‘Firefly’ flashback: A look at the stories beyond the TV series and movie (Books and comics commentary)

Dark Horse Comics

Interviews with “Firefly” staffers often include the question of “What story ideas were never produced?” As such, we know they were kicking around episodes about Kaylee having to go undercover as a Companion, and the Alliance accidentally producing a herd of mutant zombie cattle (yes, for real), but we’ll probably never see those stories.

Oddly, while the TV and movie doors to the ‘verse have been closed to Joss Whedon, it’s Whedon himself who has limited the amount of stories in other media. Pocket Books planned some novels in 2005, but Whedon nixed the idea. And Dark Horse would be open to more comics (its “Serenity” comics have all been huge hits), but Whedon — who is overseeing “Buffy” and “Angel” continuations in comic form — has said a “Firefly” Season 2 wouldn’t work as well in comic form due to its leisurely pace and because it doesn’t have the wealth of TV backstory that the “Buffyverse” enjoys.

But enough with dwelling on what we don’t have. We do have a fair number of comics and other stories, and the coolest thing is that most of them come directly from Whedon and other TV writers. In roughly chronological order, here’s your guide to all the non-screen “Firefly” fiction floating out there in the black:

“Dead or Alive” (unproduced script) — Written by Cheryl Cain, this would have been the 15th episode. I think it’s actually better than Cain’s one produced episode, “War Stories.” Cain digs into moral relativism in an even more interesting fashion than the movie did, as Mal is forced by the Alliance to track down a former Browncoat who is essentially continuing the war through a terrorist act. While Mal doesn’t abide his actions, there’s certainly truth to the bomber’s argument that the factory was going to crank out more military machines to further oppress the rim worlds. Click here to read the teleplay.

“Better Days” (three-issue comic book series; Dark Horse cover art shown above) — Penned by Whedon and “Heart of Gold” scribe Brett Matthews, with impeccable art by Will Conrad, this is the second comic miniseries Dark Horse put out, but it takes place before “Those Left Behind,” as Inara and Book are still on the ship. For the first time chronologically, we see the hovercraft mule from the opening act of the movie. The most interesting notion here is that of Dust Devils, the freedom fighters or terrorists (depending on your point of view) who kept fighting for the Independence cause after the peace treaty was signed. It’s possible that this idea was picked up from “Dead or Alive.”

“Downtime” (short comic story) — Collected in “Better Days and Other Stories,” this is a fun exercise wherein Zack Whedon and Chris Samnee get a feel for the characters, perhaps in preparation for the more ambitious “Shepherd’s Tale.” Highlights include River (probably) taking out a band of marauders in the snow; and Jayne getting a venereal disease.

“The Other Half” (short comic story) — Collected in “Better Days and Other Stories,” Jim Krueger has the distinction of being the first non-TV writer to work on a licensed “Firefly” story. It’s short and painless, but not particularly good.

“Those Left Behind” (three-issue comic book series) — Also from the Whedon-Matthews-Conrad team, this story marks the return of Dobson, the Alliance lawman from the pilot episode who now seeks vengeance on Mal. Setting up the characters for the start of the movie, Mal drops off Inara at the Companion training house, and Book — fearing he’s backsliding into old habits of violence by hanging around Mal — also announces his intention to depart. On the final pages, the Alliance hands off the hunt for River to the Operative. “Those Left Behind” is a rousing read with everyone perfectly in character, but it lacks the thematic layers of a TV episode. (In the hardcover volume, Whedon’s memo on the history of the ‘verse is included, and it is a must-read for fans. It’s also in Titan Books’ “Serenity” movie companion.)

“My Own Kind of Freedom” (unpublished novel) — Pocket Books had planned to put out some new “Firefly” novels, and even advertised the fact around the time of the film’s release. But Whedon decided to take a stricter approach in the approval phase than he did with “Buffy” and “Angel” novels, and he nixed the idea. However, Steven Brust released his spec novel online under the Creative Commons law (it can legally be released so long as no money changes hands). “My Own Kind of Freedom” takes place soon after “Those Left Behind,” as the departure of Book and Inara has left the Captain discombobulated. Brust gets the characterizations and speech patterns right in this 168-pager, but the plot is a bit slow. Click here to download it.

“Serenity” novelization — Author Keith R.A. DeCandido is clearly a “Firefly” fan, as I confidently estimate that every episode is given at least one nod in either flashbacks or internal monologues. All of the movie’s deleted scenes are here as well. Whedon has said that his original draft was essentially Season 2, and he steadily pared that down into movie form. Perhaps DeCandido had access to earlier scripts, particularly when he gives the backstory of the gang’s relationship with Mr. Universe (Wash knew him in pilot school), which is screaming out to be adapted into a comic. It would also be neat to see the story explaining how Book knows about Haven, and exploring the positive relationship the gang has with the Haven settlers. DeCandido writes that Haven is a settlement that sustains itself in part by providing shelter, no questions asked, in exchange for cash.

“The Shepherd’s Tale” (one-shot comic book) — Written by Zack Whedon based on an outline by Joss, here we finally get the past that Book carried as close to his vest as he did his Bible. I found it a little tame on my first reading, but I liked it more on the second, and think it would’ve made for a brilliant TV episode. Samnee’s art — much more stylized than Conrad’s — also grew on me. The tale starts with the preacher’s death scene in “Serenity,” then works backward, like a dramatic version of the backward “Seinfeld” episode. The twists and turns of Book’s past — defined by violence, and connected to both the Alliance and the Independents — keep coming until he gains full form. Now if only Dark Horse would give us “The Companion’s Tale,” too, exploring Inara’s just-as-mysterious path from core-worlds respectability to skirting the law with Mal.

“Firefly Class 03-K54” (short comic story) — With no Book or Wash, this Free Comic Book Day 2012 issue seems to take place after the movie. Again, Zack Whedon shows a strong knack for writing the characters in this short piece about a failed hijack of Serenity after a cargo drop.

“Float Out” (one-shot comic book) — Written by actor/comedian Patton Oswalt (who joins Zack Whedon and Krueger as the only non-TV writers to pen an official “Firefly” yarn), the concept of “Float Out” is good: Wash’s pre-Serenity friends tell their favorite Wash stories at a makeshift memorial. The stories of various piloting exploits aren’t memorable, though, and the art by Patric Reynolds isn’t on par with Conrad’s or Samnee’s. A major post-“Serenity” revelation comes when we learn Zoe is pregnant.

“Still Flying” (four short stories) — Titan Books’ fourth colorful companion to the saga includes four short character sketches from the TV staff. Ben Edlund amusingly shows us that young Jayne was exactly the same as adult Jayne; this story has the distinction of being the earliest piece of fiction on the timeline. Jane Espenson gives us a glimpse at what makes Wash tick through the eyes of Kaylee, and Matthews takes River through a psychic episode where she emotionally reacts to everything the other eight characters will undergo in the film. At the farthest end of the “Firefly” timeline, Jose Molina imagines a lonely, 70-year-old Mal. Molina notes that Zoe is now captaining Serenity, but he misses a chance to mention Zoe and Wash’s daughter, who perhaps could’ve grown into a pilot. Kaylee and Simon have two kids, and River is their eccentric auntie. Also on a somewhat controversial note, Molina imagines that the whole crew gains a level of fame after sending out the Signal, but Whedon has suggested in interviews that things likely will not go smoothly for the crew as the Alliance ramps up its propaganda and war machines to deal with the fallout.

A comic-book story for another day? We can only hope.

What untold “Firefly” stories would you most like to see tackled in comics or novels?

2 Replies to “‘Firefly’ flashback: A look at the stories beyond the TV series and movie (Books and comics commentary)”

  1. Interesting article. Though I have not seen this series: and did not know that Steven Brust had written a novel of it. Link??

    And – are there really comic book continuations of Buffy and Angel?? I didn’t know that there were any say, in 2013.. (I did read a couple of Buffy comics but found them quite “young” and simplistic compared to the very witty series. Maybe there are some more adult-oriented graphic novels of it?)

  2. Liz–

    You can download Brust’s unreleased “Firefly” novel here: http://dreamcafe.com/downloads/

    Yes, the canonical (overseen by Joss Whedon) continuations of “Buffy/Angel” are those with “Season” in the title. They started in 2007 and are still going to this day. There’s “Buffy” Seasons 8, 9, 10 and 11, “Angel & Faith” Seasons 9 and 10, and “Angel” Season 11, all from Dark Horse.

    Additionally, Whedon oversaw IDW’s “Angel: After the Fall,” which is called “Angel: Season 6” in its trade paperback collection. (Confusingly, there’s no such thing as “Angel” Seasons 7-8, as they decided to label everything under the “Buffy” seasonal numbering system at that point. Thus, we follow the Angel character from “Angel: Season 6” into “Buffy: Season 8” and then into “Angel & Faith: Season 9.”)

    A good entry point for you would be to find “Buffy” Season 8, Volume 1 — either “The Long Way Home” (Issues 1-5) or Library Edition Season 8, Volume 1 (Issues 1-10) — and then go forward from there if you like what you read. Everything is collected in trade paperbacks or library editions (hardcovers with more issues in each volume).

    I’m currently reviewing “Buffy/Angel” comics on my blog, but I’m still in the early stages (the comics that ran concurrently with the show), so it’ll be a while till I get to the “continuation” seasons. But some of the early work is good, too: for example, “The Origin” and “Ring of Fire.”

    Thanks for commenting, and enjoy your “Buffy” reading!

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