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‘The Sheriff of Babylon Vol. 1: Bang. Bang. Bang.’ (review)

The_Sheriff_of_Babylon_Vol_1_1The Sheriff of Babylon Vol. 1: Bang. Bang. Bang
Written by Tom King
Illustrated by Mitch Gerards
Cover by John Paul Leon
Published by Vertigo Comics
ISBN: 978-1401264666 | Price $14.99
Release date: July 13, 2016

Crime and war in post-9/11 Iraq is captured in Sheriff of Babylon written by Tom King (Batman, The Vision) and drawn by Mitch Gerads (The Activity, The Punisher).

King draws on his experience as a CIA officer to create a deeply personal rich reflection of the Baghdad of 2004 through the eyes of a former cop and current military contractor Christopher, his Muslim Iraqi girlfriend Sophia and former Iraqi police officer Nassir.

By being exposed to the environment, King has created, along with the carefully researched accuracy of Gerads’ artwork, a military crime fiction of the highest order—it just so happens to be in comic book form.

After hearing much buzz about the series and watching King’s writing credits from afar on the Batman and Grayson titles, I finally dropped in on Sheriff of Babylon Vol. 1: Bang. Bang. Bang when the trade was released last month.

I’m also a huge fan of what Gerads and Edmondson did on The Activity and The Punisher. I wasn’t expecting this to be in the same vein as those books, and it isn’t, but reads well as a natural progression. It is a delight to see how accurate details of every vehicle and weapon are depicted, but also Gerads’ storytelling is top notch. Great expressions, naturalistic cartooning and pacing are all used brilliantly.

I suppose a cartoony approach wouldn’t tell this same kind of story very well, the way Mitch Gerads draws The Sheriff of Babylon transports you there to sandstorms of Baghdad, and you’ll swear you have grit in your teeth.

Rare combinations of creators really sing together to make an outstanding product that is more substantial than the sum of it’s parts. Ed Brubaker and Sean Philips come to mind as well as Kieron Gillen and Jamie McKelvie are recent standout teams that will continue to sell books based on name alone. King and Gerads could achieve that status with this singular book.

Our main man Christopher is a contractor training his own law enforcement crew in the desert to maintain order. When one of his men is killed, he enlists the help of his girlfriend/friend with benefits Sophia, who in turn recommends fellow Iraqi cop Nassir as the man to help him solve this crime.

Nassir is a family man, but as you come to discover, the Saddam Hussein regime turned on his family after a time and his family shrunk to just him and his wife. He is still a good cop and investigator, so he is quick to help Christopher get to the bottom of this mystery.

At one point Sophia calls Chris a ‘cowboy’ and that seems to be true, as Chris has that star on his chest in a way. What one ends up pondering is who would be the true Sheriff of Baghdad (the book’s original title)? At times the responsibility of the six-pointed-badge could be on the chest of any of these three main characters.

Sophia spent some time in America before returning to her family’s fortune in Iraq after the war. With her money and influence, she can grease certain wheels that Chris cannot himself. This of course puts her at as much risk as Chris and Nassir in the hostile environment where it is hard to find allies and who might do the right thing. Trust is fluid in this harsh environment where no one really rules. Allegiances are formed and then recoiled. Good men are put to task for something they may not have done. Anarchy sometimes triumphs over order and certainly Chris Sophia and Nassir are in the thick of it.

Sophia is not only a strong female character but she is an Iraqi born Muslim that has a scar across her face from an untold but presumably war-related injury. What she endures in this first volume will speak to women specifically but also shows someone of any gender what it means to have the strength to endure.

Chris is a former Los Angeles cop, an All-American hard drinking military contractor trying to do the right thing. He’s our everyman for Americans reading the book, and likely a bit auto-biographical for King.

Nassir, being the Iraqi cop on our team navigates the local terrain for and with Chris. What Nassir faces for what other Muslims judge him on by helping the Americans will put him in the most danger out of everyone. The Iraqis don’t trust him, and neither do most of the American goons in flak jackets. He holds on to his family to be a good father and husband through all this. Or, the best that he can.

Sheriff of Babylon Vol. 1 is a great read and fans of military stories will be astonished by the detail and how real this feels. Fans of good storytelling in comics will be floored by the emotions you feel from fear to joy to reflection.

King has signed exclusive to DC, and we’re pretty sure after reading this Vertigo trade that they made a very smart choice. To top that, I’ll boldly state that I don’t think anyone in comics today researches pages like the to-the-letter Mitch Gerads does. This team really does something spectacular in the ongoing Sheriff of Babylon. This trade will give you a taste and you’ll soon devour all of the other issues as well.

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