The Sheriff of Babylon (Vertigo)
Writing: Tom King
Art: Mitch Gerads
The highly anticipated second issue of Sheriff of Babylon is definitely a middle child. This issue spends most of its time showing readers the frustrating reality that former police officer Christopher Henry faces as he tries to get answers from Iraqi nationals who hate Saddam Hussein and their American “liberators” equally.
The story line does not progress much in this issue. Instead, the story pauses to allow the reader to take in the casual violence–entire families murdered in their apartment within earshot of neighbors who understand that it is as much a warning to those nearby as punishment for any perceived wrongdoing on the part of any member of the family.
There is also some character development in the writing as well as in the art. Nassir especially benefits from the limelight. He is considered Iraqi police, but he does not behave the way an American would expect a policeman to behave. He has become a cynical realist by his surroundings, expecting that American soldiers will not take his word for corpse identification, but instead giving them a technical sounding reason that he thinks they will believe. He is seemingly unmoved by the evidence of an entire family’s murder, but he spends an inordinate amount of effort trying to shoot their cat–something that Henry doesn’t fully understand. Most poignantly, he looks around at the carnage of the final pages of the book, accepts it and begins moving forward to contacting extended family and preparing to figure out who killed them while Henry is still struggling to figure out the cause for the murder.
There is also some development in the portrayal of Sophia. Her opening panel shows her napping topless. When her servant reminds her of an appointment, she shows no sense of modesty in front of the woman. She dons underthings reminiscent of La Perla–tiny, and delicate–before covering herself with the modest dress and headscarf that is acceptable street-wear. Somehow, this disparity makes her seem even more dangerous.
This book also points out how Americans perceive Iraqis through the vehicle of Nassir’s commentary, how Iraqis perceive Americans, as Sophia points out snidely that she has achieved the “American dream,” and little boys scream their hatred of American political figures from the sidewalk. At one point, Nassir asks innocently if Henry has been in any movies, since he is from Los Angeles.
Most interestingly, the book reveals the many faceted view of Iraqis toward Iraqis. One official tells Sophia that “[he is] an Iraqi and Iraqis are weak.”
“No, my friend…” she responds, “We are patient.”
Mitch Gerads again does killer work with the art on this book. The gritty desert comes alive on the pages. The brown and gray hues hint at the sand that is an inherent part of everything–even the pores of those who live there. The layering of color is especially apparent in panels in which Henry and Nassir pause briefly on a couch with a beautiful Persion tapestry gracing the wall behind them. Nassir is smoking, and the smoke seems to leave the page. One can almost smell it.
Gerads again hits the exact sweet spot for graphic violence. It is obvious that this is a harsh time in a harsh place, and he does not make any attempt to hide it. However, unlike some Vertigo books that I’ve read, there is no gratuitous gore. I appreciate the fine line that the artist walks to make a war-time book come alive without alienating the reader.
All in all I would say that this book suffers from being the second in a mini-series of eight. However, for new readers, I would highly advise reading issues 1 and 2 together. I have high hopes for this series and am looking forward to issue #3.
3.5/5 Death Stars