Thursday, November 4, 2010

A Shepherd's Tale Review (Spoilers)

The Preamble: There are two things I do not typically consider myself to be: a browncoat or a fan of Derrial Book. I watched Firefly, sure. I saw Serenity in theaters. But unlike most Whedon fans out there, I never quite made that visceral connection to that world and those characters. Book, especially, was someone I never identified with. So imagine my surprise when this graphic novel went on to be the best Firefly comic to come out thus far. Rather than the usual synopsis then review format, I'm going to do it all in one section so, heads up, some spoilers are headed your way.

The Review: This story is sort of like peeling back the layers of a life. We start with the surface and we go deeper, and deeper, right down to the core of what makes a man. We open with Book's final moments and, as we do when we're fictional characters, with his lasts breaths he reflects on what brought him to this moment.

First on the journey back, unsurprisingly, is Serenity and it's here where Zack and Joss excel best. It may just be that every one of those characters was so perfectly cast but, truly, every voice is pitch perfect. There's a little something for people who like Jayne and River, plenty of love for the Kaylee fans, and a great moment involving Mal and Zoe beating the snot out of someone who saw fit to cross them.

Then begins the great foreshadowing because, really, what we want to know is how Book came to be known by the Alliance. But first our Shepherd needs to say farewell to the Church he called home, the one that saved him. He was in quite a state when he first arrived there. Foreboding, foreboding, foreboding, foreboding. Not sure we needed this moment, but have I mentioned it's foreboding? Cuz it is!

Back further. And drunk. Derrial is forcibly removed from the local dive bar I assume he is not unknown to frequent when an Alliance officer recognizes him. The officer mentions his little brother and the tragedy that befell him on the I.A.V. Alexander. And again I say FOREBODING!

Before we move backwards again, we get what is the defining moment where Book discovers his own spirituality. It's all done through the analysis of a bowl of soup and its place in the universe. Yup. This has got Joss's fingerprints all over it. The man loves to explain life through food. He should write a cookbook. It would be called "We're All Going to Die but, SHIT, this tastes delicious!"

Let's go back a little further. How does "Officer Book" sound to you? Now we're getting somewhere. And by "somewhere" I mean "Book having his ship retreat leaving behind who knows how many Alliance soldiers to die." This on its own is an interesting layer because it is completely different from the original assumption most people had. Everyone thought Book was a hero to the Alliance. Turns out he is a total failure. Or is he?

So we peel back further to when Book is starting out in the Alliance and, damn, he sure does like beating information out of people, even when it isn't necessary. In fact, as we go back even further, we see that hitting things is a bit of a Derrial Book specialty.

So here's the deal. Book is very similar to Angel. Because he does things that he thinks is for the greater good at great sacrifice to the lives of everyone around him. Before he was in the Alliance, he was against them. He was part of a group fighting them. So that failure when all those people in the Alliance died? Maybe not so much a failure, exactly, if you're someone who believes in necessary collateral damage by way of lots of dead soldiers. Because, in this moment, that's the kind of dude Book is. And that? Is fucking awesome. I mean absolutely horrific, sure. I wouldn't want to know the guy because I'm sure I'd wind up dead but, as a character? He just got a lot more interesting. Hell, I kind of want to go back and re-watch Firefly right now for hints of this side of Book.

But before that I want to quote the end of the story where we see how this character started out. A kid, getting beat on the regular by his drunken pops, running away from home. He walks down a deserted alley (sound familiar?) He thinks to himself:

"You see, this life is a fight and if you sit still, someone will get the drop on you. They'll pin you down. I won't let that happen. I'll protect myself, take what I need, and keep moving. Because it's every man for himself. Get out of my way.

This life is mine."

I think that says it all, really, doesn't it? Sure there are some moments that felt a little wasted and unnecessary, but there are so many revelations about this character. Like so much of the Firefly universe, he is now whole, complete. Which is the best thing about this whole brownout thing Joss crafted. It's his most cohesive work and he did it in far less time than anything else he's ever created. Book was out there in "don't know, don't care" land for so long but now? He's fascinating! I love that there's this selfishness at the root of him. I love that he sacrificed countless lives for a greater good he wasn't even sure of. There's something so vain and awful and brilliant and human about him now that I never knew until right now. So thanks to the Whedon bros (for whom there should be an 8-bit style side-scroller made) and thanks to Chris Samnee for giving the whole thing this great murky feel that fit the story just right.

Go pick it up, if you haven't already. And Scott? Get Zack and Joss to make more. Beg if you must. Because this? This was great.

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