In a time where none of us can enjoy Firefly ever again because of the involvement of rabid twitter freakshow Adam Baldwin, we must turn to the one place of safety in this world – the internet. And to a webcomic called Freelancer, in fact, by writer/artist Martin Kirby. Set in outer space, in a back-galaxy where everybody carries a six-shooter and every planet is another dusty canyon, the series inadvertently assumes on the mantle left for ‘entertaining space western type series mixup thingy’ by Whedon’s series.
Set into chapters – of which we’re currently into the second – the webcomic focuses mainly on Elena, a freelancer who works onboard a ship of rebel-y outsider-y galactic wheeler dealers as a mechanic – way down on the career ladder. Expecting life in space to be a never-ending series of battles, explosions, punch-ups and excitement, she finds instead that most of her time is spent floating around, waiting for nothing to happen.
Knowing that sci-fi basically establishes itself right now, the story kicks off with a focus on character and aspiration rather than exposition and situation. Kirby quickly weaves in a supporting cast for Elena without necessarily kicking the reader round the head with stock types. There’s a lazy mystery settled around these characters, as Elena knows them all fairly well but Kirby chooses to leave us hazier as to their thoughts and ideas. This creates a shiftiness amongst them which introduces a sense of inherent danger and threat to the story.
The supporting cast seem friendly enough, but they keep demonstrating personal agendas which only those who have spent months with them might understand. I really like that aspect of the series, which keeps things rolling along in an interesting fashion. Once exposition does come in, it comes from that perspective – who do we trust, why do we trust them, what might all this mean?
Not that Freelancer is a particularly dirty, grim book – far from it, in fact. Each page is filled with a hefty amount of charm and poise, giving us only a few details about each character but making those details interesting and something you want to invest in. They’re likeable people, as far as we know them, and Kirby’s dialogue is light, bouncy, and fast-paced. Each page ends with a joke of sorts in the early going, and Kirby uses that to create a proper sense of pace which sustains the reader between each click-through.
His art, also, is lush, expansive, expressive stuff. Leaning to a slightly cartoony style, he nevertheless allows the story to feature art like this:
Which I think is pretty gorgeous, really.
Each page feels to be in service of the dialogue, which is a feeling you tend to get more when the same person write and draws a story. Kirby plans each page so carefully, and then throws effortlessly fun and high-spirited jokes at them, in a way which can either telegraph the joke or hide it according to his whim at the time. There’s evidently a love for the characters and the situation they’re in, here, and you get the feeling that any of the characters in the first chapter could easily spin off into a fully-formed story of their own. Yet we focus on Elena, and she proves a half-capable, endearing, unpredictable character.
It would perhaps have been easy for her to come across as the spunky wildcannon who goes off and breaks rules every chance she gets, but Kirby spends time developing her attitude so she doesn’t just come across as a one-dimensional contrarian. She’s got a depth to her and a sense of spirit, which pulls in the rest of the supporting cast to her orbit. She’s very good fun, and her presence makes everybody else more fun as a result.
Honestly, it’s more fun to read than Firefly was to watch. It captures that spirit of unpredictable rebelliousness, and revels in the genre setting whilst pulling in close to the characters. It’s nothing like as serious as this probably staid review might suggest – it’s carefree, giddy entertainment, and well worth your time.