The sudden cancellation of Firefly left many mysteries unsolved. Who were the Hands of Blue? Why were they willing to murder their own Alliance comrades? What happened in the years between Objects in Space and Serenity? But the most pressing issue was the identity of Shepherd Book. His proficiency with guns and seemingly important status within the Alliance were never explained, or even explored in the show.
Thankfully, though, Joss & Zack Whedon followed up Serenity with a trio of comics. Better Days was a three-part story, following the hilarious hijinks Joss had originally intended to have been proper episodes, taking place after Objects in Space.
Those Left Behind closed the seven-year gap between Better Days and Serenity (and revealed why The Operative replaced the Hands of Blue). But the most important piece of Firefly history – Book’s origins – are divulged satisfyingly and succinctly in The Shepherd’s Tale. Manifesting as a sort of reverse-biography – starting with his death at the hands of the Alliance and finishing with a scene from his childhood – it’s a masterfully told origins story.
Chris Samnee’s artwork is serviceable – that’s not to say it’s bad, but it does the job and not much more. His watercolour-esque style admittedly works well with the feel of the outer planets of the ‘Verse, giving it a sort of grimy vibe – but his illustrations of the actual Serenity crew are just a little off, in a way that doesn’t ruin the story but is still a little annoyance – although it’s admittedly difficult to illustrate actual people rather than characters. Thankfully, Capt. Reynolds and co. are in but one scene.
However, the real meat of this story is the writing – and Joss has knocked it out of the park. There are some truly mind-blowing revelations in order here (believe me, it’s taking all my anti-spoiler powers to avoid telling you now). What’s more, each little vignette is expertly linked to the next – it never feels like something has just been thrown in to shock you. The dialogue between each of the established characters sounds like something right out of the show, from Mal’s ‘Perfectly civil arms deal!’ to Book’s perpetually calm tone – well, when he’s a priest, that is.
Revealing one of the biggest secrets about a fan-favourite character of the Firefly universe was no easy task. Zack writes in an afterword that he was actually quite scared when working on the story – and who can blame him? Thankfully, the Whedon brothers managed to pull it off. The Shepherd’s Tale is a truly essential part of any Browncoat’s collection – pick it up as soon as you can.