Serenity: The Shepherd's Tale

Shepherd's Tale cover

This is it. I can feel it. It’s okay. We each get to be in the world a time, and I’ve had mine. It can be tough. It can be ugly. But I’m grateful for the journey and what I’ve stumbled across along the way.

As it was cancelled long before its time, there are many stories that Joss Whedon never got to tell in Firefly. The film cleans up the main River Tam plot, but the character of Shepherd Book never got a chance to have his story told. In this new hardcover from Dark Horse Books, Zack Whedon tells Book’s tale from outlines by brother Joss, with art by Chris Samnee.

The story starts with what could be a deleted scene from Serenity and then flashes back to glimpses of Book’s life. We see some of his time at the abbey and some of his much-speculated career as a soldier. There’s a nice twist at just the right place, precisely as I was worrying, “this is it? The big secret is that he used to be a soldier?”

The graphic novel’s plot structure reminds me of Stephen King’s The Gunslinger. Both books start at the end and work their way back in time through embedded flashbacks. It’s a neat format that works nicely here and makes great use of the sort of overlapping narration Scott McCloud talks about in Understanding Comics, where the dialogue from the previous scene carries over to a panel in a different time/place, creating a contrast between the two settings. I don’t know that Whedon was thinking of The Gunslinger when he structured the story this way (he probably would have mentioned it in the backmatter along with the other influences he references), but I’ve always felt the same gritty, western feel in both the Dark Tower and Serenity ’verses.

While I enjoyed the book, reading it made me sad that the series ended so early. That Joss Whedon decided to disclose Shepherd Book’s backstory serves as further proof that no new movies are coming. I recommend The Shepherd’s Tale to anyone who loved Firefly and is curious about Book’s history, or just wants to revisit the trappings of the series for a few minutes. Amazon has it on sale for $9 and I would expect to see Dark Horse put out an iPad version as well.