by Chris Tobias
Last week Boom! Studios debuted a new Firefly spinoff series, Firefly: Brand New ‘Verse. Issue number one was written by Josh Lee Gordon, with pencils by Fabiana Mascolo and colors by Lucia DiGiamarino. The story in this ongoing comic picks up 20 years after the events of the original Firefly TV series and the motion picture Serenity, and while it may feature the same beloved ship and include a couple of the characters fans have come to know and love, harcore Browncoats may find it difficult to accept that this is where Serenity’s journey is destined to lead.
Firefly: Brand New ‘Verse #1 cover art (image: Boom! Studios)
In this new tale, Serenity has a new captain, none other than Zoe Washburne, who is now repeatedly referred to as Zoe Alleyne Washburne for some reason (even though she never felt the need to emphasize her maiden name in any of the original episodes of Firefly or the movie Serenity). Zoe has a completely new crew, as none of the original cast of characters whose chemistry made Firefly so special is still aboard Serenity. Instead, the ship is now run by a crew of four, all of whom are persons of color. Emma Washburne, daughter of Zoe and the late Hoban “Wash” Washburne, is Serenity’s new pilot/first mate, and her boyfriend, a young Asian man by the name of Lu Bao, serves as the ship’s mechanic. Rounding out the crew is Salo, a rather imposing fellow who speaks softly and likes to meditate yet still looks as if he could wield a big stick if he had to. Salo is no doubt meant to be an amalgam of Jayne Cobb and Shepherd Book, even though filling the shoes of just one of those two characters would be a gorram near impossible task.
From the onset, the story trots out every trope it can to make Browncoats feel at home– a ship in peril because of some mechanical failure, the humor and irony of a bickering crew frantically try to resolve the problem, disrespect for authority and an overbearing Alliance presence– all in the first nine pages of the book, as if the creative team wants to make sure it checks every box on the list and doesn’t forget anything.
The dialogue is a little too full of exposition and can at times be downright painful. Zoe and Emma refer to each other as “captain” and “first mate,” as if readers won’t be able to figure that out on their own, and the two characters spend most of the book bickering because Emma is upset that she’s not Serenity’s captain yet and she resents the fact that Zoe thinks she (and her boyfriend) still need looking after, while Zoe doesn’t think Emma takes her responsibilities to the ship and its crew seriously enough. The other two crew members spout out mostly throwaway lines, and Lu Bao’s contributions in particular make him sound like a clone of Kaylee Frye, albeit one that lacks her charm. When Inara Serra makes a brief appearance later in the story, even she reminds Zoe, “They call me priestess now.” I don’t recall Inara ever feeling the need to flaunt her status like that to any of the crew in the original series or film.
One positive aspect of the dialogue in Brand New ‘Verse that is lacking in Boom! Studios’ main ongoing Firefly comics series is the inclusion of Chinese in the dialogue, but even here this book falls short in its execution. That is because the Chinese dialogue is written in actual Chinese characters, and is therefore indecipherable to anyone who is not fluent in Mandarin! For the life of me, I can’t figure out why Gordon didn’t use a phonetic spelling of the Chinese words instead, which would certainly have been more readable and also more familiar to fans who were used to hearing certain phrases in the show and the movie. While it is a small nod to authenticity to include the Chinese at all, doing so in the form of characters that are nothing but random symbols to most readers comes across as somewhat lazy writing, in my opinion.
The young Ms. Washburne does two very questionable things in this issue, the first of which is intended as the catalyst for an action sequence yet nonetheless borders on far-fetched stupidity, and a second that is meant to show her independent spirit and initiative but instead has the effect of making her a little less likeable. Neither of them really does anything to move the plot along, though the reader is led to believe that the second will affect the story in issues to come.
It is actually Inara who provides the intel that leads the crew to work (though it appears she blatantly violates the client-confidentiality rule of a companion in the process), and the job involves actual piracy– something we never saw Serenity’s original crew engage in during the TV series or the motion picture, although it was hinted at from time to time. Zoe and Salo sneak aboard a Blue Sun cargo hauler and steal a container of Blue Sun loot right from under the noses of the ship’s skeleton crew, but when they open the crate, they’re met by a surprise that’s more than they bargained for– a revelation that sets the stage for the second issue while at the same time borrowing a bit too much from a certain big reveal in the original TV series.
Overall, Brand New ‘Verse is a Firefly story with all of the trappings but none of the charm of the original source material. Unlike Boom! Studios’ recent original graphic novel Firefly: Watch How I Soar or the series of original Firefly novels from Titan Books, this story doesn’t really demonstrate a solid understanding of the characters on the part of the writer, and what’s more, there never seems to be any real attempt to address the elephant in the room– why Zoe is the only original member of the crew who is still aboard Serenity.
Browncoats know what happened to Wash and Shepherd Book, and we see Inara at a companion house in the story, but what about Mal, Kaylee, Simon, River and Jayne? It is particularly difficult to believe that Captain Malcolm Reynolds would ever leave his ship willingly, and Kaylee Frye also had a special relationship with Serenity. (She thinks of the ship as “her good girl,” after all). I honestly can’t see Kaylee or Mal ever willingly handing Serenity over to the care of anyone else. Can you? So where are they? Are these characters all dead? Mal is mentioned a couple of times in passing, but the others are never even given so much as a thought. And that’s a shame too, because as I read Brand New ‘Verse, I found myself missing the old Firefly ‘verse and its characters with every turn of the page, and I had to ask myself why I would want to spend $4.99 a month to read Firefly stories that won’t even include over two thirds of Serenity’s original crew.
The one bright spot is the artwork, which is some of the cleanest and most realistic of any Boom! Studios Firefly book to date. The cover art by Qistina Khalidah is especially shiny, and features a realistic painted image of the crew. (And if you’re willing to invest the coin and the time to track them down, there are several variant covers available in limited quantities that are even more gorgeous.)
When all is said and done though, I’m not sure what Boom! Studios meant to accomplish with this spinoff. Are they hedging their bets in case the day arrives when they feel they have no more stories to tell in the flagship Firefly series that takes place between the events of the TV series and the movie, or are they just trying to capitalize on the recent trendiness of “woke” pop culture? Personally, I hope they do not intend this series as an eventual replacement for their original ongoing Firefly series, because if the first issue is any indication, Brand New ‘Verse will likely find itself on the drift before too long. I can honestly say without hesitation that it is the most disappointing Firefly comic I have read, and it represents everything that could go wrong with a reboot of the original series if the wrong storyteller were allowed to slide into Serenity’s pilot’s seat. This Browncoat gives it a D-.
Firefly: Brand New ‘Verse #1 is currently available at your local comics shop. The cover price is $4.99.
(And speaking of local comics shops, I’d like to thank Impossible Dreams Comics in Bridgeville, PA for lending me a review copy of Firefly: Brand New ‘Verse #1. If you’re in the South Hills of Pittsburgh and looking to buy comics, please consider stopping at Impossible Dreams. They are a long-time supporter of Can’t Stop the Serenity Pittsburgh, and the owner, Lou Saut, has been a Browncoat since the days when Firefly was first on the air.)
I was hugely disappointed with this issue, as well. Everything about Inara felt completely off, including her apparent breaking of the client confidentiality (which is something she would NEVER do, not after what happened on Fiddler’s Green…). Also, no explanation whatsoever how she became a Companion again (after having left this life behind in Leaves on the Wind) and how she gained prominent status (despite her ousting after Fiddler’s Green). It it extremely hard for me to accept this as an official continuation of the beloved story…