by D.E. Powell
Tom King and Mitch Gerards’ The Sheriff of Babylon: Pow. Pow. Pow. collects issues seven to twelve of their acclaimed, limited-release comic series and ending its run in a visceral, violent blowout. The book is another check mark that favors the argument of comics as serious art; it stand with novels like Michael Pater’s Five and Twenty Five , Phil Klay’s Redeployment and the poetry of Brian Turner as one the great entries in the post 9/11 canon of war literature. But worry not, comics fans; The Sheriff of Babylon is also entertaining, piss-your-pants suspenseful, and owns an ending that is both perfect poetic justice and cynical as hell.
The second volume picks up immediately where the first left off, with the same central characters: Chris Henry, former Florida cop now military contractor; Baghdad detective Nassir who has just seen his wife murdered by Americans; and Sofia, Chris’ sometime flame, a woman of power and prestige from one of Iraq’s most prestigious families. As these three navigate the apocalyptic city of Baghdad after the fall of Saddam, it’s all they can do to stay alive and keep some small bit of humanity as they try to capture the lunatic insurgent Abu Rahim. But they discover that the people pulling the strings aren’t who they thought, and being loyal and humane seems like quaint notions at best, with the existential questions tumbling one after the other. What does it feel like to try and build a country again amidst such murderous chaos? How can acts of tenderness and intimacy, bonds of honor and friendship survive the countrywide fratricide of Iraq and the cold indifference of the American war machine?
King’s dialogue and plotting is spot on. He’s a former CIA operative who served in the Middle East so the goings on here are rich in the small, needful details that smell and feel true. Gerards’ work is a revelation, capturing the carrion stench of the place, the Dantesque catalog of random, soul-robbing horrors and also the small moments between comrades and lovers, betrayers and the betrayed that are played out best in the eyes or small movements of the body, the things that makes us human in the most inhuman places. The Sheriff of Babylon also studiously avoids playing the good versus evil card, of attributing all Americans the highest motivations or all Iraqis the worst. Sacrifice and heroism exist on both sides, as does callousness and greed. Nothing foreign to humans exist on these pages, and that seems very liberating in the current political climate were some can’t look past skin color or country of origin before assigning worth.
This second volume is a masterwork, a violent war noir film of shifting allegiances, disintegrating chains of command, of honoring loyalties and the memories of loved ones even at the point of death. Both volumes cannot be recommended highly enough for the audacity of the storytelling and the high degree in which that audacity delivers again and again.
The Sheriff of Babylon Vol 2: Pow. Pow. Pow., Vertigo, 9781401267261, $16.99 trade paperback, http://amzn.to/2n2tkIT.