Announced earlier this week, Dark Horse will give readers back the sky in two new “Serenity” projects this year. The first, a one-shot written by actor and comedian Patton Oswalt, ships in June, while series creator Joss Whedon teams with “Terminator” scribe (and younger brother) Zack Whedon for an original hardcover graphic novel titled “Serenity: The Shepherd’s Tale,” due in November. CBR News previously spoke with editor Scott Allie and artist Chris Samnee about “The Shepherd’s Tale’s” unusual origins and “Serenity’s” resurgence, and we now turn to writer Zack Whedon for his take on the project.
Fans were first introduced to the crew of the space vessel Serenity in 2002, when Joss Whedon’s “Buffy the Vampire Slayer” was entering its final season on television. The new show, titled “Firefly,” was a mash-up of space opera and Western genres and starred Nathan Fillion as Captain Malcolm Reynolds, who was on the losing side of a galactic war and now, with a rough-hewn band of troublemakers for a crew, makes what living he can running cargo and smuggling. The Serenity’s affairs are complicated by the arrival of stowaways River and Simon Tam, who represent a unique threat to the governing Alliance, and also by Shepherd Book, a holy man with a mysterious past.
Book, played by Ron Glass both on “Firefly” and the big-screen follow-up, “Serenity,” is the focus of “The Shepherd’s Tale” graphic novel, revealing at last the secrets behind the preacher’s worldly experience. Joss Whedon has previously offered – and CBR’s discussion with Scott Allie recapped – that Shepherd Book killed a man and took his name, is best known for his biggest failure, has a part of himself that is artificial and ultimately found God in a bowl of soup.
There are quite a few hints throughout “Firefly” and “Serenity” that Shepherd Book has had an interesting history, from his Alliance credentials to the suggestion that he’s not as pious as he seems. CBR’s interview earlier this week with editor Scott Allie and artist Chris Samnee also unearthed several clues about the preacher’s rise, fall, and rise. “You will see Book’s full trajectory” in “The Shepherd’s Tale,” Whedon told CBR. “How he became the man he was in the show and who he was previous to that. It takes you deep into his past. You really get to see the entire evolution of this man.
“This story is much more character-oriented than adventure-oriented. It is a great ride to be sure, but it doesn’t have the consistent action element that the show or the previous comics had,” Whedon continued. “I mean, the guy’s a shepherd, and the majority of the comic covers the period before he got on Serenity and started hanging out with those hooligans. It will cover a lot of locales, some of which will be familiar and some of which will not be at all, but all of which will be fun to explore.”
Previous “Serenity” comics have been somewhat like episodes of “Firefly,” in that they feature the full crew having an adventure at some point in time before the film. But an extended origin story focusing on a single character might have been a bit more difficult to pull off in a single television episode or arc, and in the “home medium” Book’s story might be spread out over a longer period of time. Whedon noted the ability of art to match the actor’s likeness was another benefit of revealing Shepherd Book’s checkered past in comics, “One of the advantages of telling this story in this medium is that we can jump to any point in Book’s life, at any age and he will still look like Ron Glass. So that’s cool,” Whedon said. “I’ve only really seen character sketches from Chris [Samnee] so far but they look fantastic. He drew Book at different ages and he looks great. I’m really excited to be working with him.
“Book specifically is a great character to do the origin of because we know so little about it in the show, the little hints that we get are so enticing and his history is very… complicated. It’s an intricate set of circumstances that created the man we meet in the show so that is very fun to explore.”
Whedon has, of course, previously collaborated with his older brother on “Dr. Horrible’s Sing-a-Long Blog,” which he followed up with a comic book one-shot, but Zack and Joss’s history of making up stories together goes a bit further back. “When I was little, Joss would write and direct little movies that we would star in. That, though a boatload of fun, wasn’t a true collaboration because we were just his puppets,” Whedon said of the siblings’ early creative work. “The most collaborative thing we’ve done together was ‘Dr. Horrible.’ The process of writing that wasn’t that different from how most television shows are written – a bunch of folks in a room with a whiteboard throwing out ideas and breaking a story. It was different in that everyone in the room was related.
“The process of doing this comic is different from that because I was brought in after a lot of the heavy lifting had already been done. Joss really figured out this whole story on his own and roughly outlined it. I am working from that outline, just putting meat on the bones so to speak. So this is Joss’s story being executed by me. Which is a good thing.”
Whedon, coming from a television writing career that includes episodes of “Fringe” and “Deadwood,” has become very active in comics recently, with a “Dr. Horrible” one-shot and short stories on “MySpace Dark Horse Presents,” followed by “Terminator” and now “Serenity.” And, he said, he’s hoping to continue. “I am getting better at writing comics, I think. I am still learning a ton about what I need to work on from every script I turn in. The process of writing the ‘Terminator’ comics has taught me an awful lot, as that is my first series. [Writing comics] really does have its own set of rules and ways of screwing up but I’m learning as I go. I think it has and will continue to influence my television writing in that I am getting better at telling stories visually. I think I will be a better television writer because of my work in comics.”