On 3 November 2010 Dark Horse Books released a third novel in the Serenity graphic novel series: ‘Serenity – The Shepherd’s Tale’ written by Zack Whedon (Angel, Fringe, Dr Horrible’s Sing-a-long blog), Joss Whedon and illustrated by Chris Samnee (Blackest Night: Tales of the Corps, Daredevil). Fans of the Firefly world rejoice for with this graphic novel release we finally have the chance to uncover the story that reveals the mystery of Shepherd Book’s past…
Shepherd ‘Derrial’ Book is arguably the most mysterious character of the Firefly crew. While no character created by Joss Whedon is as simple as their ‘face value’, compared to Book, the other characters in Firefly are pretty straightforward: Jayne is a mercenary who is predominately interested in money; Kaylee’s the ship mechanic who is a happy-go-lucky gal with a little crush on the ship’s medic; Simon’s the doctor and is dedicated to protecting her sister. Other characters such as Mal and Zoe can be strongly defined by their past in the war against the Independents and the Alliance, while Inara and Wash present interesting character compliments to Mal and Zoe respectively as the ‘love interests’, though mystery also surrounds Inara’s choice (as a respectable member of society) to align herself with a group that are effectively outlaws.
In identifying mysterious characters, River Tam is certainly a myriad of complexities and a key character to the story we were presented with during the airing of Firefly. But fortunately, we received somewhat of a fulfilling explanation of her character through the release of the 2006 movie Serenity.
Thus to date, Book’s character alone seems the only character who remained shrouded in mystery. Throughout the short-lived series he displays a puzzling combination of a preacher of the Lord but with some powerful, but unknown, connections to the governing body of the ‘Verse, ‘The Alliance’. Unlike River’s character, we were not placed in any better position to understand his character after the movie. And it certainly didn’t look like we were going to get a chance to – until now.
It could have been so easy to provide an explanation of Book through some back-story, or oblique reference to his past. Instead, ‘Serenity – The Shepherd’s Tale’ provides readers with an insightful account to a man who has lived a well-travelled – and full – life.
Though some fans may be disappointed that the release of this graphic novel pretty much dashes any hope of us ever seeing the cast and crew back together for one final recording for the Firefly ‘Verse (as thin stretched as that hope may already be), it seems completely fitting (and perhaps somewhat ironic) that Book’s story be told in this form.
Together Whedon and Samnee cleverly use the graphic novel form to allow readers the time to appreciate and slowly piece together the journey of Book’s life. And it is only upon further reflection as one finishes the last page that the reader is in a position to gradually discover and fully comprehend the defining moments that shape the person who we were first introduced to and parted with in Serenity.
While a story about a much loved character of the Firefly crew is likely to attract readers, the presentation of the story and the themes that are touched upon as the story develops story itself makes this graphics novel a great read on its own, even for one who is not familiar with the Firefly ‘Verse.
Personally, my favourite part in the story is Book contemplating his place in the grand scheme of things into (of all things!) a bowl of Chicken Soup. He recognises that his bowl, just sitting there simply in front of him, went through a series of events to end up where it is today. And as the bowl currently sits, it is supported by many external forces but ultimately, the bowl is sitting there for him to eat from in order to give him life. Thus, with that knowledge, he considers: what has he done and what is he going to do with his life?
We only got a glimpse of it in Firefly.
‘Serenity – The Shepherd’s tale’ beautifully compliments the stories that already exist in the series and reveals only another aspect within the many layers that make up the Firefly ‘Verse. And it is these layers that continue to be revealed, even 8 years after its initial (and short lived!) airing that contribute to why Firefly still continues to touch and reach out to fans across the world.