With a story by Whedon and a script by Brett Matthews, this comic is a nice treat for fans of the series, but admittedly, will not fly very far with non-Browncoats. While the Serenity film was structured in such a way as to allow the new viewer to join in the ‘verse without too much confusion, Firefly is very much a prerequisite for Those Left Behind. The story picks up shortly after the final episode of the series – Inara has made the decision to leave the ship but has yet to announce it to the crew, Book’s discomfort with Mal’s methods is growing and Jayne… well, Jayne is still Jayne. The story is a mishmash of elements from the show, including a failed heist, a new job from Badger and the coming together of three villains from the series.
When viewed in the context of the TV show and film, the comic almost feels like an afterthought. There were a few loose ends not addressed in the movie, as well as a few major status quo changes that Whedon and Matthews chose to clarify. The comic answers at least one of the big question from the show and uses that answer to dovetail directly into the film (simultaneously explaining the villain of the film and the absence of the villains from the TV show).
Matthews gives us a strong script, capturing quite well the unique rhythm, dialect and even pacing of the show. While many TV shows and movies don’t translate well to the comic book page, it’s not surprising that Whedon’s creation makes the jump very smoothly. This is a rare show almost tailor-made to become a comic book.
The artwork by Will Conrad is passable, but suffers from the same problem as a great many film-to-comic adaptation: namely that the artist works so hard trying to replicate the features of the actors the artwork as a whole suffers. Those interpretations that don’t work look even worse compared to those that do, and on the whole the designs are overly-detailed and don’t quite blend with the comic book world. Comic artists need to learn from animators who do shows based on live-action properties. Rather than going for a photorealistic version of the characters, it’s better to come up with designs that suggest the actors, but still fit in the artist’s own style.
In the end, this graphic novel is really a love letter to the fans, something to ease the transition from Firefly to Serenity. It’s worth the read for any Browncoat, but for the basic comic book fan, I couldn’t recommend it if they weren’t familiar with the TV show.