re treated to a huge dose of really rather cathartic action: a full-on confrontation between our new Browncoats and the evil Alliance, each with their own version of the psychotic psychic, one fixed, the other still broken. Quite how good it is still relies wholly on your being familiar with the series – nothing’s changed, and this issue will still not sway you ‘round if you weren’t already.

And to finally give some genuine, nergasm-y credit to Georges Jeanty, herein are three pages that’re so genuinely terrific, I may have actually hooted with joy at it. A vast, sprawling two-page spread of ballsy action, that’s preceded by a moment of calm and ostensible defeat that’s so beautifully pencilled and written I actually got shivers. We were wrong to doubt you, Georges, and we’re sorry!

Still striking a deft balance between fan-service and actually getting an excellent new story told, this series continues to be an absolute treat for Browncoats everywhere. Throw your money at it, soon as it comes out. One score this month:

Rating: 5/5.

23614Issue #6 

And so it ends – the first in the continuing stories of the Firefly Class 03-K64 transport known as Serenity. After the climactic events of issue #5, it was difficult to imagine quite how they were going to top it, and the answer to this particular thought process is, perhaps a little sadly, that they simply don’t try.

That’s not to say that this isn’t a great issue, and a wonderfully appropriate ending to a fantastic series, but the assault on the Alliance facility is among the most satisfying pieces of action that Firefly/Serenity has served up in any medium – Whedon knows this, and not trying is his way of emphasising that point, instead opting for an issue that sets about tying up the loose ends left a-blowing.

Not that this issue is without action at all – there’s still the matter of Zoe being imprisoned, and this is resolved with a degree of confidence, and a fun wee action sequence that recalls the crew’s escape from the Reavers at the beginning of the film, only with River at the helm instead of our beloved Wash.

The best things about it, though? First up, we get an explanation of quite how Jubal Early showed up once more in issue 2, and following on from that, we’re promised even more stories going forward. Plus, we’ve got some new crew members, which’ll create an interesting new dynamic for the crew.

Proof that there’s life in this old girl yet, the series as a whole has been absolutely wonderful, even if this particular issue – by its very nature of wrapping up everything that’s happened, and setting up a new status quo – isn’t quite as good as its predecessor. Still, it leaves you wanting more, and that’s very much to its credit, and it’s not enough to dock it any points. And then there’s the final panel – you can practically hear David Newman’s score from the film playing over it, and if ever there was a better one to end a comic on, I’ve not come across it yet. A ship, a leaf, a breeze, and we watched them all soar rather high indeed.

Rating: 5/5.

OVERALL RATING – 27/30 for Browncoats, 25/30 for everyone else

Serenity: Leaves on the Wind HC is available from Turnaround Publisher Services, who kindly provided the review copy for this article.

Reviews by @Chris_BCP and @Rostopher24

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