An ever-loyal warrior pondering motherhood.
A duty-bound courtesan dreaming of freedom.
An optimistic engineer hoping for true love.
A prodigy with a leaky brain wishing for understanding.
It takes all kinds to make a ‘Verse and Zoe, Inara, Kaylee and River all seem like the kinda women who wouldn’t interact had they not all wound up on the ship called Serenity. On the surface there’s not much they have in common and little they’d have to talk about. Indeed, there’s only one thing they can all agree on after Inara decides to treat everyone to a day-off at a womens’ only spa while Serenity is being impounded and the rest of the crew are busy dealing with the consequences of that; Saffron is bad news.
The roguish redhead crossed paths with the Serenity crew twice before. Once she set them up to be murdered by junkers. Another time she tried to clue them in on a heist, only to try and double-cross them. Luckily Inara saw the treachery coming and double-crossed her first.
There’s no way any of them (except River) are crazy enough to agree to help Saffron rob a rich diamond baron in the middle of the shindig of the year. At least not until Saffron reveals she has Serenity rigged to explode and has learned all the things the women would never want revealed to another living soul. To save the rest of the crew and their secrets, the women will have to play a dangerous game that’s almost certainly rigged.
Once lauded as the Great White Hope of enlightened nerds everywhere and a prime example of privilege being used to make the generally hostile worlds of comic books and science fiction fandom accessible to women, LGBTQ and minority fans, Joss Whedon was outed as a hypocrite who cheated on his wife and generally mistreated many of the women he worked with. This, in turn, prompted an reexamination of his work over the past few years and a realization that… yeah, some of the stuff in Buffy: The Vampire Slayer, Doctor Horrible and Firefly has NOT aged well and is kind of creepy in retrospect.
I mention this because I was interested to see how Firefly: The Sting would play out, given that it takes Whedon’s characters, puts a focus on the women of Firefly and plugs them into a story by Star Wars: Phasma author Delilah S. Dawson. Not bad, as it turns out. Indeed, the most problematic aspect of the story involves a religious cult that seems to be one step removed from Margaret Atwood. (Though that may come down to the artists’ choice to render said cult in red habits.)
Dawson has a tremendous grasp of the characters and the final four of the book’s five chapters are largely devoted to a single heroine and her perspective as the heist unfolds, while they ponder their own secrets. Zoe, for instance, is struggling with her husband and his desire to have children when she’s still trying to reconcile her self-image as a soldier with the idea of motherhood, the realities of her outlaw life and the dangers of childbirth.
The irony that arises as the story unfolds is that all of these characters admire each other for their individual strengths, even as they chide themselves for their weakness. For instance, the salt-of-the-earth Kaylee longs for the glamour of Inara’s life as a Companion, while Inara envies the freedom Kaylee has to love whoever she wants and her ability to think nothing of spending a week with a strange boy on a beach somewhere.
Would that the art had the strength of the story! There is a different art team for every chapter of this graphic novel and little sense of cohesion between them. While art is subjective, it can’t be denied that there are varying levels of skill at play here and little rhyme or reason behind which sections get the more cartoonish artwork and which ones get a more realistic artist’s rendering. The final effect is very disjointed, even ignoring certain choices by the colorists… such as Zoe being depicted with orange skin in one chapter.
Despite this, Browncoats will find Firefly: The Sting to be a worthy addition to the series’ mythology. The story and the focus on the characters more than make up for the shortcomings of the art. Unfortunately, this novel will only be of interest to established Firefly fans and would prove a poor introduction to the ‘Verse at large.