Serenity #4: Rave-N-Rant

Serenity #4: Rave-N-Rant (2006)
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: Kids love Japanese-style graphic novels, so give them America's premier inspirational manga with Serenity, Volume 4. In Rave and Rant, Serenity begins to share her soul with her prayer club friends-and is angered to find that, while they say they love Serenity, they don't always like her. The teen with the blue hair and attitude takes her frustrations to God, but soon decides He isn't listening. . .until a surprise ending makes Serenity think there may be more to prayer than she realizes. Written especially for tween and teen girls, Serenity explores some of life's deepest issues in a lighthearted, appealing way.

Reviewer: UC Pseudonym | Contact | 6 January 2008

NOTE: This review was written quite some time ago, hence in an older and less concise style. But I thought it would be inefficient to write an entirely new review, so this one is shown without modification. Future Serenity volumes will be in the new style, so bear with me for the time being.

I feel much the same way about this volume as I did about the previous one, so my general comments don't need to be repeated. Unlike in the past, the bulk of my comments will be about characterization instead of theology.

Art as a Storytelling Device

The most interesting choice in this volume was the fantasy scene during Serenity's chat with Lori. I didn't find this particularly effective, but at the same time there wasn't much bad about it and it was certainly better than a lot of typing.

I'll note that a fair number of background things reflect Spanish influence (throughout the series, not just in this volume), and I'm not entirely certain as to the cause of this. Is it to represent the shifting makeup of American cities, to which such an influence is certainly accurate? If I recall some of the colorists were from a Spanish-speaking country, could that be a potential cause? Regardless, I suppose it doesn't really matter, but I did notice. Right now I'm puzzling over Sapateria; not being a native Spanish speaker, I'm not sure if that's a play on words (zapateria being a shoe store) or simply a local variation on the spelling.

Though I'm far from art-oriented, even I instantly noticed that the background images during the rave scene were much reduced in quality. This is odd, considering that due to the lack of dialogue this section is likely to come under much closer scrutiny. In any case, I felt this actually detracted.

Interesting background details continue to be present. Some of the bookstore names seem strangely familiar, Archie makes a random cross-over appearance, and I personally think Taco Wong's is one of the greatest restaurant names I've heard in a while. It really reflects the world of meaningless "ethnic" food.

One detail has been growing on me, and I'll give voice to it now: do any of the characters ever wear their clothing a second time? Basically everyone has a brand new outfit every day, and while I'd imagine designing those is fun (if you're into that kind of thing) there has to be a logical limit. Besides, I'm sure the publishers wouldn't want to promote a consumeristic buy-and-trash methodology while so many in the world lack adequate clothing.


For the most part, I have nothing new to say. The unnecessary references to previous volumes continue.*

I'd like to leave it at that, but then comes chapter 3: the conversation rendered in hideous chat-slang. This is easily my biggest problem with this volume. All I hope is that this conversation wasn't an attempt to be relevant to the chatting generation, because that generally doesn't work. Still, let me go over all the reasons why this was a bad idea, as I assume some readers will disagree.

First, all the expressions used in this chapter are going to date very quickly, lessening the long term impact of the series. In ten or so years, they might as well have been saying something like, "Psychedelic, baby, just positively funktabular, groovy dude." Furthermore, it is simply difficult to read, breaking up what otherwise is a very swift flow from panel to panel. This is made much worse when one had to puzzle out what they're saying, especially when certain acronyms are used. The truth is that though the internet has made many aspects of our society homogenous, there is still "regional" slang. Depending upon your online experience and what circles you frequent, some of the things used could be completely alien to you.

Thus it is likely that every reader will be confused by at least one part of this conversation, lessening its ability to communicate (which is the point of language in the first place). The odd thing is that this would have been effortless to avoid: they already have a fantasy setting that seems to bear little to no relevance to chatting, why not have the characters speaking normally during this time?

Of course, all of this is coming from someone who chats in full sentences if at all, so take it with a grain of salt.

*See the commentary on Volume 3 -ed.


Technically this volume continued to be episodic, but I won't complain. Yes, the first three chapters were pretty much about the retro party (and aftermath) and the next three were about the rave, but for some reason these flow much better. It didn't feel like unrelated events, but had more of a sense of progression.

Perhaps this is because of the other major issue here: the love triangle. It is practically omnipresent in this volume, and though it leads to a more unified volume I feel it is overbearing. After all, it gets mentioned in every chapter at least once, and given that it takes a matter of minutes to read through a chapter that means it is constantly on your mind. Personally, I don't want to see the story become about this relationship alone (and it looks as though that will be continued in the next volume) but that is only my preference. With any luck, the reason for this unusual focus is so the story can move on to later issues.


As I said, there is a fair amount to discuss here. The biggest portion of it is obviously regarding the love triangle. Beginning with the relationship between Derek and Kimberly - something about this feels consistently off to me. I can't quite define this, so I realize this comment is essentially useless, but it bugs me every time it comes up. The abrupt argument and reunion near the beginning, for example, or the rather heavy-handed heart splitting in the background later on.

As for Serenity: well, she's still in the same immature stage. The super-deformed image of her chasing after Derek with hearts in her eyes pretty much sums it up in one panel. At least she prays, "Let me get him or get over him," which seems emotionally true to me and significantly more mature than her previous attitudes. Meanwhile, Kimberly is becoming progressively angrier with Serenity and willing to go further to keep her away from Derek. This heightens what I said earlier about my not liking her, but it's fairly obvious that the creators don't intend to endorse her actions so it is relatively immaterial.

Of course, there is one question: why is Kimberly so worried? Serenity has no real ties to Derek, and he seems fairly committed to their relationship (as young and likely ill-fated as it may be). It's almost as if she knows Serenity is the main character and thus more inclined to get what she wants.

Lori plays more of a role in this volume, actually fulfilling her position as Serenity's best friend. She doesn't really develop, but at the same time her character isn't stagnant. We do learn more about her goals and current situation (in the chat) but that's relatively minor. However, even one of the conversations with her is related to Kimberly and Derek (I refer to the one in chapter two). The way that she goes about this seems odd to me, but I'll let it pass.

After some thought, I decided that the real problem for both Serenity and Kimberly is simply superficiality. Of course, they're relatively young and have plenty of maturing to do, so perhaps this isn't out of character. But personally stories about these types of characters don't tend to interest me. Speaking of which, Derek has relatively little to do with much of this conflict, other than the fact that his existence is the source of it. Readers looking for a strong male lead won't find one.

Aside from all of this, we finally have further development of some other previously minor characters. I'm fairly neutral on our introduction to Eddie's musical tastes - it seems neither ridiculous nor a bad decision, merely odd. Given that this type of thing might appeal to the audience, I don't think I can directly critique it, merely comment. Tim's development exists almost solely on one page during the rave. While his insecurity is solid and fits with everything we have seen in his character, I felt the execution was abrupt and awkward.

Serenity herself has some development, but that is obvious and minor enough to be barely worth mentioning. However, there was one element I definitely did like, and I want to give credit where it is due. In the last chapter, Serenity thinks, "Sometimes I think the best thing after I die would be... nothing." Not only does that reflect a serious school of thought often ignored by heaven/hell teachings, it seems very in character for Serenity to me. While I regret this wasn't explored, the restaurant scene was obviously not the place to do so. We'll have to see if this general thought is picked up later in the series.

Random note: Mr. Grandy was completely absent from these past two volumes, given that they were focused mostly on the students. I had expected him to be used more immediately.


The two guys (nameless, as are a lot of characters) that appear in town are an unusual element. It feels slightly forced to me, likely aided by their extensive use of slang. A big part of this is also how abrupt it is - they come out of nowhere, having never been seen before. Once I figured out that two new characters were being introduced, however, it worked fairly well.

An odd detail is that the creators feel it necessary to tell us that "tweak" is slang for methamphetamine. In my mind, any discerning reader will immediately know what they're talking about, even if they're unfamiliar with the slang (I've never heard that before, but the note was unnecessary). But even supposing that they're aiming for an undiscerning audience, why should it be necessary? After all, if they're really using slang that is meant to be understood by the readers (and especially since they feel obligated to try to get every drug term in somewhere) shouldn't that be enough? Even if that is the case, how many people in this crowd really understand the full word?

As for them selling drugs during the rave, I don't feel qualified to comment. It seems odd to me to walk up to random people and offer them drugs, but perhaps this really happens. I wouldn't know, as I have no interest whatsoever in the dance scene.

The ending of this volume is decent, probably the first one I generally liked. Though I'm not so sure I find this issue as convincing as Serenity does, it brings everything to a decent close and doesn't leave unnecessary threads hanging. In retrospect, I realize the previous volume's ending wasn't weak either, so it appears this aspect is improving.


The opening prayer is a mix of strong and weak aspects. I can see that kind of cynical-unbelieving prayer happening, but not all parts of it ring true to me. Still, I'm dealing with straws here, so I won't overanalyze.

I had one thing that pleased me in this novel, followed by a slight disappointment. In the last chapter, Serenity actually asks Lori some legitimate questions, unlike many of the rather infantile objections she has brought up in the past. Even from my standpoint I'd critique the prayer club's approach to sharing the Gospel, and I'm not exactly in the universal tolerance camp. Unfortunately, Serenity gets some mediocre answers that mostly dodge around the questions. Then again, "tween" graphic novels aren't exactly the medium for heavy theology, now are they?

Lastly, the final element I feel is worth mentioning is the discussion of loving versus liking near the end of the volume. The distinctions made between types of love are fine, and I think the teenage world could use some more clarification of that. However, stating that the prayer club loves Serenity but doesn't like her... I think I have some serious problems with that. In the end, that seems to work against the spirit of love, bringing back echoes of previous aspects in which they seemed to be interested in Serenity solely for the purpose of converting her.

This has been an issue that I've given serious thought myself. Most of my non-Christian friends are interesting people that I'd want to be friends with regardless. But there are some people for whom that, in all honesty, isn't the case. I've had to do some soul searching to decide if I'm their friend because I truly care about them or if I'm just being manipulative. Something about the way Lori talks in this scene really seems to indicate the latter. That isn't true friendship, and by extension it isn't true love. Of course, the real question now is if this will disappear in the next volume, or if we will see the repercussions that seem inevitable.

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