Serenity #2: Stepping Out

Serenity #2: Stepping Out (2005)
by Realbuzz Studios | Barbour Books
96 Pages - Full Color [ Youth / Youth Interest / Teen Fiction ]

Story and Creation - Buzz Dixon
Art - Min Kwon
Original Character Designs - Drigz Abrot

Publisher summary: The lonely teen with the blue hair is slowly warming up to the Christian kids who've made her their "project". . .but when Serenity wrecks Kimberly's car and refuses to take responsibility, the prayer club decides some "tough love" is in order. Can Serenity understand that their actions are really for her own good? This full-color graphic novel features a compelling storyline, realistic dialogue, and a solid biblical message for today's reader.

Ann's Review - UC's Review

Reviewer: Psycho Ann | Contact | 3 March 2006

I'm glad to see there are improvements in the second volume. Since there's no way for the graphics and presentation to jump incredibly between volumes, I'll focus on saying what I missed saying last time and touch back on some old comments. Therefore, this review will be slightly shorter in word-count (and I predict, as more improvements come in subsequent volumes, will continue progressively getting shorter).

I won't say much about the story itself since UC provided a much better in-depth review for that below.

General Volume Thoughts

The fact that there was virtually no slang was probably the best improvement storytelling-wise. The characters are more fleshed out and this time the chapters focus on themes of alcoholism, prayer (totally saw the serenity prayer thing coming--just didn't expect it this soon), turning the other cheek, and other minor messages.

Whenever Serenity and Kimberly are on the same page, the word "cat fight" pops up in mind. With Derek revealing that he and Kimberly aren't exactly "going steady", it seems the love triangle has been officially started. Kimberly is really possessive; very common in shoujo manga love triangles which might give Derek incentive to drift towards Serenity.

I just hope that Kimberly doesn't spiral down into what I call the "Shiori-rival" which is basically a long-haired, beautiful, and nice love rival to the protagonist who suffer from varying degrees of Possessive Personality Disorder and gets very ugly, very fast, when it comes to the male protagonist. Shiori from the series Mars and Shiori from the series Garasu no Kamen (Glass Mask) are both exemplar characters of this phenomenon as they are so similar to many other extreme love rivals found in shoujo manga. Long dark hair, very pretty, coming from good families, nice, have an upper hand on the male protagonist--and are so possessive of their love interest they will try anything to get them even threats of (and attempts at) suicide. I doubt Kimberly will ever get close to such a stage as 1) she's a Christian and 2) this is a Christian manga geared towards the younger audience. Which is good, because Shiori of Garasu no Kamen is so universally hated it's funny. Yes, I dislike her immensely as well, but that's another rant for another day.

Speaking of male protagonists, we know more about Derek and see more sides to him as well in this volume. But I still have little interest in his character. The rest of the young male cast are basically invisible this time, but I predict future chapters dedicated to them. It's understandable that certain sub-characters will disappear during certain arcs, but I found myself not caring since there wasn't enough exposure to them in the first place. Pastor Calvin shows his "bad" side which is good because it's realistic as a father. Mr. Grandy started out as a decent character and I personally think his hook-for-a-hand is the coolest thing I've seen in Serenity so far.

A lot of people commented (negatively, from what I heard) on the 12-Step recovery program list. For me, I got to the page, thought "this reminds me of something out of Highlights For Children (which is not bad, but somewhat out of place), and moved on. Then I decided that I guess I should read it through for the review. I got to #3 and found myself just skimming the rest. I don't know, maybe if it was just mentioned in the comic pages then listed in the end-notes it would garner better attention. It's just something I don't feel like reading in the pages of the comic itself for some reason. I also was surprised to see it's the "God-version" as I thought the program was from the school and therefore secular. It seemed a bit weird that the school will endorse a Christian teen program without having them tone down any "God-talk" as not to hurt the sensibilities of non-Christian students. And in a recovery program, you would think many of them wouldn't be Christian. There might be a good reason for this, but I feel it was inadequately addressed.

There are a bit more funny moments and I feel the comedic pacing is much better this time. "Pizza Puka", Serenity's Early Modern English aka KJV prayer attempt, the classified ads, and some clever more subtle gags all made me smile. I do however, dislike the usage of super-deformed "inner thoughts" (ex. Lori punting Serenity and Serenity to hammer Sally) because it isn't executed well. Not really the art itself, but how it is placed in the scene really doesn't work. The "split face" device used when Serenity was caught and Kimberly has her inner debate is not working for me for similar reasons, not to mention it is distracting and sudden.

Speaking about Kimberly's inner debate after the car crash, I was a bit thrown off that she decided to tell the truth not because it's the truth, but because she should "turn the other cheek". I would like to think grudge or no grudge, "do not lie" would sit a bit higher than whether or not revenge is wrong. I know it has to do with keeping to the theme of the chapter, but it's something I had scrunched my eyebrows at. I also scrunched my eyebrows when Lori went "I hate spiders!" then proceeded to put her foot down in front of one--a large one. I got friends who hate spiders and cockroaches and I can personally vouch that putting a limb in the path of one is the last thing they'll ever do.

What I Missed Last Time

One thing I neglected to mention in the review for the first volume is the lack of index pages and inner volume cover for the books. I know it's not mandatory but it helps the presentation so much to have some sort of buffer before the actual comic. The lack of it comes off amateurish, not only because virtually every other professional graphic novel does it, but because it's something that works. When I open a graphic novel, the inner title pages give a sense of "beginning" and prepares me for the story.

Now that this is volume two, I expected some sort of character introduction or "Previously in Serenity..." to help readers that happen to pick up volumes in the wrong order. Character introductions may actually help in getting people into the story as, sometimes, reading an interesting fact about a character might spur them on to finish the rest of the volume. I know it worked for me in a few cases. Also, it's an easy way to recap characters and the story without having to do it by wasting space in the actual comic.

Chapter division has not improved as there is still none save for a small chapter logo. I don't know why that tiny green thing is needed at all as there is no index (or page numbers) to reference the chapters and it doesn't have much purpose as I usually ignore it anyway. For original japanese manga volumes, the purpose of chapter title pages is sometimes simply because they were compiled from periodical magazines. Since this is a straight to graphic novel format, there's no need for such conventions but I can't help but wish for something at least similar.

Reason? Simply because it's a great way to divide chapters clearly and I like seeing additional artwork. Kubo Tite of Bleach makes great use of design in his and earlier title pages of Kishimoto Masashi of Naruto are beautiful in imagery. Eiichiro Oda of One Piece takes it further and makes his chapter title pages into mini arcs (best usage of the space I've seen so far, IMHO). I can remember, at the top of my head, Urasawa Naoki (Monster, 20th Century Boys) who is one of many mangaka that don't use specific chapter title pages. He simply uses a chapter title and number in a panel that range from being on the first page of a chapter to 5 pages in and it works wonderfully (I consider him a master of storytelling so everything does).

Since Serenity can be labeled shoujo, I'll say having a page devoted to a chapter title is even more widely used in girl comics. Hey, readers like eye-candy, it's never wrong to provide some even if not mandatory. Either way, even if it's not a whole page designated as a chapter title page, a better way to incorporate chapter breaks in Serenity is sorely needed. Or they can get rid of the chapter logos as a whole and improve on indicating time skips.

Another thing I missed last time is the panels themselves. I really don't like panels that are lined much heavier than the art it contains. Too much weight on the boxes rather than the art which makes the layout more stiff than it already is. The inconsistency of the margins are also a problem. Sometimes the edge of a panel goes right to the edge of paper which is uneasy on the reader. If a panel doesn't bleed off, a good distance to place from the edge of the page can be around .25 inches minimum. And keeping it constant would be a much better presentation not to mention it looks professional.


Not much improvement from the first volume so my previous comments still stand. The background and environments are still weak but in a few panels they are pretty decent this time. The decent ones seem to be digitally done, so that probably had a hand in getting things right. Perspective errors aren't too noticeable but sometimes proportional things like Mr. Grandy's incredibly long legs in Chapter 6, where he calls for Serenity to sit, jumps out.

Interesting to note that Serenity's mom went for a more Southeast Asian look in this volume. Especially the in the first page, it's so incredibly... "tante-tante" (pronounced tan-tuh tan-tuh) which means "auntie-like" in Indonesian. I swear one of my teachers wore a similar outfit, down to the white heels, before. The batik patterns on her dress makes it even more so.


Improvement! Well, at least in some panels. There's noticeably more photoshop-ing with effects, textures, and patterns galore. I'm mildly relieved at least there was no lens flare in sight. I must admit the patterns do a much better job of covering empty space then bad choices of gradients in the first volume. The textures... I'm not to fond (coughunderstatementcough) of photoshop filters because they scream "photoshop noob" in loud, embossed, burlap texture filled letters. It's better to hand paint textures (custom brushes will do), or have no textures at all, then do a one-click photoshop filter. If it's mild noise effects, like what they did on the car seats, then it's no problem. But when I saw the texture plastered on the retirement home I literally, physically, cringed. Jes, my house-mate who is a graphic design student, made a long high pitched noise consisting of two letters.

If there is anything that will get Jes and me to make such displays of disgust it is lens flares, photoshop filters, awful gradients, and bad type. It's mean and elitist of us, but I made a decision to be annoying honest in these reviews. To be fair, we now feel physical pain when looking at our old art/designs that incorporate the above mentioned factors. And before I scare away fellow filterphobes, there is minimal filter texture in the volume so it's negligible.

Moving on, it's still quite noticeable that there are more than one colorist, especially in panels where the coloring jumps in quality. It's inconsistent but I'm not going to complain about quality increase. It works for the more dramatic shots and for full pieces like the page of Serenity in the woods. Color continuity problems happen from time to time but for the most part are insignificant. One that I caught from first glance are the books on Mr. Grandy's table since in the first panel they are mostly dark colors whereas in the next page, and so on, it's mostly bright colors. The actual number of books do end up decreasing from six to four and it would be less noticeable if only there were more objects on the table. The more stuff, the less an individual object (and errors) will stand out.

Sound Effects

The SFX deserves it's own section because a huge chunk of it seems to be missing in this volume. There wasn't a lot of it either in the first volume, but here it seems its absence is more notable. There's a lot of instances of present action that would normally merit SFX of some sort like people slapping a hand their face, stomping down, ripping paper, moving rapidly, etc. After a while, I realized how silent everything is. Maybe I'm just used to manga where almost everything has a SFX (even smiling and staring off into space).

I also think I forgot to mention in the review for the first volume regarding usage of "= sfx! =" which is very distracting especially when being spoken by a character. There wasn't much of "= sfx! =" in speech bubbles last time, but this time there's a bit more of "= sob! ="s and "= waaiiiil! ="s that cut off the flow of dialogue as much as, or worse than, the slang in the last volume. It would be much better if sighs were actual sighs, wails were actual wails, sobs were actual sobs, and so on. Kimberly's "=waaaaaah !="--yes, that's verbatim--would be less irritating if it got rid of the equal signs (and a couple or so repeated letters).

With that said, I personally think "wheh", as uttered by Tinkerbelle the tarantula, is one of the cutest SFX I've read in a long time.


The typesetting for dialogue is still the same as in the last volume so no improvement here. The sudden appearance of too thick outer strokes to divide text with background is actually a step backwards. It doesn't really improve readability, for me at least, and it looks like a rough white-out job that is a bit too reminiscent of how Indonesian publishers used to hand edit/letter manga in the early 80's. When the outer stroke has value it's better, but still I would prefer something less lumpy and bulky. SFX editing is actually slightly better in this volume so there's improvement in that area.


Overall an improvement from the first volume (which is expected). It's still far from being above average compared to many other OEL manga but it would definitely get there in time. Despite my anal-retentive elitism, I'll say that the Serenity series seems to be headed in the right direction.

Reviewer: UC Pseudonym | Contact | 3 March 2006

As before, I’ll focus on the storytelling part to accompany Ann’s art-based critique. I’m glad to see headway being made into this medium by Christians, despite my criticisms. Hopefully this little review will benefit someone.

Art as a Storytelling Device

For the most part it has been improved. The super-deformed art was generally better chosen (and there was less of it overall) and there are many fewer panels that use unnatural color schemes – this doesn’t communicate well, so I am glad to see it go. Another of the pet peeves I mentioned earlier, the massive censor boxes, were gone due to lack of profanity.

Paneling and general transitions are roughly the same. There were attempts to go beyond mundane methods of this, and though they didn’t always flow well (the page on which Serenity cries, for example) the attempt is appreciated. Some of the shifts were used for more than scene changes, such as Kimberly being grounded followed by Serenity’s “Not my problem” shirt. Better than a lot of what you see, though far from perfect.

As before, the chapter breaks were still abrupt. The occasional white page with a bit of art, as is commonly used in the mainstream manga industry, would work wonders. However, the breaks are still abrupt or oddly chosen, particularly between chapters 4 and 5. This is somewhat more understandable because each volume is designed to be read as a whole.


One thing before all: no slang. This alone lifts the overall level of dialogue a notch. Perhaps this is because the characters have already been established as “hip” and thus no longer need to speak unnaturally, but I’m not going to question a good thing. With that out of the way, what I said earlier about better flow than many comics applies, though the pages could still handle a lot more dialogue and not be adversely affected.

As before, there are only a few blips. The oddest one is when Serenity uses “Yummie” in reference to Derek – I’ll admit I’ve heard this usage a few times, but that doesn’t mean it’s a good idea on page. I haven’t confirmed this, but the height of the font seems to fluctuate somewhat, and not simply to accent the text.


Because the initial part of the volume is filled by events from before, the pacing of the previous volume seems slightly less rushed. Though the plot is not as involved as I would like, it hasn’t devolved to the episodic level I had feared (elements are introduced naturally, not just when they’re needed for a quick arc).

Serenity’s school strikes me as an odd note, enough that it is going to get its own paragraph. In many ways, it seems to be exploited for plot points, as I don’t know of any schools like it. On one hand, they actually enforce library silence and littering rules (since when does that happen?) and the principal is volatile enough to expel a student because her spider got loose (though admittedly Serenity has other problems). Why doesn’t this school have a dress code? It seems to have its share of slackers and punks, as well as be in a difficult enough neighborhood to have drug testing. Most odd is that Serenity’s friends were able to keep her from being expelled. I can’t imagine this working with any administrators I’ve seen. It’s an odd mix and it rings hollow to my friends who have read it.

Random setup comments: We also have a link between Serenity and the serenity prayer, obviously making one wonder if this is foreshadowing of themes to come. I don’t imagine the name was chosen at random. As for Serenity’s new job at Pizza Puka… can you say future plot device? Actually, I don’t have any problem with it, as it was introduced realistically and is a decent device for future developments.

The ending of this volume is a bit more solid than the last. I’m not completely sure where Serenity’s spiritual journey is (which makes her statement at the end more definitive than descriptive), but so far it has been dealt with relatively realistically.


Most characters are developed or future development is set up, so I don’t object much to anything in this area. Needless to say, certain problems from the first volume carry over, but they aren’t so bad as to overshadow the improvements. Let me say that I very much approve of having flawed Christian characters and that I don’t want to see saints, but I will address those issues in which I feel the manga carries an approving tone of their actions.

Derek’s potential drinking problem feels a bit forced, but this is balanced by the line regarding his friend (“What happened to him?” “… he’s dead.”). That has a harsh realism that sort of kills any sense of a cheesy moral message. The occasional notes of this type of thing are still some of my favorite parts.

The other character that plays a larger role in this volume is Kimberly, and it’s a primarily negative one. She’s very possessive, and while I can accept this in the story it still annoys me. This leads to one of the most dangerous areas of the story: the love triangle. I can honestly say that I don’t care what happens (though that reflects more on myself than on the manga) but I see so many potential pitfalls: Kimberly is made out to be the antagonist, some new guy appears for Serenity, etc. While it didn’t develop to this stage, I still see gratuitous drama in a possible future.

We have one new character, Mr. Grandy, who is decently introduced. Most of my comments regarding him will be in other sections.


I actually didn’t mention it last time, but I approve of the fact that the creators are willing to let some things remain subtle, such as one of Sally’s parents in a wheelchair. Lesser writers might have had Mr. Grandy jump out and yell “Yarr! I’m Captain Hook!” (…I’ll admit that was senseless, but I think I’ve made my point).

There are also a number of details that can be appreciated, “The Gerunding” above all. Unfortunately, this is matched by a similar number of odd changes that appear on close reading (as in the first volume). Clothing changes slightly, Kimberly’s necklace disappears once, etc. The oddest is that Pastor Calvin’s eyes have mysteriously changed color. More than one inker, mayhap?


Almost needless to say, this is the area that will receive the most attention, as it is the area that is most important (both to undiscerning persons reading it and to potentially offended non-Christians, though their reactions have been surprisingly positive so far). My own theological bent obviously influences this section.

I’ve already mentioned the realistically flawed characters, but this still a decent point. We see Kimberly struggle with her faith after Serenity’s accident, and though her flashback bludgeons the reader I like how her good deed backfires. If doing the right thing had led to a perfect ending I would have been most disappointed. Pastor Calvin is characterized well, as it is something I have seen before, especially given the fact that he is a mix of good and bad characteristics, fearing for his daughter but expressing that in the wrong ways.

That having been said, there is a slight sense of “good” characters being pitted against “bad” characters in several scenes. The easiest example is when Ms. Baxter (all comments about her still apply) confronts Mr. Grandy. While the public property loophole is true, it still has more of a “Hah! You lose!” attitude than I would like. Similarly, the non-Christian students at the school are unrealistically judgmental; this might have passed in some situations, but it is simply too convenient to the plot at that point to avoid sticking out.

Different responses to Serenity’s issue with prayer introduce a welcome element: variety. I would love to see the series demonstrate that not all Christians believe the same things and that Christianity is big enough to accept this. Prayer is a tricky issue over which many words have been spilled, and few people end up at the same position. There was some of this (Eddie’s view, for example), but more would be good. Excepting Kimberly and Derek, the prayer club is unusually unified.

Two times in the volume actions by the Christians struck me as reflecting a graceless theology; I find this curious, because I really don’t think the creators intended it. Initially, I had assumed the jar of money issue was over: the prayer club knew who did it but the moral issue had been resolved. Instead it is used to force Serenity into the group. Secondly, after Serenity narrowly avoids detention the same thing occurs. “If you do good to those who do good to you, what more are you doing than others?” If I had children that did this I’d reprimand them for it, but perhaps that is just me.

Mr. Grandy is introduced as the usual mature Christian character, and fills the role acceptable well. This is instigated by the fact that he’s carrying Mere Christianity along with other books. I’ll admit I’m nitpicking here, but while I respect Lewis (and his philosophy does certainly permeate the series) would a mature Christian really still be reading this? That was my immediate reaction, anyway, and is probably particular to myself.

Overall, the theological simplicity of the previous volume is lessened, but I think this is primarily due to the subject matter of the second. The fact that the NA 12 Steps are put directly on the page is almost painfully straightforward (and I know I skipped them). Other than this, the only instance that struck me was the NA leader’s response to the prayer question; perhaps Serenity’s qualms about prayer reflect the majority of teens (I don’t claim to know), but this bit of conversation struck me as simple-minded, probably due to being rushed.

Now we come to one of the things that actually bugged me about this volume. While I agree with the prayer club in principle (showing love doesn’t always mean being nice) I seriously question their tactics. Shunning a person is a brutal method, particularly in a period such as high school. All the while I kept thinking that it would have been so much more Christ-like if they had continued being her friend while not dismissing the accident as alright.
The obvious focal point for theological changes is Serenity’s prayer. It ran a decent gamut of emotions that reflect a lot of young people’s feelings… perhaps too quickly. Still, not bad at all; this type of prayer scene is tricky.

As before, I’m still not too fond of the Bible verses at the end, though at least they let them stand for themselves. Similarly the message about drinking… is there going to be a moral lesson in every volume? This feels like an unnecessary contrivance to me, something that parents would like and youth would ignore – if they learn something it will be absorbed from the story, not taken from a blunt explanation.

In reflection, though it is too early to judge the series yet, it seems that the strengths are improving and weaknesses are remaining even overall. The troubling manipulative tone will probably decrease as Serenity begins to shift beliefs, which looks as though it will be one of the stronger parts of the manga.

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