It can provoke equal feelings of schadenfreude and sadness looking over the copy for the collected version of Cowboy Bebop: Supernova Swing. Yes, it’s only a little bit funny to see this touted as a tie-in to the “Hit Netflix Series” so long after we got all our bemused bafflement at that mess out of our systems and the thing wound up unceremoniously canceled after less than a month. But there’s still that feeling of lingering disappointment for what could have been, the reminder of just how badly Netflix botched what had at least a chance at being an interesting take on such a beloved property. In that respect, Cowboy Bebop The Comic here provides the opportunity for a second chance—a window into the alternate reality Netflix was hoping to occupy with the franchise as an ongoing multimedia empire, and what sort of spin-off stories could have been told within, *sigh*, a Cowboy Bebop Cinematic Universe.
To its immediate credit, as a spinoff Supernova Swing does pretty much what Netflix‘s Bebop probably should have done in the first place: simply crafting a brand new story within the generalized series setting, rather than trying to directly adapt any plots from original anime’s vaunted run. The self-contained story by Dan Watters, alongside Lamar Mathurin‘s art which distills the costumed designs of the live-action characters down with even heavier influence from their animated counterparts, creates the unique experience of something that could reasonably pass for a bonus episode of either the original anime or its ill-advised reimagining. It makes a pretty solid case for putting this collection out at all, in spite of the dead-in-the-water status of its tie-in.
In fact, the look of this comic overall is one of the best arguments for its own unique existence. Once you get past the covers and intro pages synthesizing the likenesses of the actors from the Netflix show, you’re greeted by Mathurin’s riot of colorful, stylized staging showing off all the setting and action on this one. Fights are highlighted by extremely smart use of shifting colors and silhouettes. Background details are seeded well with plot twists they pay off a few pages later, or simply indulge for momentary gags (like the piles of packaged noodles the crew have sitting around the ship after the events of the third issue). The moods of the various settings the story traverses contrast with each other well, from the sun-spanked party atmosphere of Cyllene, to the moody rains on Mars in the final issue making so many characters appear to be crying for their unsatisfying efforts at the end of their journey. Overly-dramatic? Maybe, but it’s nice to see it really trying for some sort of earnest, defining style apart from any slapped-on color grading or inexplicable dutch angles.
Okay, so it looks the part and seems to have the right ideas at its outset, but how does that story for Supernova Swing turn out? Being an individualized plot, it’s playing with an overarching high concept, with the Bebop crew trying to track down a bounty who can seemingly manipulate luck itself as they question how that would even work and what it might mean for them if they could get their hands on such technology. It is an interesting idea that weaves through other sub-concepts that wouldn’t feel out of place in the original anime’s explorations. But the way it gets there and actually handles them feels uneven. For instance, the visit to the moon of Cyllene is wrapped up in explanations that none of our heroes, nor most people they’ve interacted with in their lives, were aware the place was inhabitable, let alone the easygoing paradise it turns out to be. It’s an isolating predication based on the idea that most people took a basic bureaucratic explanation at face value, which can be understood as storytelling convenience, but is still one of the more credulity-stretching aspects I’ve encountered.
Parts like this trip to Cyllene and what it represents also call up the question of just how Bebop this comic manages to feel, compared to its source material and its source material’s source material. The constantly-drunken party planet’s atmosphere puts forth the implication that the bounty hunters of the Bebop actually necessarily enjoy their constant scraping just to get by in the space gig economy, which might gel a bit better with the attitudes of the live-action series, but definitely flies in the face of the OG’s dedication to depicting the depths of the struggle. Similarly, a key part of this overall story’s thematic closure hinges on the interpretation that Faye’s gambling habits were some sort of thrill-chasing compulsion and not, you know, the desperate acts of someone trying to escape her crushing debt under space capitalism. It makes for a clear indication of the version of Bebop that this comic is based on, operating on fundamentally flawed understandings of the characters and the setting they inhabit.
As well, Watters’s efforts to mimic the scripting styles of Netflix‘s Cowboy Bebop call to mind some of the most contentious elements of that adaptation. Things never quite reach the worst Whedon-esque heights of the live-action series, but so much of the dialogue can still get too quip-heavy for its own good. Some of the latter narration on quantum speculations, or the more wistful and reflective dialogue (particularly from Spike in the last issue) swing closer to that more classic, appreciated Bebop vibe, and the final twist and the meditations it leads to feel similarly fitting to the classic. Though even the interest of that last stage is undercut by the odd choice to have Jet rotely narrate over all the proceedings even as the comic’s presentation is doing a fine job of depicting how elegantly elements are coming together. If anything, how close it gets in some of these moments make clear that this comic could have worked even better simply as a generalized Bebop tie-in, instead of needing to be beholden to Netflix‘s skewed interpretations of the series. At least Supernova Swing spares us from virtually any appearances by that show’s infamously flawed takes on Vicious and Julia, though it does still preserve that one’s odd insistence on every plot somehow originating with the Syndicate.
Supernova Swing mostly comes off as a curiosity, but it’s a more generous curiosity, as opposed to the morbid trash-watch of the show it’s officially based on. A lot of the love it may have for the original anime can be too cutely blunt at times, throwing in several cameos from classic animated supporting characters, or positively littering the backgrounds with textual names, words, and titles calling back to the original. But it’s still an appreciation that, in its best moments, feels just a Seatbelts soundtrack song away from fitting in with that formative vibe of Bebop. But then, just as often, it reminds you of why Netflix‘s take on the material now famously failed to take off. It’s a recursive adaptation that seems to mostly struggle under the weight of that association, but its artistic choices carry it well, and there are ideas to the story that can be chewed on without the character and setting writing completely alienating the audience. It’s still not a particularly amazing stew, but at least they remembered to put some stew mix into it this time.