A birthday bundle of comic books brings ‘Animal Man’ and ‘The Shepherd’s Tale’

Like the crew of the Serenity, just like a heist, one never knows what’s going to come of it. The two trades reviewed this month were an impulse buy as a birthday present to myself from Loot Crate, a subscription box service whittling down the hard-earned pay of nerds across the globe.

“Animal Man”

Grant Morrison’s seminal work on “Animal Man” lasted for 26 issues, but I’ve done some jumping around with the character. My introduction just so happens to be issue 24, towards the end of Morrison’s run.

I snagged this issue a few years back interviewing Wildcat Comic-Con guest of honor Barbara Slate. Her character Angel Love appeared alongside Animal Man and other characters out of main DC Comics continuity. As Morrison has with plenty of his titles, “Animal Man” comes crashing head-first through the fourth wall.

This special Loot Crate edition that is now indoctrinating me into “Animal Man” includes the first five issues with “Truog,” “Hazlewood Wood,” and “Costanza.” It’s an odd little series originating in the DC universe about a washed-up superhero who can siphon animals’ attributes for thirty minutes at a time. Buddy Baker is back in training to go full bore into the superhero business, but his first task is coming head-to-head with more seasoned veteran, the hero B’wana Beast.

If B’wana Beast isn’t odd enough with his loincloth and bare chest, the late 80s hairstyles and cut-off jeans sell it.

Issue 5 entitled “Coyote Gospel” revolves around a knock-off Wile E. Coyote figure that, like his counterpart, cannot die. It’s just a beginning glimpse of this meta fourth wall shattering that Morrison would delve into as the series progresses. This fifth issue was nominated for an Eisner.

There’s a lot of fun stuff here. There are a few different trades available, as well as a collected omnibus available from DC Comics.

“The Shepherd’s Tale”

I’ve been dying to read “The Shepherd’s Tale” for years now, an origin story of Shepherd Book set in the Serenity universe, that of the television show, movie, and most recently comic book series. This edition was put together for Loot Crate’s Firefly: Cargo Crate, is softcover and has a different cover than that of its predecessor. It was originally published in late 2010.

Without giving too much away of the movie if you haven’t yet seen it, this tome follows Shepherd Book’s path to the crew of the Serenity in a keenly devised series of flashbacks. It starts where we see current continuity for Shepherd Book, and flow backwards to tell his story.

The characterizations for the members of Serenity are spot-on, as we expect from Joss Whedon’s picks for writers fleshing out characters in his sandbox ‘verse. Joss’s brother Zack handled the writing, and there’s a nice afterward discussing his qualms about writing the character of Shepherd Book and where his inspiration sprang from. Art by Chris Samnee was top-notch, rivaling that of main series artists.

Until recently, Serenity/Firefly comics were published by Dark Horse, but further series will be published by Boom! Studios, as well as new Firefly novels by TOR.