‘Firefly’ flashback: ‘Leaves on the Wind’ (2014) (Comic book review)

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lthough there are plenty of excellent comics set during the time of the “Firefly” TV episodes and “Serenity” movie, the post-movie story doesn’t kick into gear until the six-issue series “Serenity: Leaves on the Wind” (January-June 2014). Picking up after the revelation in “Float Oat” that Zoe is pregnant, “Leaves” finds writer Zack Whedon beautifully channeling the Serenity crew’s personalities and speaking styles as developed by his brother Joss.

While George Jeanty’s cute renditions of everyone are more appropriate for “Buffy” than “Firefly” – especially for manlier characters like Mal and Jayne — I still love it. While River and Inara sometimes look similar, their clothing sets them apart. Jeanty’s space and spaceship drawings have gorgeous scope and depth when paired with Karl Story’s inks and the colors by Laura Martin.

When viewers were introduced to the “Firefly” world, the Unification War was in the past, but – similar to how World War II grew out of World War I – the conflict is ramping up again.

The aptly titled “Leaves on the Wind” finds Serenity doing its usual thing of looking for delivery jobs and avoiding the Alliance, but they are in especially dire straits after the events of the movie. The crew is hailed as heroes for revealing the fact that a botched Alliance experiment on Miranda turned humans into Reavers.

But being a Verse-wide hero doesn’t protect you from vengeful governments – just ask Snowden or Assange – and indeed, the Alliance’s propaganda machine and other apologists are in full force in the media coverage. Statists gonna state, right? The Miranda-deniers are happy to join pundits on the tube and drop the ever-effective T-word in regard to Mal’s bunch: “terrorists.”

When viewers were introduced to the “Firefly” world, the war was in the past, but – similar to how World War II grew out of World War I – the conflict is ramping up again. Inspired by Mal’s losing-side heroics in the war and the Miranda revelation, a New Resistance has cropped up, and for readers that means a major new character: the scrappy blue- and black-haired Bea.

Her build-up of the new Browncoats is going well, but in a classic Whedonian (be it Zach or Joss) case of pulling the rug out from under readers, we learn Alliance officer Rodgers is the group’s secret benefactor. He has used Alliance funds to entrap them and kill a bunch of them in one fell swoop.

Another new player – who I’m sure will factor more into future stories – is Iris, one of River’s fellow brainy Alliance prisoners. When rescued by Serenity, Iris (who resembles the android from “Ex Machina” with her shaved head and Alliance-issued jumpsuit) is deeper into her brainwashing than even River was. As Kaylee correctly notes, Mal is “a softy” toward people in need (so long as they don’t put his current crew in danger), so she’s on board for now. I suspect conflict ahead, though.

“Leaves on the Wind” flows very much like a TV episode, but one difference is that casting availability (that logistical hurdle that is part of why we haven’t gotten new live-action “Firefly” stories since 2005) is of no concern when you can draw the cast. Bounty hunter Jubal Early, memorably played by Richard Brooks in “Objects in Space” (1.14), has what amounts to a dark-comedy cameo.

The Operative, played by Chiwetel Ejiofor in the movie, returns in a fascinating way, actually helping Mal to find the prison where Zoe is being held. His politics have flip-flopped, as we saw at the end of “Serenity.”

The prison site where Zoe is being held is creative: It has no walls, and prisoners are free to roam as far as they want. Guards are happy to let the hot expanses of desert kill the prisoners. Plus, prisoners are welcome to kill each other, and they often do.

I enjoy how our heroes use the “no walls” setup against the Alliance. Zoe runs into the wastelands and reunites with the crew after an epic melee where Bea proves herself (and Jayne perhaps re-proves himself) as a member of the makeshift family.

“Leaves on the Wind” certainly illustrates the bleakness of the crew’s situation, as the jobs aren’t coming in and they have to dip into the emergency stores of food on Inara’s shuttle. The Operative suggests that perhaps Rodgers and the Alliance will leave the Serenity be for a while, but I fear that is wishful thinking.

Despite the rough going, another overarching feeling of the six issues is the way the Serenity crew finds comfort in each other. The days of “will they or won’t they” are past, so we see the pairings of Mal and Inara, and Simon and Kaylee. River has a possible friend in Iris, depending on her mental stability; Bea is pleased to find allies; and although Jayne won’t admit it, I suspect he’s glad to be back with this crew.

Zoe is happily reunited with her newborn Emma, and in a classic Zoe moment, she then challenges The Operative to a duel, noting: “That baby’s father died running from you and yours. Don’t much matter if you helped save me. That’s a debt can’t be repaid.”

(Maybe it’s just me, but there’s something about reading Zoe’s and Mal’s Western-style speech on a page that makes it sound contrived. But if the actors say the words, I’m fine with it. I don’t know of any workaround; just making an observation.)

Whedon and Jeanty choose to not show us the outcome of the duel, except for the fact that Zoe is alive and well. The implication is that she has killed The Operative, but we know the rules of franchise fiction: We don’t see a body, so he could come back.

“Leaves on the Wind” gives us the start of a gradual build-up toward a second war couched in the story of Zoe’s rescue that’s personal to everyone. It’s plot- and character-driven, for sure, but it’s also a brilliant bit of thematic sleight-of-hand.

The movie could play as a happy ending for non-comics readers. But “Leaves on the Wind” – while evoking recent behavior by big governments on Earth — takes a sober look at what would likely happen to people who reveal a huge state secret. The heroes’ big victory puts them more in the Alliance’s crosshairs than at any time since the war, so this isn’t merely a further adventure, it’s an essential continuation of the “Firefly” story.

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