How I’ve missed you.
I still miss you every day, actually: whenever I look up at my bookshelf, where the hardbacks of the 4 Dark Horse comic series stand proudly next to the Cortex Plus RPG system and the Firefly series BluRay… When I bring out Firefly Fluxx for a quick game with friends… When I bring out the Firefly boardgame for a long gorram game with friends… And whenever I remember I’ve yet to play the miniatures boardgame, even after all this time.
But at least I have that on my shelf, too, along with all the preoder bonuses.
What I mean to say is I love you dearly, and that I used to love everything about you.
Used to. Not anymore.
Because this shit happened...
Alright, alright, let’s give some context: we read this book over January for the Gung-Ho Book Club, and it was… Way less good than I imagined. I think there were several times when people asked me why I kept on reading it if I disliked it as much. But at least it got better for the latter half.
Short rundown before I rip into it:
Mal & Co. have a gig they need to fulfill for Persephone’s prime prick, Badger, and are trying to catch some work on the side with some dodgy bloke, name of Hunter Covington. It all starts going sideways from the very get-go, with yellow flags all over the damned play, warning Mal he’s stepping into a trap, but for some reason he keeps going through with it, gets separated from Zoe and Jayne, and eventually gets captured.
Meanwhile, the first mate and the first asshole get into ye olde bar fight and manage to escape, albeit not unscathed, and start looking for their missing captain. There’s a time-sensitive aspect to it as the cargo they’re supposed to deliver for Badger is highly volatile and will literally blow up if too much time passes.
Unable to find Mal planetside, with time running out and their already shaky rep on the line, Zoe eventually pushes for the crew to deliver for Badger, at least, and Book offers to return to Persephone where he uses his connections, negotiation skills, and no small amount of sleuthing (amateur sleuthing) to track down Mal’s whereabouts. This was probably the highlight of the book (heyo!), and what kept me going through the latter stages of it.
During this whole shindig, Mal is delivered to a bunch of asteroid-cave-dwelling vigilante Browncoats who are cutting down any and all former soldiers who they think have done the movement wrong. Judge, jury, and executioner style.
We get an insight into Mal’s past, all the way back to his childhood, when it turns out the leader of the ragtag bunch of misguided revolutionaries is none other than one of his best friends growing up, and there’s a love triangle that basically drives Mal being brought in for judgement, complete with dodgy accusations leveled his way.
Eventually, the crew manages to drag their sorry asses to Mal, save him, and blow the cave sky-high with all the Browncoats still in there, which… Ok, a little severe, but there you go.
This could all have taken place during a regular episode of Firefly, and that’s fine. The issue here is that we’ve grown past that era and have new information to toy with after 15+ years of new content in various forms. We get to see our characters as we know and love them, but something feels off and stale about it all.
Hell, we’ve had this whole Mal-in-trouble thing not once or twice, but actually three times before in the series alone: Niska, Saffron, Out of Gas. But we’re living in the year of the redo, so this is kind of expected.
The introduction to the universe is done as if the authors looked over various highlights from the 13 episodes of Firefly and went “Right, how do we reference all of these things in here without coming across like spastic ferrets hitting the reader over the head with them?”.
Then consulting editor Joss ‘I’ve completely lost it and here’s proof of it’ Whedon went “Don’t worry about the spastic ferret bit and just chug everything into the damn book, they’ll love it!”
We have nods (well, more like head bangs) in regards to Niska, strawberries, toy dinosaurs, that single time Book was injured and the Alliance helped nurse him back to health, that single time Simon and River took refuge from an Alliance inspection on the outer hull, Vera, and just about any other single tidbit from the show that might make a fan jump for joy.
The issue isn’t necessarily THAT these references were made, it’s HOW: i.e. in a very shoehorned way that’s supposed to make you feel smart if you get the reference but doesn’t since you get the almost beat-for-beat explanation as to why that’s a big deal, anyway. At times, this was Last Jedi levels of imagery from the past: lazy, uninspired, and thoroughly cringeworthy.
So I was surprised to find out long-time fans enjoyed it as much. Then I went on to Goodreads and found stuff like this, so I stopped caring about the damn ratings, anyway:
See, Rotten Tomatoes (and everybody else writing about “review bombing”), THIS is a proper disingenuous review, explicitly so, made prior to the product’s release. You bunch of vegetable-looking-and-tasting fruits!
The plot slogs on with the mystery of Mal’s abductors’ identity and tries to build up his past toward the big reveal, and that much was enjoyable, but even with the whole tied-and-gagged position he spent most of the book as, it didn’t really feel like proper danger to cap’n tightpants.
This isn’t even taking into account the timeline aspect, just the fact that we’re supposed to believe a bunch of emaciated idiots will somehow be Mal’s end at this point in time. Again, if this would have taken place over the course of a single episode, it would have worked better.
As it stands, there was much ado about nothing for a good portion of it, and little to no character development for anyone, aside of Zoe managing to charm an Alliance officer into letting them off easy during an inspection. That, coupled with Wash’ reaction to the whole thing actually got a laugh out of me.
Simon and Kaylee are in the same “just get a room” position they were in before, Mal and Inara still have repressed feelings, River’s as cooky as ever, Wash barely does anything, and Book is his stoic self, with a big plus on actually getting to peel back a bit more of the veil on his backstory. As a big fan of the Shepherd’s Tale comic (which I think is the best Firefly expanded universe piece of content to date), this was very welcome.
Another highlight of it all was most of the dialogue, with it all sounding pretty much like you’d expect from a Whedonverse product, so that was also appreciated. Mal talks fast and loose, Jayne groans about everything, and River still makes no sense whatsoever yet manages to know exactly what’s going on, and to even warn the others of impending dangers and doom.
Maybe Whedon actually pitched in on this one, or the authors finally remembered what this thing was all about: witty, smart banter, a tight-knit, motley crew, and no shortage of peril for them to wade through.
There’s also a distinct feeling of the book having two radically different writing styles, with the first half seemingly crawling on forever the latter brisking the pace up a bit. This might be due to the fact that James Lovegrove finished a story that Nancy Holder started but wasn’t able to see through. Insert joke about leaving Firefly to the guys here.
I don’t want to drag this on further than I have to, because I still have a few choice words about the current BOOM! Comics Firefly run, and that one’s way worse than this one, if you can believe it…
Bottom line: things could be better for the IP, and I’m not sure about reading these novels going forward, with a couple still coming this March and October.
Big Damn Hero tries to serve as both a return to the series for casual fans as well as a continuation of it for the hardcore bunch, and weirdly enough it both fails and delivers on both, with a heavy slant towards failing. It’s a middle of the road, slow-moving book where nothing happens in the main plot side of things for the most part, and when it does it’s so close to the end it doesn’t matter anymore.
The Gung-Ho Geeks rate this: 5 Fireflies out of 10.
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