Tuesday, May 10, 2011
Review: Serenity, The Shepherd's Tale
I have been waiting nearly 4 years for this comic, and reviewing it has taken me nearly as many months. The character of Shepherd Derrial Book was one of the biggest mysteries of the Serenity/Firefly franchise. The premature cancellation of the series meant that the fans would never know why Book was a skilled fighter, what led him to the Abbey, or what it was on his ident card that caused the Alliance to hurry him into medical treatment when he was injured.
This project was back-benched for a while as Joss Whedon worked on Dollhouse (also cancelled), Dr. Horrible (where is mah sequel?!?!) and his various movie projects (Cabin In the Woods, the Avengers). Finally Joss decided to pass the project onto his equally-ridiculously-talented brother Zack (Jed was responsible for the recent Dr. Horrible graphic novel which I also plan on reviewing).
Fair warning: I'm coming at this comic from the perspective of a GIANT fan who is attempting to be fair and impartial. Keep in mind, though, that you need to see both Firefly and Serenity for this comic to make sense, let alone mean anything to you. This is NOT a comic for non-Browncoats.
The art on the previous comics - Better Days - was really lovely. It was realistic without being too realistic and portrait-esque. It was as though the artist had looked at the actors and then more... drawn the characters rather than trying to copy the features of the cast.
The art on this comic is much too raw and unfinished. Due to the flow of the narrative and how it shifts through time, I had SO much trouble identifying characters who re-appeared. Their faces aren't defined enough. The colouring is gorgeous, for sure, and the art isn't bad per se... it's just not really suitable for such a fast-paced, emotional and at times confusing story. It comes across as blotchy and cartoonish, in a situation where there are questions that the fans desperately want answered, and by god it's a serious matter. The art didn't fit at all.
The dialogue of the franchise is quite unique; Joss Whedon imagined a post-Apocalyptic society where America and China had become the last two superpower nations in the world. Everybody spoke a mixture of English and Chinese. There is absolutely no Chinese in this comic, which I was a little disappointed by.
I can't fault the dialogue in any other aspect, and the lettering is neat and unobtrusive.
The major way in which this comic is let down in this area is the pace of the story. Basically they've tried to explain Book's whole mysterious past in a series of flashbacks. It's quite disjointed and choppy. The comic starts with Book's death scene, which is absolutely heart-wrenching and perfect. Then it cuts to him leaving the abbey, and it does sound like him, how he speaks and thinks, and the way he'd conduct himself. Obviously I can't comment on how 'young Book' sounds because this is the first we've seen of him. I trust Zack Whedon's writing, I just really wish Joss had given him, and Book, some more breathing space in this one.
I get that Joss is heartbroken by the cancellation of Firefly - the fans are too! Instead of exploring the world that could have been, using comics instead of TV, this graphic novel feels like some table scraps thrown to some too-loud fans. It looks and feels rushed, which is something Book did not deserve at all. I know there's no way that we could have seen his whole life in a novel - that would have been a gargantuan task and we probably would have been waiting even longer to see it... but it would have benefitted so much from a different format/narrative flow.
As I said to my friend and fellow fan, after we'd both read the comic: this is better than nothing, but I was expecting so much more. If you're a hardcore fan, of course you're going to buy it. However I can't help feeling a little bit disappointed at the meager amount of information and the jarringly spread-apart narrative.