“You hear?! Do you hear!?! We’re all cowboys! Pow! Pow! Pow!” (Vol. 2: p.41)
Volume 1: Bang. Bang. Bang.
Baghdad 2003. Chris Henry, a military consultant from Florida, is training a new police force. When one of his trainees is found murdered, Henry teams up with experienced local policeman Nassir, and their investigation begins.
This is a brutal, powerful and emotional look at the early effects of the War on Terror in Iraq. Writer Tom King is ex CIA and has spent time in the country. He writes of what he knows. You can feel his experience coming across in the writing.
There is a gritty realism to a lot of the scenes and dialogue, and this is backed up by the artwork. It has a cinematic look to it, from the covers to the interiors. At times the artwork is shocking in its graphic detail. The reader is exposed to the blood and guts of violence, ranging from gunshot wounds to brutal beatings. This is not for the squeamish.
Most importantly, this is a character-driven story. King creates believable characters whose stories you want to follow. You can feel the frustration of the Iraqi characters, as well as the frustration of the people who are working there and genuinely trying to help. Their lives and jobs are complicated by long-standing grudges, double-crossing and the constant threat of sudden violence. These factors give the story an edge of tension that makes it a gripping read.
Volume 2: Pow. Pow. Pow.
Continuing the story of Chris Henry, Nassir and Sofia, Volume 2 opens with a graphically realized interrogation scene in which things don’t exactly go as planned.
In the first chapter of Volume 2, Tom King and Mitch Gerads focus on Sofia and Nassir, telling their stories concurrently. The narrative switches from one to the other, page by page, depicting events over the course of one day. This is something that really succeeds in the graphic novel format. It’s worth taking your time reading the story, catching all the little details in the background.
Scott Beauchamp puts it very well in his review in The Vulture:
“Truth be told, I wasn’t much of a comic-book fan before reading ‘Sheriff’. I always tried to read them like books, skimming the dialogue and forgetting to slow down and take in the art. But as the critics say, the best art teaches you how to read it as you engage with it. Sheriff taught me how to read comics.” [Link]
After a brief interlude of backstory showing Nassir on holiday with his family – a nice touch which adds more humanity to his character – the narrative changes gear. Chris, Sofia and Nassir hatch a plan to arrange a meeting with suspected terrorist Abu Rahim.
From here on in, it’s difficult to avoid speed-reading to the end due to the quality of King and Gerads’ storytelling. The tension increases as events play out, the narrative switching between the army headquarters and Sofia’s house. The dialogue is first rate and the artwork matches it. It is truly thrilling stuff and a perfect example of how good modern graphic novels can be.
This story succeeds because it doesn’t take sides. The author is honest enough to show the mistakes made by all the players in this tale. It’s not simply a story of war, it’s a story of people; emotional, scared, brave yet fallible people. If you have any interest in the War on Terror in Iraq or if you are a fan of noir, The Sheriff of Babylon is an essential read. If you are unconvinced about the quality of modern graphic novels and comic books, this 12-part masterpiece could change your mind.
Very highly recommended!
*[Volume 1 purchased in December 2016. Volume 2 kindly supplied as a digital ARC by DC Entertainment and NetGalley. All opinions are my own.]