‘Firefly’ flashback: ‘No Power in the ’Verse’ (2016-17) and ‘The Warrior and the Wind’ (2016) (Comic book reviews)

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he Dark Horse Comics era of “Firefly” closes out in admirable fashion with the six-issue “Serenity: No Power in the ‘Verse” (October 2016-March 2017), which finds the Alliance and revolutionaries on the brink of a second war just as rifts among the Serenity crew crop up. Chris Roberson – who wrote the short comic story “The Warrior and the Wind” (see below) – makes his full-length “Firefly” debut. He’s not as crisp as Zack Whedon (“Leaves on the Wind”), sometimes getting heavy handed with Mal and Simon yelling at each other over political differences, but it’s only a minor step back.

After the New Resistance is knocked back a peg in “Leaves on the Wind,” another revolutionary group arises. The Peacemakers are fronted by Mericourt, a grizzled woman who aims to fight the Alliance and doesn’t mind if innocent people get killed along the way. Mal isn’t thrilled with that approach, but he agrees that “the Alliance needs to go.”

“No Power in the ’Verse” revisits the notion that River isn’t in control of her own mind when Kalista triggers her. This is nicely portrayed by Jeanty in a double-page spread that uses a lot of white space and shows River trapped in a body performing actions she doesn’t approve of.

Roberson explores themes similar to “Dead or Alive,” an unproduced teleplay by Cheryl Cain that would’ve been the 15th episode of “Firefly.” In that story, a former Browncoat engages in bombings against Alliance military factories and Mal is tasked with talking him down. Mericourt’s Peacemakers use bombings to disrupt shipping and mining on the Rim planets, something that is less directly about citizens achieving freedom from the Alliance. Still, Kalista makes it crystal clear to Mal that the Alliance aims to tighten its grip on the frontier planets, the last bastion of almost-freedom in the ’Verse. The author raises tricky questions for Mal and readers to grapple with.

Roberson starts by showing daily business on Serenity – including a successful theft of toilet paper, a score Mal and company aren’t thrilled with. (Obviously, this plays differently in the real-world coronavirus age; those crates of TP might as well be gold bars.) Everyone plays their part and gets along like family, and everyone’s speech is in character – with Roberson favoring Chinese swearing much more than Zack Whedon does (but no complaints there). Everything is going a little too smoothly, so we know the stage is set for a shake-up.

Particularly striking in “No Power in the ’Verse” – which again features Georges Jeanty’s artwork, although he seems more rushed than on “Leaves on the Wind” — is the portrayal of a mother’s love and protection of her child via Zoe and Emma. The evil Alliance operative Kalista (introduced in “Leaves”) uses a trigger word to make River into an automatic fighting machine, and River knocks out Zoe and Kaylee, endangering Emma. Later, Zoe tells River matter of factly: “You are never coming near my baby again. Ever.”

Jayne is also on the outs from Zoe after leaving a hatch open and letting the baby wander out. We’re more accustomed to Jayne screwing up. But it’s totally endearing that he now wants to fight at Mal and Zoe’s side if there’s to be a second war: “Seems to me that if loners spend too much time together, they ain’t alone no more.”

Another juicy conflict, intended to be explored more in future yarns, finds Inara revealing a secret to Mal. Back in the war, she had tipped off the Alliance to a key Independents base; she didn’t intend for it to result in bloodshed, but it did, and she has felt guilty ever since. Mal silently walks off after she tells him – even though he himself will have tough moral choices ahead if he returns to warfare.

Roberson repeats conflicts from the series slightly more than is ideal. Kaylee is irked at Simon’s expressions of how he’s “making do” compared to the days before he was on the run, and Kaylee takes it personally. We also saw this clash in “Safe” (1.5). I suppose relationship turmoil does tend to go in cycles. But c’mon, Kaylee, cut the guy a break.

“No Power in the ’Verse” revisits the notion that River isn’t in control of her own mind when Kalista triggers her. This is nicely portrayed by Jeanty in a double-page spread that uses a lot of white space and shows River trapped in a body performing actions she doesn’t approve of. And I dig how River and Iris – her fellow escapee from the Alliance brainwashers – take on a bunch of Kalista’s girls in a big sequence where the crew rescues Bea. (This plot is another broad repeat, as the rescue of Zoe was the centerpiece of “Leaves.”)

Mericourt is the best new character in “No Power,” since she represents Mal’s anti-Alliance sentiments but with no holds barred. But the most visually striking is Ceres, a Companion who Inara used to know and who is working with Kalista for a nice payday. With her red hair, I think she could’ve been played by Isla Fisher if this was a TV episode back in the day.

Aside from being slightly repetitive and verbose about what constitutes a morally appropriate attack for freedom fighters, “No Power in the ’Verse” is an excellent arc. I want to know what happens next, with our heroes turned from vigilantes into soldiers – something that comes naturally to Mal, Zoe, Jayne and Bea but not so much for other crew members, notably Simon.

“The Warrior and the Wind” (May 2016)

In a Free Comic Book Day half-issue story, Roberson shows his skill at writing in a metaphor-laden fairy-tale style as River tells Emma the story of Zoe (“the warrior”) and Wash (“the wind”) and their adventures. Stephen Byrne’s cartoon-style art meshes perfectly. It’s a cute little endeavor, and a good example of Zoe trusting Emma with Auntie River before things go bad in “No Power.” Fans should read it if they can get it cheap, or with the “No Power” collected edition, but it’s not essential to the wider “Firefly” narrative.

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