Tuesday, September 13, 2011

Serenity: Better Days And Other Stories Combines The Lackluster With The New To Enhance The Permanent Library Of Serenity Fans!

The Good: Decent sense of character voices, Moments of story
The Bad: The artwork, Very simple stories, No huge character development moments
The Basics: Milking Serenity fans with another hardcover comic book anthology, Dark Horse presents the underwhelming Better Days And Other Stories.

For those who might not follow my many, many reviews, I am a fan of the Firefly/Serenity franchise. It's a clever concept that has been fairly well-executed both in film and in book form. Still, it is trying to become a property that can be merchandised and Joss Whedon and his licensees are still trying to figure out how to make it more profitable. Apparently having undersold their anthology Better Days (reviewed here), this month Dark Horse has released Better Days And Other Stories. The anthology is the original Better Days mini-series - with Adam Baldwin's foreword from the original anthology - along with three standalone stories. I've reviewed Better Days pretty extensively on its own, so this review will focus on the stories unique to this anthology.

Having read the hardcover anthology, I like the principle of what Joss Whedon and Dark Horse is doing better than the execution. I like the idea of Dark Horse assembling their one-shot comics (many of which are harder to find) for their readers and putting them in an elegant hardcover volume for their permanent library. I just wish the stories inside were better and, especially, featured better artwork. At least, unlike Better Days the "Other Stories" feel more in tune with the universe Joss Whedon created, without relying on strange advanced technology not seen in the show. In that way, picking up this volume offers readers the nostalgia quality they are no doubt looking from from a book based upon the series that has been off the air almost a decade.

"The Other Half" by Jim Krueger is a remarkably simple story. As the Serenity crew tries to get their valuable cargo to a rendezvous with a buyer, they fight off an attack. Inside the transport, though, River has a chance to read the mind of the person being transported and she makes a judgment based on what she finds in his head. Only a few pages long, the story has a decent sense of mood and pacing, but it is pretty much a one-note story with a ridiculously simple concept. Readers know that River can read minds and that the Alliance is hostile to traders like those aboard the Serenity. So, the idea that one might be laying a trap for them is pretty obvious. That Mal would use River to suss that out makes the story exceptionally low on the "repeatability" factor for reading the volume.

"Downtime" is a similarly simple story with even less going for it. While the Serenity is blanketed with snow and forced to stay grounded, the crew mills about. Wash and Zoe use the time to get intimate (possibly setting up the final story in the anthology), Jayne gets treated for an STD and while everyone else reconvenes to give Jayne a hard time, River goes for a walk in the snow and takes out "snow men." This is another ridiculously simple vignette that trades on the idea that River can read minds and has the ability to kick some serious ass. Unfortunately, readers get this already. We've seen Serenity and her confronting Book is no big revelation for those who have read The Shepherd's Tale. Worse than that, the artwork by Chris Samnee is decidedly subpar. For example when River goes out into the snow the artwork is so vague that it lacks recognizable form for the characters.

The book closes out with "Float Out," a one shot by Patton Oswalt. Following the events of Serenity, three former associates of Wash's sit around and tell stories of his terrible sense of humor and amazing piloting abilities. The stories, from before Wash joined Serenity, has the intrepid pilot flying the Meltaway and other ships to earn his living. The story goes for the big reveal which is of little surprise - or at least none to me as Alan Tudyk and I discussed the plotline that had been intended to be explored had Firefly had a second season. Again, the artwork is particularly bad, though this time the blame goes to Patric Reynolds. I cited page 109 as having artwork that had a particularly crappy rendition of Wash.

Ultimately, it is a wash for me. The book was worth one read, but I couldn't muster up the desire to keep it in my permanent library. I'm one who has been excited about watching the set yet again, introducing my wife to it and even reading Those Left Behind again. But this didn't have much in the way of character development, the stories were hardly essential and the artwork - outside the extensive cover galleries - was hardly extraordinary. Fans might do better to wait to buy this when the hardcover goes on sale right before the inevitable softcover release.

For other Serenity or Firefly works, please check out my reviews of:
Firefly - The Complete Series
Serenity Those Left Behind By Joss Whedon
The Shepherd's Tale By Zack Whedon


For other book reviews, please visit my index page by clicking here!

© 2011 W.L. Swarts. May not be reprinted without permission.
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