Life and death are very much on Mal Reynolds’ mind in Serenity: Leaves on the Wind #2. Whereas the previous issue was about how life is continuing for the Serenity crew, with Mal and Inara together, Kaylee and Simon also together and Jayne off on his own adventure with a new ship. There was even the birth of a baby in the last issue. In this issue, the scales balance; death, disaster and tragedy seem all over the world of Serenity this month. For Zack Whedon and Georges Jeanty, this presents a great opportunity to demonstrate their formidable comics storytelling skills in this continually creative and entertaining book.
When we left off last time, the priority was to find a hospital so Zoe – who had just given birth to the little girl, Emma – could get some much needed surgical attention. Mal chooses the alliance because time is of the essence. The crew actually winds up at a mining facility, which has a full hospital, and the doctors there quickly diagnose and tend to Zoe’s injuries. But not before the alliance is notified of their presence, and, as Mal says, they’re not just looking for River anymore. Since the incident on Miranda (see the Serenity film for more info on that), all of the ship’s crew and the ship itself are wanted at the highest level. So, in a touching and affectionate scene, Zoe literally begs Mal to leave her, take her young baby and the crew, before the alliance arrives. Mal does as he’s told, but later on, drowning his sorrows in Chinese whiskey, he wonders what kind of strength he’s going to have without his strong warrior woman by his side. It’s a rare moment where we see Malcolm Reynolds truly vulnerable.
River, of course, volunteers to help make it all better by inducing in herself a drug coma so she can tell the alliance everything they want to know that she has learned. In other words, her plan is to trade her brain for Zoe. There’s no real debate about the situation, as River demonstrates very quickly by kicking a knife into a bulkhead that no amount of drug is going to make her any more strange than she already is. Simon agrees, and River goes under.
And then there’s the man they call Jayne. Having finally quit Mal’s apparently tyrannical rule (it remains to be seen how wise that was on Jayne’s part), the man with the girl’s name has found a new captain, a young Asian woman named Bea. (Let’s pause and note that, for all its Chinese phrasing and assertion that China is the dominant cultural force in the Firefly universe – along with the US – there are actually very few Asian characters in the show or in the comics. So, Bea is a welcome addition on several fronts.) Bea has quickly learned to be annoyed with Jayne’s antics and sense of entitlement, and she takes a firm hand with him just as Mal once did. Her goal is to find, capture, and turn in Serenity and all who dwell within it for the reward money.
So, eventually, in the midst of all this grief and sorrow, Serenity does encounter Bea’s ship, and she boards and lays out her terms. Mal starts to respond, but the other ship goes silent (and we are treated to a horrifying image of the crew, slaughtered in their seats) and explodes, leaving Bea and Jayne on Serenity. Along with one other: the infamous bounty hunter Jubal Early.
Early was in my personal favourite of all the Firefly episodes, the moody and philosophical “Objects in Space”, so I was glad to see him return for this run. His detached and ironic veneer of professionalism has been altered somewhat as he was abandoned in space by Reynolds when their paths crossed previously, but somehow he has survived. And when he muses in the last page that “We’re built to live. But we’re so easy to kill: Does that seem fair to you?” it’s a classic Firefly / Serenity moment. Face to face with the sleeping River as he intones those last words, the next issue can’t arrive soon enough to ease the tension.
This continues to be a strong run for Serenity, with Jeanty’s art really coming to life with character and precision and humour, achieving some splash pages (of the mining facility in space, for example) that would make Chris Foss proud. But Jeanty still keeps his artistic eye on the characters, finding moments with each of them to catch just the right expression. Mal’s sorrowful expression, after he is forced to leave Zoe with the alliance, is played on a close-up of his right eye, then in profile and shadow, suggesting and portraying his deep regret. Mal wants to take care of his crew, especially the one who has been with him the longest and is his only living tie to the past, with the war for independence and all that means to him. Even though Inara and the rest of the crew are as loving and understanding as they can be, Mal is at a real low point in this issue, and Jeanty plays it masterfully.
The real star has to be Zack Whedon, though. Every piece of dialogue rings absolutely true in terms of tone and character. Poor or ham-fisted writing could have spoiled everything, as it would be terribly easy to make Serenity into a sci-fi cliché. But not with a Whedon at the helm, and Zack has completely earned his chops by this point. It will be fascinating and exciting to see what his dark, ironic sensibilities do with Jubal Early as this dark and dangerous arc continues.