The Sheriff of Babylon Volume 1: Bang, Bang, Bang
By Tom King and Mitch Gerads
Purchase the book here!
Florida cop Christopher Henry has a new job training the law enforcement forces in Baghdad. It’s 2003, and he is in the heart of the Iraq War. There is the standard level of chaos and violence in the city but things get personal when one of Henry’s Iraqi trainees is found murdered. Henry teams up with Nassir, an ex-cop still hanging on in the city. In the background is Sofia, an Iraqi-American who has come back to the city to help with the rebuilding process while attempting to take control of the organized criminal underbelly. This is the tv series HBO wishes it had the budget to make.
The Iraqi Occupation has been the topic of numerous films and documentaries, but Sheriff of Babylon is clever in its genre-mashing, bringing the detective noir into play. And it works better than you might expect. The instability in Iraq has blurred the lines of authority and no one can be trusted, not even if they do wear a nice shiny uniform. Between the various sub-groups with the American military, privately contracted forces, insurgents, politicians jockeying for power, and a myriad of other factions Baghdad is an incredibly confusing and scary place.
If you are a regular reader of this blog then you know I love Tom King’s work. I’ve previously read his run on DC Comics’ Omega Men and am still enjoying his work on Marvel’s The Vision. This was the first work I’ve read of his that wasn’t within in the superhero genre, though those previously mentioned titles aren’t superhero stories in the traditional sense. King was an intern under writer Chris Claremont for many years before joining up with the CIA in the wake of 9/11. He worked for seven years in counterterrorism which is very apparent in the detailed storytelling present in Sheriff. The series is written with a level of knowledgeability that doesn’t get too jargon-filled and is still comprehensible to a civilian. The story perfectly hits the notes a good noir should, especially on the protagonists increasing confusion as he navigates the labyrinth. There’s also great moments where we see the effort towards good turned to a pretty hopeless defeat, as all noir needs to have.
The artwork is exceptionally well done. It’s very photo-realistic with human expression and faces, but with a gritty abstraction in the right moments. In an interview, artist Mitch Gerads explained that a fan who is also a veteran of the war said the book captured the feel of the environment in its colors. Everything is colored in earth tones and primary colors only appear when something needs to pop out of the landscape around it. The uniformity of color also perpetuates a sense of confusion because military people purposefully become hard to differentiate.
The Sheriff of Babylon is a 12 issues mini-series so this volume is just the first half of the story. I enjoyed it quite a bit and reminds me of a really quality cable drama. No character is ever a stereotype and layers are revealed over time and at key moments in the plot. If you’re seeking out a modern war comic, something dealing with the more complex and gray areas, this series has a lot to offer.