158pp/$19.95/May 2010

Firefly: Still Flying

Reviewed by Steven H Silver

Firefly: Still Flying is an interesting addition to Joss Whedon's popular universe.  Following on the original television episodes, film, and three graphic novel series, Still Flying collects snippets from a variety of previously published interviews, numerous production stills, and essays on different aspects of the television show, cancelled seven years ago.  In theory, the centerpieces of this volume should be the four short stories, written by the writers of the original show, that bring the characters back to us, but in fact, the most interesting part of the book is made up of photo-essays like the one on props used in the series or stunt coordination. Strangely, the authorship of these essays is often missing.

The first short story is by Jane Espenson, who wrote the episode "Shindig." "What Holds Us Down" is set prior to the events of the film Serenity and has a wounded Wash and Kaylee left behind in a junkyard where they were looking for replacement parts for the ship.  In an effort to keep Wash talking so she knows he hasn't died, Kaylee questions him about his relationship with Zoe.  In the episode "Our Mrs. Reynolds," commented that "Not everybody gets me and Zoe at first glance." In "What Holds Us Down," Espenson, who doesn't an excellent job with Wash's voice, attempts to flesh out that thought, coming up with reasons why Zoe would be interested in Wash, and Espenson comes up with an interesting theory once Kaylee dismisses the idea that Wash is funny. The story plays on many of the ideas seen in the television series: the eternal breakdown of Serenity, temporarily leaving crew behind, and the crew being wounded, in a way that makes it feel like part of a larger story.  One question it does raise is who is flying Serenity while Wash is left behind. 

Ben Edlund, the writer of  "Jaynestown" and co-writer of "Trash" gives a two-page comic called "Fun with Dick and Jayne" which shows Jayne as a child, already having found his violent nature.  These two pages don't really add to an understanding of Jayne's character, nor are they particularly humorous as they try to adapt Jayne to a primer-style of story-telling, which is too bad from the person who wrote one of the most Jayne-focused episodes of Firefly.

Brett Matthews wrote the episode "Heart of Gold" and co-wrote the Firefly comics Those Left Behind and Better Days. His story "Crystal" is, in some ways both the most and least satisfying of the three stories in Firefly: Still Flying.  It presents a day in which River Tam has had a vision of the fates of all of the other characters aboard Serenity as she goes around to share them.  Those whose futures are known through the film Serenity, clearly match up. Others are as enigmatic as Matthews could make them.  The satisfaction is having a glimpse into the characters' futures, while the lack of satisfaction is based on the amount of prior knowledge the reader needs for the story, or perhaps vignette, to fully work.  Without knowing the characters, "Crystal" is simply a few pages of inscrutability. Just as Espenson did an excellent job of getting Wash's voice right in "What Holds Us Down," Matthews handles Shepherd Book's dialogue quite nicely.

Josť Molina wrote the episode "Ariel" and co-wrote "Trash" and now presents the final story in Firefly: Still Flying, "Take the Sky." In some ways, Molina's story is a companion piece to "Crystal."  While in "Crystal," Matthews has River foresee the future, in "Take the Sky," Molina has Mal Reynolds look back on his life as he nears its end, perhaps a much more satisfying, and long, life than he had any right to expect.  Molina gives a brief summation of the lives of the crew of Serenity after the film ended. At the same time, Mal receives a package that links this story to the first episode of Firefly, also called "Serenity," with the recovery of the cross he wore during the battle from which his ship took its name. The story is one of introspection, limited only because Molina's story is as short as Epsenson's and Matthews's stories when of all of them "Take the Sky" could easily be longer, although it once again leaves the Browncoat reader with a bittersweet taste that Mal's story, for now, has ended.

Failing the Big Damn Sequel, future comics, such as The Shepherd's Tale,  or authorized novelizations, scrapbooks such as Firefly: Still Flying the stories and articles collected in this book may be the best Browncoats can hope for as an expansion of the universe they fell in love with.  None of them quite satisfy the desire to see a full-length, authorized story about the crew of the Serenity, but they serve as a reminder of what Joss Whedon and his band put together for an all-too-brief period of time in 2003.

Jane Espenson What Holds Us Down
Ben Edlund Fun with Dick and Jayne
Brett Matthews Crystal
Josť Molina Take the Sky

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