The Sheriff of Babylon (Vertigo)
Writer: Tom King
Art: Mitch Gerads
Disclaimer: I absolutely love everything that Tom King has ever published, and I’ve been waiting for this book to come out for several months. I absolutely adore crime/military dramas in entertainment, but I am also very picky about details. I am one of the few people I know who will watch Criminal Minds for five straight hours, and criticize every detail that seems unlikely or violates normal protocols. King writes about what he knows, and he keeps details thin, rather than making up filler that may be an inaccurate description of the world in which he is writing.
In this first issue, readers are introduced to Christopher Henry, a former police officer now training Iraqi nationals to police Baghdad, Sophia, an Iraqi woman who went to school in the US, and Nassir, an Iraqi policeman. As the story opens, Henry is faced with finding the murderer of one of his trainees, who has turned up dead. The premise seems to be a simple crime drama, but the setting of the story makes it so much more. Chris’s background in US law enforcement has taught him exactly how law and order can be restored to a tumultuous city–but he is not in the US any longer, and his attempts to uncover the truth are muddled by the unfamiliar culture of the country in which he finds himself. The realities of a foreign, opaque culture are exquisitely detailed in Henry’s interactions with the Iraqis.
King spins his story through interactions, without dipping heavily into narration or expository dialogue–showing the readers what is going on, and expecting them to grasp the nuances of his tale. While Henry deals with his subtle, savior complex, Nassir is exhausted by the mental burden he carries: the deaths of his daughters. The evidence that this tragedy colors every aspect of his life is written in everything he says and does. On the other hand, Sophia’s complexity and charisma is shown more in how others respond to her, which is a refreshing style of story telling, and keeps the reader intrigued and entertained.
From the outset, these are very three dimensional characters, and King really nails the drama without throwing the reader out of the story. I was fully invested in each character within moments of their introduction–which is not an easy accomplishment for a comic writer who is creating brand new characters in a brand new story. I admire King’s ability to write in an event that lives in recent memory, and it is clear that his personal experiences in Iraq have informed his writing. At the same time, there is a huge opportunity for a story in this setting to become a political soapbox–but this is a pitfall that King adroitly avoids.
The art in this book perfectly matched the story. In a world and genre in which so much is communicated through body language, Mitch Gerads manages to make that happen in a big way. Gritty, grizzled men with haggard faces in faded, sagging uniforms face off throughout the panels. The gorgeous, two page spreads took me straight to Iraq and dropped me in the middle of Baghdad as it was a decade ago. The characters and backdrop practically leap off the page. I was especially impressed by the color scheme, which really helped to add depth and reality to the setting. The violence of this story is also not understated or avoided. It reaches out from these panels and snatches at the reader. There is no apology for showing an audience the reality of the time and the place.
This is a floppy that I will eagerly await for the next seven issues and grab the trade as soon as it is available. It certainly warrants five out of five Death Stars.