When Ron Glass said at Creation’s “Weekend of Whedon” that he read “The Shepherd’s Tale forwards and backwards”, he wasn’t kidding. In fact, it may be the best way to understand the backstory of Shepherd Book. Some parts of the story were revealed at the Browncoats Cruise nearly three years ago, and fans have been waiting ever since. Joss and Zack Whedon wrote the story, while Chris Samnee did the art.
The story starts…at the end. Specifically, it begins in Haven, where Book is asked how he met the crew of Serenity. Before he can answer, Alliance ships arrive to kill everyone. Yes, this is what happened before Mal and the crew came back to Haven to hide from the Operative in the movie.
Then, the story goes backwards in time, from a typical day inside the ship, to his final day at Southdown Abbey, the moment where he saw “God in a bowl of soup”, and other events that shaped his life, even in his teens. We also find out what Glass meant when he said that Book would be known for his greatest failure, and what part of Book is artificial.
The best way to get the whole story is to read the book from start to finish, then track back. Zack is clever to use reverse chronology to explain a man’s progress. Such a device has been used in movies like Memento and Betrayal.
There’s also a column by Zack called “The Journey is the worthier part..”, where he reveals some of the influences that shaped the story, including a well-known basketball player’s life. This is a fine story about one of Serenity’s most popular characters, and maybe we can get other backstories of the crew. Many, for example, are still waiting for Inara’s backstory.
Meanwhile, USA Today got together with Dark Horse for a web exclusive story called. “Downtime”. Zack Whedon also wrote this story about how the crew deals with being stuck in a snowstorm. It’s more than that, though. We see Jayne discuss a delicate physical condition with Simon, while River wanders off into the snow, and towards a group of bad guys. We don’t know too much about them, but we do know what happens after River meets them.
The story is available here. Hopefully, it can get more people to try out the other Serenity comic books, then the movie, and the TV show. You can’t have too many Browncoats.