*Warning: This review contains spoilers to the television series Firefly and film Serenity. If you have not seen either, do so now.*
Last week, Dark Horse Comics released the hardcover comic Browncoats have been clamoring for – Serenity: The Shepherd’s Tale. This comic provides insight to one of the most beloved characters from the television series Firefly and movie Serenity. It tackles the past of Shepherd Book, arguably the most mysterious of Serenity’s crew members.
In Firefly, audiences were introduced to Shepherd Book as a wise and religious man, seeking to bring The Word to them that need it in the far reaches of the ‘Verse. Small glimpses into his life before Serenity were disseminated throughout the short-lived series and film, leaving viewers wondering about his possibly shady past. In the film Serenity, an Alliance operative commanded the destruction of a border planet sanctuary and known hideout for Serenity’s crew, resulting in Shepherd Book’s death. With his death, our hope for answers died . . until the announcement of Serenity: The Shepherd’s Tale.
The comic is a collaborative project, with Zack Whedon writing the dialog and narrative based on a story outline provided by Joss Whedon and Chris Samnee contributing the artwork. The artwork is beautiful to be sure. It truly captures the dark, sometimes bleak circumstances of the story. The story itself is dark, action-packed and full of answers. Just what we have been waiting for.
Shepherd Book’s story begins with his death at Haven. We re-experience the tragic attack, this time with Book’s narrative. Though this is one of the saddest moments of the franchise, this narrative so beautifully captures Ron Glass’ characterization of Book, it is as if he were speaking the words. I was truly impressed and excited to see this comic would remain true to a franchise I love so much.
Sadly, this is where the praise ends. The comic uses flashbacks to take readers further and further into Shepherd Book’s past to show how his character evolved. Let me be clear here – there are 9 flashbacks. I enjoy flashbacks as much as the next reader. I am a LOSTie, after all. However, to use 9 flashbacks within one small story is overuse realized. Not only is the device overused, it also takes the reader out of the story. Instead of focusing on the character’s journey, the reader is trying to infer what happened previously to result in what is currently being read. Is it so much to ask for a story be told beginning to end?
Further, there is something lacking here – a depth of character evolution. The comic takes the reader from major event to major event in Shepherd Book’s life. However, you rarely see how he is affected by the events – save for soup. I understand this comic was a single run deal; however, it seems to me a short series would allow for the development this character deserves.
There is another point of contention I will touch on. That is the price. Serenity: A Shepherd’s Tale, unlike the previous Serenity comics, was released as a hardcover book. As a hardcover book the price is higher, retailing at $14.99. Admittedly, that is not a high price for a book. Loyal Browncoats will gladly pay the price out of intense fandom and a driving desire for answers. However, I am hard-pressed to recommend anyone other than fans of the franchise run out to purchase this comic at this price point.
As a whole, I do not believe the experience to be worth it for the everyday comic reader or the casual viewer who has seen an episode of Firefly in passing. This project will not be what gets them interested in the franchise. While Serenity: A Shepherd’s Tale started with such promise, it leaves this Browncoat “out in the black”.