I've been jonesing to rewatch my Firefly box set, and I decided to whet my appetite by buying and reading this graphic novel, a long-awaited backstory for the mysterious Shepherd Book. I was so excited that I even let it mellow on my shelf for a while, building a nice head of anticipation. I think that might have been a mistake, because I finished this ultra-short story with a distinct sense of feeling underwhelmed.
The approach is actually quite interesting. The story begins with Book's final moments as we remember them: going down fighting on the planet Haven. After an introductory internal monologue, the tale uses key phrases to jump back in time, visiting crucial moments in Book's life that explain who he is, where he came from, and how he came to be the man he is.
And there's the rub; we learn just about everything there is to know about him. Alliance connection? Check. Decidedly un-Christian fighting skill? Check. We even get a few tantalizing glimpses at deeper mysteries we didn't know about, only to have them summarily explained, as well. This seems to be an odd thing to complain about, but at under 60 pages, Shepherd's Tale is a lightning quick read. To have that much about Firefly's most enigmatic character explained so rapidly... well, the whole thing feels a bit hurried and impersonal. Like, hey, remember all those questions we had about Book? Here are the answers. The end!
There's still a lot to like about it, especially for Firefly fans. I get the feeling that this graphic novel is much too perfunctory for the non-Browncoat crowd, though. There's a lot of meat, but it's definitely information overload if you aren't already familiar with the Firefly setting, and the gist of the story is fairly standard: redemption of a man circling the drain. I liked this book, but I think it's more of a supplementary volume than an actual standalone story.