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Serenity Soars Again in Dark Horse Comics’ “Serenity: Leaves on the Wind”

 

 

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(Editor’s Note: Welcome back Adriana “Andy” Melendez for a look at this just launched Dark Horse Series.)

“You are a leaf driven by the wind.” – Herne the Hunter (Robin of Sherwood)

“I am a leaf on the wind… watch how I soar.” –  Hoban Washburne (Firefly)

It’s fitting for me to link two of my favorite series together via the above quotes. Both are about a misfit band of outlaws on the run. Though not always merry, you can burn the land and boil the sea, but you can’t can’t keep a good ship down.

 

What it Is…

That’s right, Mal and the crew from Joss Whedon’s space western, Firefly (which ran on Fox from 2002-2003) make their welcome return in the form of new adventures from Dark Horse Comics.

For those who are a bit fuzzy on the details, here’s a recap. Firefly/Serenity is set in the 26th century across hundreds of moons which have been terraformed to become New Earths, capable of sustaining life. Human settlements colonized these moons, as it would appear our Earth could no longer sustain life.

In this future, two super-powers emerged, fusing to become one central government – The Alliance. Think more in terms of the Peacekeepers (Farscape) and less like the Federation (Star Trek). Sadly, this brave new world looks a lot like our old one, with huge gaps between the rich and the poor, and many struggling to survive. This new world order, and the fight for independence from tyrannical government control, is where our 26th century Robin Hood comes in.

Firefly follows the exploits of Captain Malcolm “Mal” Reynolds (former soldier turned smuggler, played in the series by Nathan Fillion – One Life to Live, Castle) and his crew — his second in command Zoe (Gina Torres – Xena, Angel, Cleopatra 2525), her husband and Serenity’s pilot, Hoban “Wash” Washburne  (Alan Tudyk – Dollhouse), ship’s engineer Kaylee (Jewel Staite – Stargate Atlantis), hired gun Jayne Cobb (Adam Baldwin – My Bodyguard, Full Metal Jacket), and four passengers — Shepherd Derrial Book (Ron Glass – Barney Miller), Inara Serra (Morena Bacarrin – V, Homeland) – a companion (think high-class escort), and a brother and sister with secrets of their own.

When Mal picks up Dr. Simon Tam (played by Sean Maher – Warehouse 13, Arrow) and his mentally-unstable, younger sister River (Summer Glau – The 4400, Sarah Connor Chronicles), things really start to go wrong. Truth be told, you can say Mal wasn’t exactly born under a lucky star, having been on the losing side of the War for Independence (the Browncoats’ attempt to rebel against Alliance control). The decorated war vet was forced into a life of crime. A small price to pay for his freedom from the Alliance, he reckoned. Until they came after River…

Child prodigy River Tam was the subject of cruel government experiments, which had permanently altered her brain. The unpredictable outcome of these experiments left River fractured, an open, raw nerve, incapable of governing her own emotions and vulnerable to the thoughts and emotions of others.

No one could foresee how powerful River would become in the process. Her gift of intuition evolved into powerful psychic powers (empathy, telepathy, mind reading). River also picked up the ability to acquire (or absorb) additional skills with little or no effort, including hand-to-hand combat and deadly accurate aim with a gun. She’d become the ultimate weapon — making her quite valuable to some and quite dangerous to others.


Where We Left Off…

When we last saw our heroes (on the big screen almost a decade ago), they were running from the Alliance and bounty hunters — all after River. In the process, they uncover the Alliance’s darkest secret — their role in the deaths of countless millions on the planet of Miranda.

An attempt by the government to chemically pacify the population on the colony of Miranda goes horribly wrong. The inhabitants become peaceful to the point of complete indolence, killing almost all of them — all except for a small number. The experimental drugs triggered psychotic behavior in the remaining colonists. No longer human, now savage cannibals known as the Reavers, they’ve gone on to terrorize the outer planets.

If your quarry goes to ground, leave no ground to go to.

The crew of Serenity go to great lengths, at great cost, to reveal this secret, sending a transmission that reaches across the galaxy, but not before losing two of their own. Former crew member, Shepherd Book, is murdered for offering his friends shelter, and after leaving Miranda, Serenity’s pilot, Wash, is impaled by a Reaver harpoon.

I shed quite a few tears that day. I kept hoping for a happier ending…
The Outlaws Return/Dark Horse Rides to the Rescue…

We knew that couldn’t be the end for our heroes. Like I said, you can’t keep a good ship, or its crew, down. Fan outcry at the premature cancellation of the TV series inspired the Serenity (2005) movie. Again, their unwavering love and loyalty inspires Serenity’s continuing adventures.

Leaves on the Wind follows the events of the theatrical release almost a year after the deaths of Wash and Shepherd. We see what’s left of our heroes… battered and bereft, but never broken. Without giving too much away, I will say Mal and the gang are still on the run, with enemies (both old and new) in hot pursuit… with new challenges to face…

Written by Zack Whedon (younger brother of Firefly and Buffy The Vampire Slayer series creator, Joss Whedon), this latest treatment by Dark Horse (there have been others), beautifully illustrated by Dan Dos Santos and Georges Jeanty, definitely looks and feels like the real deal. I could easily see this as an episode of the TV show.

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Andy Says…

I will be honest and say that I wasn’t initially a fan of Firefly. It can take me a while to warm up to a show. I was the same way with the X-Files, Fringe and a few others, but once I find the heart of it, I am forever loyal.

Firefly definitely had, and still has, heart. Unfortunately, like many shows, it takes about a season for a new series to find its feet. Sadly, Firefly was cancelled by the 11th episode of its 14-episode run. Upon second viewing, however, I saw it for the gem it was. Had it been renewed, I believe it would have had a long, successful run.

While the tone of Issue 1 is somewhat somber, lacking some of the wit and verve the Whedon brothers are known for, it is to be expected, given the circumstances. As we may never get to see our beloved crew on screen again, Leaves on the Wind is a must for the die-hard Firefly/Serenity fan. I  look forward to future installments.

Check out Issue Number 1 of Serenity: Leaves on the Wind, at a comic book store near you today.

Firefly the TV series and Serenity the movie are both available on DVD (also for streaming on Netflix.)

 

Remembering Richard “Kip” Carpenter (1933-2012)

Many won’t remember Richard Carpenter as I do, but he had a profound influence on me as a writer, musician and as a spiritual person. He even inadvertently shaped my first visit to England, including a near-disastrous side trip to Nottingham back in 1994 (a story I will save for another time). Here is my tribute to Richard Carpenter.

“The fire burned bright in him, and for awhile, it warmed us all…”

This week the UK mourned the passing of screenwriter, author and actor Richard Carpenter.

Richard Carpenter (or Kip, as he was commonly known) was born in King’s Lynn, Norfolk, England in 1933. Kip studied acting at the Old Vic Theatre School and later went on to act in many British TV shows and films in the fifties and sixties.

After his stint as an actor, Kip turned his attention behind the camera where he went on to create many popular British TV shows including Catweazle (1969), about an 11th century wizard accidentally transported to the present day, the historical drama Dick Turpin (1979-82) and the adventure series The Smuggler (1981).

However, to this day, he is best known internationally for creating the HTV/Goldcrest series Robin of Sherwood, which ran for three seasons (1984-1986) and starred Michael Praed (Dynasty, The Secret Adventures of Jules Verne) as Robin of Loxley and Jason Connery (The Secret Life of Ian Fleming, Smallville) as Robert of Huntingdon.


The Hooded Man

To date, Robin of Sherwood is considered one of the most influential treatments of the Robin Hood legend on screen and it was the first to introduce a Saracen in the character of Nasir (portrayed by Mark Ryan – First Knight, Transformers, The Prestige) as one of the outlaws (later inspiring the character of Azeem in Kevin Costner’s Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves, so much so, the name had to be changed from Nazeem to Azeem to avoid rights issues).

Without putting too fine a point on it, no other version of Robin Hood has matched the setting, atmosphere and the level of detail for the period, in spite of some niggling issues with King Richard’s timeline (King Richard as portrayed by the indomitable John Rhys-Davies — Indiana Jones, Lord of the Rings), while maintaining the spirit of swashbuckling action/adventure, romance and fantasy.

Swords, Sorcerers and The Old Gods

Richard Carpenter’s Robin of Sherwood had a unique spin on the classic legend. It was the first to incorporate elements of mysticism, magic, sword and sorcery throughout the series. It included pagan themes and prominently featured the Horned God, Herne the Hunter, as a central figure. “We can all of us be gods…” Herne (played by John Abineri – Doctor Who, Godfather III) says to Robin of Loxley in the first episode, Robin Hood and the Sorcerer.

As quoted in a 1998 interview with Allen W. Wright, Richard explains why:

“Robin Hood is one of the few perennial legends with no magic in it. There is a fragment of a ballad called Robin Hood and the witch I believe – but tantalisingly breaks off after a stanza. The middle Ages were extremely superstitious and much remained of the old pre-Christian fertility and tree worship religions. You must remember that the country was largely based on agriculture: and the crops and the turning year were extremely important to everyone. Vestiges of this still remain throughout Europe. Although the Mother Goddess was supreme – the male principle was considered equally important. The question is whether Herne is a shaman or if he – like shamans do – ‘becomes’ the god at certain times after practising certain rituals.”

Sadly, the series came to an end when Goldcrest was forced to pull out due to financial trouble with their film division. Goldcrest was behind two enormously successful films, Chariots of Fire (1981) and Gandhi (1982), but hit hard times in the mid-1980s. HTV could not afford to produce Robin of Sherwood alone and no more episodes were made.

The Spirit of Sherwood and The Children of Israel

Richard’s vision of unity extended beyond the outlaws themselves… I can’t help but be warmed and inspired by his message of peace in the episode Children of Israel. When a Jewish family, fleeing persecution at the hands of the Sheriff of Nottingham and Sir Guy of Gisburne, is discovered by Nasir, he gently coaxes the frightened children out of hiding. There is a moment when the typically stoic and silent Saracen smiles, letting them know they are safe with the outlaws. Nasir informs Robin that he understands some of their language and a bond is formed between the Muslim and the “Children of Israel.” I still get misty thinking about it.

The Outlaw’s Return – Robin of Sherwood 20 Years Later

In 2011 it was announced by Stansfilm Productions that Kip had a new script for Robin of Sherwood, which would pick up after the series ended, 20 years later. In a recent interview with Clive Mantle (Aliens 3, Game of Thrones) who played Little John in the series, he stated that many of the surviving cast (including Ray Winstone — Sexy Beast, 44 Inch Chest, Hugo) had approached ITV a few of years earlier about the possibility of making a TV movie or mini series (written by Richard Carpenter) to finish the outlaw’s tale.

Sadly, with his passing, it seems unlikely that Kip’s Hooded Man will return to our screens. I hold out hope that perhaps someone will pick up his mantle… much like Robert of Huntingdon did from Robin of Loxley.

And perhaps… Herne will choose him/her?

Andy Says…

As reported on the Robin of Sherwood fan site, Spirit of Sherwood, Richard died of a heart attack on February 26, 2012. He is survived by his wife, actress Annabelle “Annie” Lee (Mad Mab in the RoS episode Rutterkin) and their two children, Tom and Harriet.

It is a shame that Kip’s work is not as well known here in the States, but his legacy survives and extends far beyond another clichéd retelling of the Robin Hood legend. It lives on in the hearts of all that were touched by his unique vision. It was one where the common man (and woman) rises up against tyranny and oppression. Through unity, friendship, strength of will and spirit, he fights the good fight, inspiring all those with whom he connects –- men, women, friars, shepherds, Saracens, noblemen and Saxon peasants alike — all fighting alongside one another against the “greatest enemy.” Whether it is Medieval England or here in the 21st century, it is a lesson we could do well to remember during these troubled times.

“Nothing is forgotten… Nothing is ever forgotten.” You won’t be forgotten either, Kip.

Resources and Links

Robin of Sherwood is available on DVD from Acorn Media and Amazon.com and has also recently been reissued on Blu-Ray (region free) and remastered for both sound and picture quality.

For more on Robin of Sherwood, please visit Christine Haire’s site Spirit of Sherwood, the Official Robin of Sherwood Fan Club.

For more on the bold outlaw himself, visit Allen W. Wright’s Robin Hood Bold Outlaw of Barnsdale and Sherwood.

For more on Robin of Sherwood: The Return, please visit Stansfilm Productions.