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New Comics! Serenity: The Shepherd’s Tale and Dueling Versions of the Origin of Superman!

Here are some of the comic books I’ve been reading lately:

Serenity: The Shepherd’s Tale — This gorgeous hardcover graphic novel finally reveals the mysterious back-story of Shepherd Book, the enigmatic preacher from Joss Whedon’s dearly-missed TV series Firefly.  I always felt that the character, played to such perfection by Ron Glass, was one of the more intriguing members of the show’s ensemble.  This man of peace clearly had a great deal of knowledge of war, and about the inner workings of the Alliance, but we never got to know the character’s full story.  With Book’s tragic death in the film Serenity, and that film’s poor box office killing the hope of any further sequels, it seemed that Firefly fans would be left always wondering about the much hinted-at history of Shepherd Book.

Dark Horse Comics to the rescue!  The publisher has put out several Serenity comic books over the past few years, but The Shepherd’s Tale is the high-point.  Written by Joss Whedon and his brother Zack Whedon (a very talented writer in his own right, Zack was a key creative voice behind Dr. Horrible’s Sing-Along Blog and wrote Dark Horse’s terrific recent Terminator series), this is the official, canon, straight-from-the-horse’s-mouth version of Shepherd Book’s story.  It’s a wonderful tale, presented in vignettes told in reverse chronological order.  In a clever touch, we begin with Book’s death (and, by the way, Book’s narration of the moment of his death is so perfect, so wonderful, that once again my heart aches at the demise of Firefly) and then work our way back through his life.  (I should note here that, as wonderful as the choice to present Book’s life in reverse chronological order is, its impact was a bit diminished for me since I have long held Star Trek Annual #3, “Retrospect,” published by DC Comics back in 1988, to be one of the greatest comic books I’ve ever read.  That issue, written by Peter David and illustrated by Curt Swan & Ricardo Villagran, presents the story of Scotty’s life-long love affair with a doomed woman in reverse order, from the moment he learns of her death back all the way to their first encounter as little kids.  It broke my heart when I first read it as a kid, and I have re-read it a thousand times in the years since.  But back to Serenity…)

Chris Samnee’s art is gorgeous, dense and atmospheric.  He’s not an expert at capturing the features of the actors from the TV series, but his art is so expressive that I didn’t mind a bit.  He totally captures the “feel” of Shepherd Book, and he’s an expert at creating a … [continued]