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Tuesday, May 10, 2011

The Shepherd's Tale

A long time ago there was a wonderful TV show called Firefly. It was a sci-fi show that followed the adventures of Captain Malcolm Reynolds and his rag-tag crew aboard Serenity. (No "The", it's just Serenity.) Sadly, the show was canceled mid-season by Fox and was left with multiple plot threads hanging. However, Firefly did incredibly well in DVD sales and gained a cult following of Browncoats, myself included. Eventually we got a feature film, Serenity, which tied up the various loose ends left by the series and brought this wonderful story to a close.

Well, almost all the loose ends. Among Mal's crew was the space-age preacher man, Shepherd Derrial Book. Throughout
Firefly hints that Book hadn't always been a Shepherd were made. He was incredibly accurate with firearms, an expert on criminal activities, and appeared to have a certain amount of pull with the Alliance. (Future space government, bad guys. Watch the series to find out more. No, seriously, do it. You won't be disappointed.) At the end of Serenity we still hadn't learned anything about Shepherd's past before he joined Mal's crew. Theories abounded, but the most popular was Book was once a special operative of the Alliance government, a trained assassin and enforcer for a ruthless and in some cases very unpopular government.

The Shepherd's Tale put all of these theories to rest by fully exploring Book's past and telling his formerly unknown story. When this book first came out, my local comic book store sheepishly told me they were out of copies. Shepherd's Tale had become the most sought-after comic in a matter of days and remained highly popular. Unfortunately, the book is a disappointment and riddled with a rather odd plot hole.

To explain the plot hole, I'd have to spoil a bit of it. I'm going to explain as much as I can without spoiling and then explain the plot hole after a fair warning. Ready? Good. Now,
Shepherd's Tale is told chronologically backwards. We get little story snippets that begin when we last see Book in Serenity and moves backwards throughout his life. Personally I liked this, it was an interesting way to tell the story and a great way to delve into his backstory. We get to see pivotal events that shaped Book's life and gradually lead him to where he eventually ended up. That is the bonus of the book.

Okay, I guess the real issue is the plot hole in the book which doesn't make a lot of sense. I'm sorry if I'm being nitpicky but I like a plot to be coherent. I find plot holes extremely irritating. So, to give all of you a fair chance:

Okay, so we discover that Book was in fact an Alliance Officer, rather than an Operative. If you're confused, he's a regular soldier rather than an assassin. That still explains his body of knowledge and firearms skills, so that part's okay. The main problem is that Derrial Book, as an Alliance Officer, is blamed by the Alliance brass for a military defeat. He is then unceremoniously shoved into an escape pod and dumped on a nearby planet. Several years later, ordinary Alliance personnel are still aware that Derrial Book is responsible for the major Alliance defeat. The reason I have a problem with this is in
Firefly Book is shot and in desperation the crew of Serenity ask an Alliance cruiser for medical aid. After initially refusing, Book shows his identification to the Alliance officer who immediately transports him to the medical facilities. If Book was responsible for the greatest military defeat of the Alliance, why would they give him medical aid? I mean the whole reason they shove him in an escape pod and drop him on a planed is the hope that he'll be killed in the descent. Ultimately his past life contradicts what we see in the series. Maybe I'm being an annoying fanboy obsessing over the details like this, but I feel like it's inconsistent.

Another problem I had was Book being a double-agent for the Independents, secretly infiltrating the Alliance. I just felt like it was a bit much and...maybe ruined my perception of the character. Basically Book's always working for the good guys, even in the bad guys camp. The thing that was so cool about him working for the bad guys in the past is the chance at realizing his flaws and the flaws of the regime he's serving. Redemption is a powerful theme in fiction and one I enjoy reading about immensely. If he's always been working for the good guys...there's not that same them. Sure, his character develops, but it's not as great a story.


Ultimately, I was disappointed with
The Shepherd's Tale and it's depiction of Book's backstory. I love reading backstory, but I feel like this comic just didn't do it. Read it if you want to, especially if you're a die-hard Firefly fan, but you can probably imagine a better backstory for Shepherd Book. Sorry, Joss, but it's getting two sheep.



  1. oh wow only 2 sheep? what a bummer, and I love the show and movie so much. I will give it a read anyway cause really anything to do with Firefly blows my hair back.

    Very honest review Ben, love it

  2. Thank you.I am a fan of Firefly. I will eventually buy the comic,but if it's not all that good it can go down on my list.