Firefly: The Unification War Part One
Jim Campbell (letterer), Marcello Costa (colorist), Dan McDaid (artist), Greg Pak (writer), Joss Whedon (creator)
April 24, 2019
Apparently, I’m not quite over my crush on Firefly, despite my utter disappointment with Shepherd’s backstory, and my general disappointment that has come from growing up and becoming aware of the problems surrounding Joss Whedon’s attitude and work. Learning that there’s a new Firefly story on the horizon still piques my interest, yet still, I approach this new story with trepidation. I was bolstered by my appreciation for Greg Pak’s work, but tempered by the implications of Pak’s involvement as a Korean-American writer in relation to the fact that Firefly is a story that heavily focuses on Asian aesthetics, but somehow forgot to include any Asian characters. I don’t want to think of Pak’s involvement as some kind of appeasement—the writer deserves better than that. His passionate afterward, detailing the story that shaped out of his excitement even before he had agreed to the request to write for BOOM! is clearly that of a fan who loves the world and characters Whedon created. But the result thus far has been the let down I was, perhaps, expecting.
The Unification War promises to take fans deep into the history of how our brown-coated heroes came to be the outlaws they are following the galactic civil war that found them on the losing side. The crew of the Serenity finds themselves on a planet looking for some under the table work to help them afford parts to get the ship back into the sky. The job comes in the form of escorting a group of religious zealots — who appear to have a lust for blood and violence — through dangerous lands. Hilarity ensues, shadowed by the Alliance vessel that is searching for the war criminals, Zoe and Mal, who have been accused of mass murder.
Pak’s story plays out like an episode from the television show. The crew is still not entirely comfortable with each other and each has their own goals. Though Pak nails their personalities and that Whedonesque wit, there’s not much more to the characters beyond that. Jayne wants to blow things up and turn people in for money, Wash just wants Zoe to be safe, Zoe is her stoic self, River is odd but accurate, Simon just wants River to be safe, Book wants to make sure no one plays holier than thou, and Inara is still having awkward pauses with Mal. Oh, Kaylee is also there, but seemingly only for the purposes of doing engine repairs and driving the getaway vehicle.
Beautiful covers by Joe Quinones, JG Jones, and Kirbi Fagan adorn the four chapters this hardcover volume collects, with a front cover by Lee Garbett bringing it all together. Stay for the cover gallery as well, where artists like Marguerite Sauvage, Jock, Bill Sienkiewicz, and more share their own whimsical or poignant takes on the characters.
But the panels themselves don’t quite live up to the promise of these covers. McDaid’s art is adequate when it comes to telling the story, but, despite several attempts that occasionally get an expression or a facial feature (mostly Mal’s nose) sort of right, the characters look little like their real life personifications. More over, perspectives and proportions are all over the place, and bodies with tiny heads frequently drew me out of the story.
McDaid’s style works better during the flashback moments, which are inked in thick black lines and coloured in a vivid, harsh red that perfectly suits the chaotic moments of the battefield. The flashbacks speak of dire moments for Zoe and Mal, as well as the new antagonist, Boss Moon, but they don’t go into much depth, which serves as further disappointment. I had hoped a book titled “The Unification War” was actually going to swing back to provide much more detail about that time in their lives, but instead, the mentions are brief and, though a heavy emotional impact is implied, we don’t get to see much of it beyond Boss Moon’s rage and Mal and Zoe’s apparent shame and regret.
BOOM! promises that this story will answer the questions fans have long asked about the pair’s past, and the war itself, similar to the mystery surrounding Shepherd Book, which was revealed in 2010 in The Shepherd’s Tale from Dark Horse. Book was one of my favourite characters, but I tossed this graphic novel right out after finishing it, thanks to the ridiculously basic tropes it employed to reveal a completely uninspired history that I’ve had to remedy with headcanon.
The Unification War feels very much like it’s walking a similar path, showing little growth in the characters or this deep mystery hanging over Zoe and Mal’s head.
And yet, gazing at the cover of the next volume, and given where this volume leaves off, I am still holding out hope. Seems like you can’t take the sky from me after all.