Book Review: Serenity: The Shepherd’s Tale

Written by Book Reviews, Books, Comics and Graphic Novels

Popdose reviews the latest from the Firefly Universe, Serenity: The Shepherd’s Tale.

I am by no means a Browncoat, the die-hard fans of Joss Whedon’s world of western outlaws in space, the thematic axis of his gone-too-soon television show Firefly. I do appreciate the show immensely and I feel, in so far as network broadcast science fiction goes, it was one of scant few examples of recent times to move the genre forward (certainly cable has made greater strides).

The series ended with more questions than answers, prompting it’s devotees to unseen levels of activism to save the show. Ultimately, it never quite moved beyond their sphere, and Fox was more concerned with the bottom line than investments in the future, a conundrum they’re now reliving with the struggling Fringe. It was, nonetheless, the fervor of the Browncoats that helped get the Universal Productions continuation, this time in movie form, off the ground. Once again, the movie didn’t really break out past it’s initial fandom and was seen as a box-office dud.

The characters have, however, continued to live on in comic book form via Dark Horse’s mini-series and one-shots, and have managed to do a respectable job of it. It shouldn’t be difficult, with the majority of Marvel Comics devoted mostly to the pursuit of advertising forthcoming movies versus being, you know, interesting (Truth time: Whedon had a hand in the script for the upcoming Captain America: The First Avenger and will be directing The Avengers). When plopped next to the hundredth variant Spider-Man cover, the latest Serenity: The Shepherd’s Tale looks almost like high literature.

The story recounts the last day of interstellar preacher/shepherd Derrial Book’s life and then backtracks to uncover certain mysteries about it such as why he seems to have such an impact on some of the meanest characters to cross the crew of Serenity, the ship of outlaws. This was threaded all through the TV series but never fully expounded upon, and this one-shot seeks to remedy that.

Does it? Well, yes and no. I won’t divulge the details but it should suffice to say that we learn more about Book than perhaps we want to know. There was enough implicit information already regarding this man of peace, knowing he was once a man of war, insidious and unlikeable. His transformation, recounted in reverse, has the weird effect of making the reader feel less empathy for the character, and depending on your emotional investment with the series, perhaps a little betrayed. It no longer is a story of redemption, even though it was meant to be as such.

The story was written by Zack Whedon, Joss’ brother, but Joss supplied the details so it all is sanctioned Whedonverse canon. The art, by Chris Samnee, is interesting and graphic — not in content but in style. Samnee seems to aim somewhere between Mike Mignola (Hellboy) and Frank Miller (Sin City) and the design moves the story along. On it’s own merits, The Shepherd’s Tale is a good read. As part of the Serenity storyline, I couldn’t help but feel sad, having learned this character was not the man we thought he was.

I do have one major gripe with the book however. It is about the length of a standard Annual-sized comic book which often runs for less than a fiver. Thanks to the hardback binding, making it seem more like one of those Disney character hardbacks from the 1970’s, the price was steeply elevated to $14.99. I’m often privy to the complaints of the comic industry regarding the declining readership and what measures would be necessary to bring people back to the fold. Fancy packaging of a book of normal length, presumably to give it cache but also giving it a major price-jacking, will do nothing to alleviate the cash register blues…

…Unless they’ve pegged the Browncoats as suckers that will pay anything for their fandom. I hope they’re wrong about that.

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