Saturday, January 28, 2006

Looking To The Stars - Since I Found Serenity...

Before we get started on the comic talk today, I'd like to write a bit about my friend Sam. Sam was taken from this world far too soon by a sad parasite of a man who returned Sam's charity with pain. The good news is they finally caught the guy this past week and justice will hopefully be served shortly.

There are two reasons why I wanted to talk about Sam this time around. First, for reasons that will become obvious, this week's column is dedicated to Samuel Lea whom was as much as a superhero in his 28 years as anyone who ever graced a comic page.

I can't do justice to all the stories I heard about Sam's kindness in the days after his death from his many friends. Suffice it to say, he was the kind of man who'd give you the shirt off his back if you needed it and who would drive out to the bad part of town at 2 am if your car broke down. His loss is a loss to the world at large.

The other reason I want to talk about Sam is because he was one of the people who exposed me to the subject of today's column: Serenity.

Strictly speaking, Serenity doesn't have much directly to do with comics. Sure, the show was created by Joss Whedon, who has written more than a few comic books and other TV shows of geeky interest. Sure, one of the writers/producers was Ben Edlund, best known for creating The Tick. And the basic plot – bunch of misfits join together to survive in a world they didn't make – well, THAT'S certainly never been done before in a comic book.

The story of Serenity first started on a critically acclaimed but(in a typical display of stupidity for the Fox Network) canceled TV series called Firefly. Thanks to a rabidly loyal fan base, a cheap DVD rushed to market and sheer word-of-mouth advertising, the show has become a major cult hit since it's cancellation four years ago and proved popular enough to inspire a major motion-picture release in the form of the movie Serenity

To describe the Universe of the show as a post-Civil War western in space is simplifying things a bit, but it's as apt as anything. It's some five years after a war between The Alliance (think The Empire, minus the Dark Jedi) and the Independents, with the Alliance having come out on top. Malcolm Reynolds, an Independent sergeant who managed to survive the very bloody Battle Of Serenity Valley, spent the last of his savings to buy a ship (named, due to Malcolm's twisted sense of humor, Serenity) and turn freelance contractor.

Zoe, the only other soldier from his command to survive the war, signed on as First Mate and they shortly brought on an expert pilot named Wash and a natural mechanic named Kaylee. Along the way, they pick up some passengers in the form of Jayne (a mercenary who signed after getting a better offer), Inara (a "lady for hire"), Book (a traveling preacher) and a young doctor named Simon and...

Well, that would be telling.

Suffice it to say, I highly recommend that everyone out there go pick up a copy of The Complete Firefly DVD set. If you're a fan of Joss Whedon's X-Men, the Keith Giffen Justice League or anything that mixes equal bits of action, drama and humor, you'll love it. And even if you don't like science-fiction (and believe me, I am there with you), you will love this. It doesn't seem like science-fiction. It ain't Star Wars. It sure as hell ain't Star Trek. In fact the closest thing I can think of as a comparison as far as basic science fiction goes is the Hitch-Hiker's Guide To The Galaxy books. Simply because it has the same spirit of rebellion as well as a similar bent of smart humor.

And for those of you unwilling to buy a DVD set just on my word, no worries; Netflix has it for rent!

The release of the movie also saw the release of a Serenity comic book mini-series. And this past week saw the release of the TP of said mini-series; which I was glad to see as I missed out on the comics during the first printing. And the second printing. As did a lot of loyal Firefly fans.

How does the comic stack up to everything else now that I've finally read it? Well, it's a good read (Joss had a hand in it, after all) but it suffers a bit if you're new to the world of Serenity. The comic was made as a bridge between the last episode of Firefly and the opening of Serenity so there are some plot points and discussions that may confuse non-fans – a problem that Serenity the film was wise enough to address. Then again, they probably figured that nobody but the fans would be getting the comic. And yet, I knew a lot of comic fans who tried to get into the series through the comic and came away confused. I can now see why.

That is why I recommend you get the TV series. THEN read the TP of the comics. THEN see the film.

In closing, I'd like to tell two separate stories that, in a way, tie into Serenity and the quiet heroism that the show tends to inspire.

First, Nathan Fillion (the actor who plays Malcolm Reynolds) is a comic fan. Incidentally, the TP is worth getting just to read the introduction where he waxes philosophical on the comic book store of his youth. But it was in a comic book store NOT like the one of his youth where he was trying to buy a comic with his picture on it, as a gift for his mother. Said store had, within the first week of the comic's release, raised the price on it to $20. While the book did sell quickly, it didn't sell out that quickly and Mr. Fillion protested what he saw as an act of gouging. The employee of said store was reportedly rather rude in his response.

This lead to Mr. Fillion starting a boycott of said store among his fans and... well, reportedly word has spread and the OTHER comic shop in said town where he got the good service common to the Canadian retail industry is doing much better business than the other one. This seems to be proof positive that it pays to be polite when you run a comic book store or, at the very least, that you shouldn't piss off an actor with a rabid fan-base.

My other story is a story of Sam and a boycott he started. It wasn't quite so successful, being limited to himself and the comic shop I worked for. Sam had worked for them too, for a time, but was fired... unfairly by most accounts... after he called in sick but trusted in leaving a message for his boss rather than speaking directly to his boss. After that, Sam swore that he would never ever patronize "the dark empire" again nor set foot in one of their stores.

The same day that we saw Serenity in the theater, I made mention of the fact that there was now a Serenity role-playing game out. Before the movie, Sam said that he could probably get it cheaper on-line. I said that this was unlikely, given my discount. Sam said it didn't matter – he'd still get his copy elsewhere. And then we saw the movie.

When we got out, this being me, Sam and the rest of our gaming group... the conversation went to the game we were going to have that night and some other games we'd like to run. It was pretty much agreed that we all wanted to take a look at that Serenity game. Without a word, Sam reached into his pocket, pulled out his wallet and handed me a $50.

"Don't say anything. Just bring me back the change."

Sam was a man of principle. But when it came to his friends he was willing to break his own rules. Bit like Mal Reynolds in that respect. And several other respects as well.

Rest in peace, Sam. Keep flying.

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