A crime story set in the most dangerous place in the world? Sign me up. Makes one wonder how a crime story can take place simultaneously in a war zone, but that makes it all the more complex and interesting. Is it good?
Sheriff of Babylon #1 (Vertigo)
This book is set in Baghdad during the Iraq war. Our protagonist is training Iraqi soldiers and he’s a bit green. He doesn’t know exactly how things work and even has the gall to enter a terrorist situation. With a city at war and people showing up dead how much investigating can one do without matters being brushed under the rug?
Why does this book matter?
Vertigo has been delivering one new book after the other and it’s an exciting time to be reading comics. Sheriff of Babylon #1 is written by Tom King who most recently blew me away with his work on Vision and on top of that this story is based on his experience as a CIA operative. Talk about the perfect writer to be writing a story like this.
Fine, you have my attention. What’s good about it?
While the issue explosively opens on bloody gore we are immediately reminded racism and hate are very prevalent in Baghdad. King quickly shifts to a lighthearted moment for our protagonist who then immediately puts himself in a dangerous position. In very few panels King establishes the character as good hearted and a person who wants to do something meaningful when everyone around him just wants to kill and get out.
The complexity of the war is on display too with wheelings and dealings afoot between Americans and the native people – all of which probably aren’t going to end up with positive outcomes. The situation is made even more complicated by a woman named Sofia; I won’t give anything away, but she’s clearly working many angles and potentially holding the keys to the crimes going on. Our protagonist doesn’t know this though which only increases the complexity moving forward.
The pencils by Mitch Gerads suit the story well as he’s great at gritty crime dramas. Just look at his work on The Activity or Punisher and you’ll note he’s exceptional at creating tension for characters with guns pointed at them. There’s plenty of dead bodies on slabs too which can’t be easy to draw. Layouts are varied throughout Sheriff of Babylon which set different outlooks on scenes and help to express levels of the story not immediately understood by reading alone. Overall his pencils strengthen the complex web being unfurled by King.
It can’t be perfect can it?
This comic isn’t easy to read because of the gruesome bodies and murders taking place. It’s pretty gory and since it’s rendered as realistically as possible it can be a little hard to turn the pages when you’re expecting brains and viscera everywhere. That of course is more of a gripe if that isn’t your cup of tea.
I also had a hard time following whether or not a female character was in two different scenes. A character at one point is handed a gun and it’s not clear by who. This must be on purpose, but another (or is it the same?) female character appears in a previous scene which makes one think maybe the person handing the gun over is the same woman? It’s confusing and I’m not sure if that’s the intention.
Is It Good?
Crime dramas live and die by the mystery and how they’re untangled. This story sets up one complex knot that’s made strong by an unconventional protagonist in an unconventional land.