Serenity: Those Left Behind - Will Conrad, Brett Matthews, Joss Whedon Edit 13/08/05I shamefully admit I overrated this comic the first time around, even by starry-eyed standards. Those were my first days on Goodreads, still testing the waters of internet reviewing, and the fandom of this franchise is very intimidating. Fans will still love it, but the magic is gone from my affair with Mr Whedon. And objectively, the comic is in the lower quality tier. I rarely revise the ratings, but I was of two minds about this one from the start, and it really didn't hold up on the revisit. All that I said in the review the first time around stands, and it remains unaltered; only my personal rating is changed.---------------------------------------------(In reality, somewhere between two and three stars for me. If you are unfamiliar with the series this was based on, think "three at best". If you are a dedicated fan, think "solid four - four and a half".)One, I really wanted to like this one more. Which means that my expectations have been high, therefore I was harsher where it failed. Yet...Two, the rating is still biased in the favour of this comic. Nevertheless...Three, it doesn't stop me from poking fun at creator's attachment to the verse. You have been warned. Serenity comics expand on the story told by Joss Whedon's cult TV show "Firefly", which got cancelled after airing for one season in jumbled order, and the movie sequel "Serenity". The plot of this issue is placed between the final episode of the series and the movie.(At this point, this reviewer is quite sure that if the limits of love are legally expanded even more in the future and marriage of people and material objects becomes possible, Whedon will be among the first in the line of those taking the advantage of it and marrying a model of Serenity the spaceship.)Now, as far as the comic-reading goes, while I have read a lot of them I'm not a fan to the point I know all the terminology so please bear with my descriptive explanations. I have a problem with the three-dimensional, full-colour overly-realistic art. Which is okay for covers, but not for the whole comics. Faces just look awkward most of the time. If I wanted to stare at Nathan Fillion's bone structure, I'd either look up the actual pictures or pop in the DVD and pause at appropriate times, not stare at comic artists' passable at best rendering of it. More often than not, it looks like tracing of stills rather than actual original drawing. And this is not personal preference speaking - about one third of the panels show Mal, more than all the other crew members combined. At least we were spared the shirtless scene. This time.(Which makes this reviewer entertain disturbing thoughts about whether author assigning Inara her particular profession has something to do with envy...and the reviewer stops that train of thought before it gets too disturbing.)Ahem, anyway, I'm not fond of full-colour too-realistic depictions of faces. They cause problems when drawing in difficult angles more often that not, up to making the faces look completely different sometimes. They work better in black and white. If you must have full-colour, blur the lines or make the drawing less realistic otherwise. Please avoid showing actual bone structure in detail, particularly through shading rather than lines. What's wrong with the plain outline of the face?While we mostly avoided the annoying bolding when it's not really necessary, I did catch a typo or two. One of them makes the whole statement make no sense, even. Seriously, there is so little text and they can't bother to proofread it?The most glaring problem is that this comic is show/movie fan-only. There is no exposition, even though there were many opportunies to insert one. Also, Whedon is used to writing for screen. It holds up decently in the first part, but the second part gets too incoherent to follow, even for someone like me who saw the show and the movie. It is too rushed and splintered. Even having another person as the actual scriptwriter didn't help.Main headscratchers: I was like "Wha? What happened to agents?" and no, showing Simon and Book with various tools doesn't help, particularly since in show-verse Shephard is supposed to avoid killing. And then we aren't sure if Inara actually left or Mal is just thinking about it in advance. We also don't know what he really said to her or if he said anything at all.It's easy to imagine these moments as tension-packed sequences on the screen, but on the page they fall flat. While screen translates better into graphic novel than it does into text, some parts still don't work that well in other media. I can't say I didn't expect these issues, but I still hoped I would be pleasantly surprised. I wasn't. I think it's a shame, because the subject matter lends itself to comics very well. The world of Firefly/Serenity could have lived on in graphic novels for many years, even with big and little screen closed to it. The subject matter is original enough, characters are interesting enough and the plot being made from many short adventures rather than one large story lends itself well to this medium. This could have been a prime opportunity to gain wider audience, but instead we get extra for fans. And I don't think aiming for guaranteed audience excuses this. Surely old fans wouldn't be that annoyed with a little bit of exposition?Another problem is Mandarin. Okay, in the show you can kind of get the gist of what they are saying from the tone and situation, but it's another thing that doesn't work well in the comic. While I understand the desire not to ruin the moment with subtitles in the show, we could have had a glossary tacked at the end of the comic. And no, I'm not as dedicated as to look it up. Japanese already has more kanji than I care to learn. Which means that, yes, I actually understand some of it, but not enough and what if I haven't learned any language that uses kanji? I've read comics where foreign alphabets, gibberish or odd symbols work - but the meaning usually gets somehow explained later on. And if not explained, those passages are usually off-hand comments which we don't really need to get or merely indicative of the character's nationality and fact that he can't communicate with others. But there is a scene where Mal says a very long sentence after a very important event, with no one speaking before or after to give it context. And without translation of any sort, it falls flat.What did I like about this comic? One thing that bugged me about this verse was classification of Mal as antihero. In series, he comes off as more of a hero in a very dirty and prickly coat. Then I read that FOX demanded that he is "lightened up". And in hindsight, it shows. There is just this nagging feeling that he is supposed to be darker - indeed, that the whole series is supposed to be darker - yet in the end it remains mostly black-and-white morality and no, the fact that they are technically criminals is not enough. Jayne is about the only one that is really ambiguous.(And maybe River, but she has an excuse.) This comic fixes this. (So do the others, from what I understand.) Not only in regards to Mal but other characters as well, most notably Shepherd. The story in general, even with script chopped-up, is good, and so is the characterisation. Nevertheless, if you haven't seen either show or movie, don't bother.