Moving Pieces into Place with Serenity: Leaves on the Wind #3

In the new Serenity comic, issue #3 of Leaves on the Wind, there’s a lot of ground covered in very little time. If there’s one issue where we can feel the story not exactly slipping out of the creators’ control, but definitely pulling at the reins a bit too enthusiastically, it’s this one. Whedon shows, and comics, definitely have a storytelling pattern with a lot of sudden stops, clashing and contrasting moments and narrative “180”’s. Most of the time that works just fine, but in a comic it can seem a bit jarring. In this issue in particular, you yearn for a driver with a steadier touch on the gas pedal.

Not that the story it’s telling is any less interesting than the issues that came before. And this issue does set up a major piece of the narrative puzzle, clearly identifying what the mission(s) of Serenity will be for the rest of the run and who will be involved.

In the previous issue, we left River in a coma, having taken a drug that allows her full access to the buried memories in her damaged mind, memories that she believes will have some value to the Alliance. Mal Reynolds is counting on it, because he knows that River’s information is his only bargaining chip, and Zoe is still in Alliance custody. River’s nightmares are indeed horrible, presented in that classic “horror movie” mode that Whedon has with flashbacks, inevitably leading up to the moment where a character starts with their head turned away from the camera and turns into it in the final moment, revealing something startling. It’s a fairly well-worn device, and one mild criticism I can levy against Zack Whedon in this issue is that he uses it twice. And it doesn’t come across as particularly original the first time.

River’s conclusion after her mini-vision quest is one of the two rallying cries for the rest of the crew: there are more children like her, with special abilities, being held by the Alliance and experimented upon. They must be saved. Exactly how the greatly diminished crew of Serenity will be able to do this remains an open question, especially considering that their urgent mission of the moment is to rescue Zoe.

Jubal Early, who we had assumed, based on his dramatic reveals in the previous two issues, would become a major villain gets a half-hearted turn at bat here. But let’s extend the baseball metaphor and say that he pops up and is caught out pretty quickly. Having rounded up the Serenity crew and begun to make his usual off-centre threats, he somehow forgets that he neglected to look for “the mechanic”, promoting a cue from Kaylee to smash him in the head with a wrench. When we next see him, he is tied to a chair being quite effectively tortured by Kaylee in a nice turnaround from the TV episode. But dispensing with Early as a villain this early (no pun intended), after such a build up isn’t very satisfying, from a reader’s perspective. Unless he has a larger role to play in the events to come, which I suspect might be the case.

Other narrative threads in this rather fragmented plot involve Mal and Inara, together as a couple, trying to decide on the future of the ship. I’ve always loved Mal and Inara and even before Inara “retired” as a companion, she was obviously the “Mother” of the ship to Mal’s symbolic role as “Father”. She was always the strong female character, among several (this is a Whedon franchise after all), who was strong in the least obvious ways. When she says how much she loves the ship, way back in the Firefly episodes, she’s also talking about her roguish Captain with a heart of gold. Now that these two are together, we’ve really only seen them having sex. But this time we get to see them actually hashing out a plan together, with Mal leaning on her the way he once might have with Zoe. It works: and it’s made all the more moving by the fact that Mal misses Zoe terribly. His whole demeanour, since having to leave her behind at the Alliance medical facility, has been drained of all his cocksure energy and he seems genuinely weak. Inara responds to this with great sympathy and love, admitting that all she wants in life is to be with him.

In all of that emotional stew, the arrival of Jubal Early seems a bit out of place, and perhaps that’s the justification for why he was taken out of the picture so quickly, with a seeming cheap trick. Mal simply doesn’t have the time or energy to deal with him at the moment.

The other major new situation is the arrival of Bea, the Captain of the ship to which Jayne had run after leaving Serenity. Bea, like any Captain, is heartbroken over the loss of her ship and her friends. Even though, as Inara says, “She can handle herself,” which makes her a good addition to the Serenity crew, it remains to be seen if Bea will really integrate into the proceedings. She certainly could be a good addition to the cast of characters, if that’s what she chooses.

Meanwhile, Zoe is moved to The Prison Planet of Sci Fi Cliches, where we half expect her to meet Kirk and Bones taking the heat for murdering the Klingon ambassador. Oh, and she promises her cellmate that she’s “getting out”. Again… cliche territory for a franchise that doesn’t need it. It’s good to see Zoe, and obviously a prison break story is on the horizon, but this is all very typical fare, and in a Serenity book we’ve come to expect a bit more.

Finally, in search of an additional crew member to help in Serenity’s two missions (rescue Zoe and set the psychic assassins free), Mal makes the daring decision to recruit The Operative from the Serenity film, played so effectively there by Chiwetel Ejiofor. Here’s the second use of the “character turns into camera” device, although it isn’t really much of a surprise. (If we just did the math on famous missing living Firefly characters… I mean, who was Mal going to recruit? Badger?)

There’s no intention here of damning with faint praise, but of curse Geroges Jeanty’s work is excellent throughout and the dialogue still rings true. Zack Whedon, for example, captures The Operative’s voice very well. And the scenes between Mal and Inara play very nicely, particularly when they’re cuddled on the Serenity bridge. But this issue definitely has the feel of “moving things into place”, which has to happen sometimes in comics and other serialized stories. I’m still curious what will become of everyone as the adventure continues.

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ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Independent scholar Ian Dawe has been writing for Sequart since November 2013. Before that, he had a mixed background, initially in science (Molecular Biology and Biochemistry), where he earned an MSc from Simon Fraser University and then an MA in Film from the University of Exeter in the UK. He spent a decade teaching at the college level, delivering courses in Genetics, Biochemistry, Cell Biology, Biological Anthropology and Film History. His academic work includes peer-reviewed papers on the work of Alan Moore, Harvey Pekar for Studies in Comics and a dissertation on Terry Gilliam for the University of Exeter. He has presented papers at several major academic conferences including Slayage 2014, Magus: Transdisciplinary Approaches to the Work of Alan Moore in 2010 (in the wizard's hometown of Northampton), Comics Rock and the International Conference of the Humanities in 2012, and at the Southwest Popular Culture Association Conference in Albuquerque, New Mexico in 2014 and 2015. He has contributed to several books, including a chapter about the TV show Archer in "James Bond and Popular Culture" and two chapters on Breaking Bad for "Breaking Bad and Masculinity", both now available from McFarland. At Sequart, he has authored a chapter for New Life and New Civiliations: Exploring Star Trek Comics, A Long Time Ago and two more upcoming books on Star Wars comics. He has also contributed to books on Alan Moore and 1970s Horror Comics. He is currently planning a full-length book on Better Call Saul. Ian currently lives in Vancouver, BC.

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