SHERIFF OF BABYLON #1
Written by Tom King
Art by Mitch Gerads
Published by DC Comics/Vertigo
Release Date: December 2, 2015
Ten months after the fall of Baghdad, American troops were still occupying Iraq, operating out of a Green Zone and training Iraqi forces to police their reclaimed country. So, when one of these trainees turns up dead, shot in the head, it’s up to his police instructor, an Iraqi politician, and an investigator to sort out what happened. Only thing is, one of them knows more than they’re saying.
For the United States, the second Iraq War still stands out as one of the most opportunistic and duplicitous moments in the last 100 years of history. It was a war entered on false (or faked, depending on whom you ask) intelligence and rallied in the wake of 9/11 (an event not perpetrated by the Iraqi government in any way, shape, or form). It was conducted off-camera, with limited media access, and with technology civilians are probably still not privy to today.
And we see this building once again in our own government today with reactions to yet another Middle Eastern country and propaganda manufactured to take full advantage of the racial bias and lack of transparency available to the American people. It’s a shell game if ever there was one, but one that has real consequences for real people far, far away.
And this is where Sheriff of Babylon begins.
Tom King, no stranger to foreign action himself, has crafted the beginning of a murder mystery that’s not really a mystery, but a political shell game leaving bodies on the ground and others confused and poking at motives. His leading character, Christopher Henry, a police officer turned military contractor, is seemingly the good man at the center of a swirl of corruption and maybe political necessity, as he attempts to understand how very much unlike home Iraq is.
I’m not even sure that any of the players, from Sofia to Nassir, are out to hide anything, so much as things are done very differently in their home country. And it is a mistake to believe that a war zone can be transformed into a white picket fence community of law and order without respect to where they have been and what it means to come into a country and depose its political leader.
And I don’t mean that to moralize the situation depicted in Sheriff of Babylon, nor do I believe King does. But realities of occupied territory do not reflect the conquerors’ ideals, nor ever could. Even if Iraq had looked on the surface as a country able to be molded into America II, that is just not possible and isn’t what remains under the surface, in the shadows, just out of Christopher’s reach. If anything, Christopher may represent all of America — not the America that invaded Iraq, but the one that stayed home and heard about the necessity and the victory, and thought, yes, we won.
Gerads does an exceptional job of delivering a personal feel to each of the three protagonists’ circumstances, giving body language an enormous weight in telling the story of where each character’s head is at. His Chrisopher is tired, weighed down by things he feels are out of his control. Nassir is pummeled by the death of his daughters and by the violence he perpetrates in their names.
But in the third case, it’s not even in Sofia’s own body language that we are given the best clues about her line of thinking as it is in those with which she speaks. We are given a women relaxed about her circumstances, in full control at all times, and working a system that by all accounts shouldn’t.
Gerads also introduces a color palette for most of Christopher’s scenes that feels deliberately warm and sandy, juxtaposed to the cool moments of Nassir’s actions. That dichotomy reinforces this idea of seen/unseen and deliberate or otherwise hidden realities under the surface of Iraq’s progression as an occupied country. The textures are all rough, but simple, and Gerads never gives us more than we need with any scene, relying on King’s twisted timeline to sync back up and leave us with an understanding of how all the pieces fit by the end of issue #1.
A fantastically thoughtful and deceptively complex narrative, Sheriff of Babylon is yet another genius contribution to the Vertigo brand by King and Gerads. This is the time to be looking at this moment in history, and I think the creators know it. The question is, are you ready?
The Verdict: 9.0/10