Wednesday, January 4, 2012

GN Review -- Serenity: The Shepherd's Tale / Zack Whedon and Chris Samnee

I am an unabashed fan of Joss Whedon's sci-fi/western show Firefly, and when I learned of the existence of the graphic novel based on it, I eagerly searched for them.  By November 2010, I'd heard of the impending publication of Serenity: The Shepherd's Tale, and was chomping at the bit to get a hold of this story.  Shepherd Book, the character who is the focus of this story, was one of the most compelling and mysterious members of Serenity's crew, and to have his back-story finally revealed in a comic book format was nothing short of miraculous, I felt.

But as I read the story, I couldn't help but come away with a profound sense of disappointment.

It isn't that the book lies to the reader in any way, or that it's poorly written, or even poorly illustrated (though I do feel the art does pale in comparison to other graphic stories of this property).  The Shepherd's Tale does exactly what it sets out to do, which is to reveal the specifics about Derrial Book's life and activities before he met up with Serenity and her crew.  It's creatively structured, with good little points of dialog and character development.  And while the art may feel less distinctive and crafted than I'd prefer, it does its job of accurately portraying the characters and supporting the mood and plot of the narrative.

Yes, the book (pun not intended) does exactly what it needs to do.  Nothing more, nothing less.

And I think that's my problem with it.

Maybe I've just gotten spoiled by the other Serenity comics.  Maybe I just built up too spectacularly the mystery of Book's origin, to a level so high that no reveal could have possibly lived up to it.  Whatever the case, this particular story was a decent story, and nothing more, which I think is abysmal praise when applied to Firefly and the narratives spawned from the show and film.  I'm so used to being blown away by what I've read in Dark Horse's releases of this franchise, that this story feels comparatively flat and unimpressive.

I thought the use of interlinked flashbacks at the various crossroads in Book's life was pretty interesting, despite the occasional bout of confusion.  The chain of events created leads the reader all the way back to Book's childhood, where he endured an abusive parent and eventually ran away.  His decision to join the Browncoats and spy on the Alliance by rising through the ranks of their military explains how he knows so much about arms and criminals as a Shepherd, but his disastrous singular failure as an Alliance commander also raises questions about why the Alliance treated him so well in an episode of the show.  When he finds God in a bowl of chicken soup, it's both amusing and illuminating, but also feels a little silly and contrived, particularly if you've never watched the show.

I suppose I'm just used to a certain standard of entertainment when I visit the fictitious 'verse of Serenity.  There's a certain depth to the story, or the characters, or the dialog, or the humor, or the simple feeling that this was a labor of love.  The Shepherd's Tale does what it promises, but was nowhere near as fulfilling to experience as the rest of the stories in this franchise.  Maybe this was just destined to be a disappointing story, but I can't help the feeling that, in other hands, this would have been a far deeper, more fulfilling, and ultimately more meaningful story than it turned out to be.

If I had been among Serenity's crew, and traveled and fought alongside Book, and watched him die, as they did, I would naturally want to know more about who he was before he came to be in my life.  This story was like being told by an Alliance administrator, in cold, clipped clarity, those details, as opposed to the warm recollection that would be given by the friaress in the Southdown Abbey from where he came to us.  It would do, but it would feel ultimately disappointing in its delivery.

Recommended, but only for fans of Serenity.  And unfortunately, most of them will still be disappointed.

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