Big Damn…Sheriffs? The ‘Verse has a new Mal Reynolds in Town in ‘Firefly’ #18

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Mal takes up residence as the new sheriff in town, calling into question his allegiance to his crew and to his way of life.

The Following is a guest post by Alex Harrow.

When former Browncoat and smuggler Mal Reynolds took up a sheriff’s badge, he figured he’d change how justice is served in the ‘Verse–but what if the gold star changed him instead? Issue #18 of BOOM! Studios’s Firefly takes us right into the thick of what the big damn heroes we’ve come to love do best–shenanigate with space capitalism and knock over one of intergalactic monopoly Blue Sun’s freighters. But fun and profit end for Mal’s former crew, now known as the Chang-Benitez Gang, when Kaylee, Jayne, and Leonard run into the new sheriff in town and Mal promises them–and Blue Sun–to “handle it.” Caught between his sheriff’s duty, obligations to Blue Sun, a rekindling maybe relationship with Inara, and his ties to his old crew, the question is: can Mal handle this or will this handle him? 

Where BOOM! Studios’s Firefly comic started out catching us up with how Mal met his first mate Zoe during the Unification War in the past, this current narrative arc grounds us firmly in the not-so-certain future of the erstwhile Serenity’s crew. This issue definitely is not a standalone, so newbies to BOOM! Studios’s Firefly definitely want to go back and catch up with issues 1-17 to get the full context of what happened to Mal and his crew, how he decided to pick up a badge and how Leonard Chang-Benitez entered the game. In itself, issue 18 is as fractured as Mal’s crew–and his apparent allegiances. The story throws us right into the action–which longtime Firefly fans will love–but also raises more questions than it answers, leaving readers eager for the next installments.

Greg Pak’s script is tight and to the point with the action, layered conflicts, and distinctly gray character morals we all know and love from our favorite characters in the ‘Verse and yet, it lacks some of the sharp wit and familial banter synonymous with the show.

The art by Lalit Kumar Sharma and Francesco Segala has a sketchy, almost washed-out character and water color-like colors that blend well with the grit of Pak’s characters and script. If there are comics in the ‘Verse, it’s very plausible that they would follow a similar hand-drawn style. Much like its Space Western atmosphere and weapons, the art and coloring style are a perfect tie-in that, while only roughly resembling the original Firefly cast–complement this new continuation of the series.

Overall, this issue is a bit of a mixed bag: it clearly drives the story forward and leaves readers questioning Mal’s intentions and integrity both to his new employers and his former crew. Readers speculating how sincere Mal’s stab at being a sheriff really is may wonder if he’s truly crossed sides, while others might see this as his way to juggle all of the different conflicts coming his way and try to keep each side guessing before he plays his final hand. 

Even so, the lack of clarity in Mal’s agency and motivation is both the comic’s strongest and weakest point. It keeps us guessing, but also frustrated because right now things could go either way. Longtime fans may be missing what used to be Mal’s ultimate moral compass: his loyalty to his crew. In fact, it’s this lack of clear character bonds that weakens this issue overall. Yes, Mal is pursuing new goals–including possibly rekindling his relationship with Inara–but at the same time he does a 180 on his former crew, which feels counter to his prior characterization and once again, leaves us wondering where this is going and if this really is the start of a “new” Mal Reynolds. 

Here is hoping that future installments will shed clarity on Mal’s intentions and hopefully see a return to the messy found family dynamic fans have come to know and love about the Firefly ‘Verse, along with a solid heaping of making a life of honest thieving (or policing?) while sticking it to space capitalism and coming out on top of it all.