Review: Serenity: The Shepherd’s Tale

Serenity: The Shepherd’s Tale

By Joss Whedon, Zack Whedon, and Chris Samnee

The story begins with death. The opening scene of this graphic novel depicts the last moments of Shepherd Derrial Book’s life. We read his last thoughts even as his eyes mist over.

The next page bears the narration, “Two years earlier.” We see Book on Serenity and reacting to the crew. We get to visit Jayne and the Shepherd as they lift weights together and banter. We have a bittersweet reunion with Wash. We see Book shaken and praying.

Two years earlier. Shepherd Book decides it’s time to leave the confines of his order and take the Word out among the stars.

Every six to ten pages the book slips further and further back along Book’s life. We see his conversion experience. We see him as an Alliance officer. We see him among the browncoats. We see the first time he murders anyone. We see him fleeing the police. Finally, we see him as a child, and all the pieces fall together and the reader finally understands Book’s journey.

The spine of the graphic novel bears the notation, “Volume three.” Ignore that. While there have been two previous Serenity miniseries, you need not have read them to understand this (in fact, I found both of them to be rather badly done). Without seeing at least the movie Serenity, though, you will certainly be lost, and I highly, highly recommend you watch the entirety of the Firefly television series as well. Trust me, it’s not a chore, it’s a delight.

One of the most mysterious members of Serenity’s crew was Shepherd Book. He was a man of God… who wasn’t afraid to shoot out his enemies’ kneecaps. He was a man of peace… who could get immediate medical attention on an Alliance cruiser. He was an enigma, and this graphic novel explains his past.

The narrative style of slipping backwards works rather well. An opening narration has Book confessing that life is a chain of events, and each scene is another link in his chain. While every scene explains the why of one mystery, it opens up another, until we finally reach back to his childhood.

The writing is good, though I find the presentation of Christianity and Book’s conversion experience by far the weakest parts of the book. You see, Book found God in a bowl of soup. There’s no talk of redemption, forgiveness, or Jesus. No Bible verses mentioned even tangentially. His “conversion experience” is all law. I understand that Joss Whedon is an atheist, and at best he can speak the words of the Gospel without understanding them. I do not know where Zack Whedon stands. However, the conversion experience was shallow in my eyes.

Other than that flaw, the writing is solid. It was refreshing reading the crew again. I could hear the actors’ voices in the word bubbles. And finally finding out the mystery behind what may be my favorite character was exciting.

The art is also top-notch. On projects like this, comic companies often use photo-realistic artists who try to put down a photograph onto paper with their ink. Here, Samnee chooses a different style. He makes good use of shadows and darkness. The coloring uses a simple palette, defying the computer-aided coloring processes most graphic novels use these days.

The story and the art are great. If you’re a fan of the ‘Verse, read this. You won’t be disappointed.

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