Friday, January 11, 2008
Review: Pride of Baghdad
In 2003, four lions escaped Uday's private zoo, they were shortly killed afterwards by US troops. The incident took its short lifetime in the news, the sort of trivia to dumb down the war just a little bit before disappearing to join similar anti-depressant news that only lightens things down a minute away from the usual refrain of pounding morbidity.
Thankfully for the rest of the world, that story caught the attention of writer Brian K. Vaughan.
Of course, if it wasn't for the fact that this was set during the Iraq war, I wouldn't have even bothered ; I'm not a comics fan, and like Shooting War,the major elements that compose Pride of Baghdad are all tried and tested, after all, an epic story about anthropomorphic lions was all the rage back then when Simba tried to reclaim his father's kingdom back in 1991. Why, then, is this story one of the best things I have ever read?
Upon tackling an issue as grand as war, novels with an all-encompassing altitude often end up as the victim of their own ambition. Vaughan clearly understands this, and he limits our view of the war-torn Baghdad to the puzzled lions of the Baghdad zoo, don't be fooled by the choice of heroes, Simba and Mufasa are as close to this pride as 60s campy Batman was to The Dark Knight Returns, from the get-go, and amidst the frenzy caused by the US bombing, a giraffe beckons the old gods and then gets her neck cut open by a falling missile which quickly sets the tone of an uncompromising end-of-the-worlds apocalyptic mess, there are so many things to recommend about this book, but its strongest asset is that it completely dispenses of uninformed political statements, it is at its most distilled a straightforward story of a family's survival, which favors a universal approach other than burdensome commentary, that is not to say those lions aren't subliminally political, but they aren't as embarrassingly obvious as the film version of 300 like hastily attached deformities, there are causal throwaway one-liners about the price of freedom, well embedded in the story which is in itself so good that you hardly see them as little more than complementary dialog most of the time. The story is particularly well helped by a sense of doomsday urgency and massive exploration and fascination, particularly the discovery of ordinary constructions of human beings, who are insignificant if not incomprehensible here, most of all, the writers know that first and foremost, a story must move the readers before everything else, the visuals are incredible as well, bringing a magnificent majesty through Miko Henrichon's rendering of war-torn Baghdad elevate the otherwise standard-fare constituents of the story into more than the sum of its parts. Like any good song, the book succeeds in working on multiple layers simultaneously, that by the time this roller-coaster ride of a book comes to a close to its brutally inevitable climax, the creators build up strong emotional rapport between the reader and the lions just to the right point where they take it all down, I was completely mesmerized on various different levels, the abrupt finality, rendered in an unforgettable frame, registered to my memory the thoughts of many Iraqis, sprung from their cages, clueless but fighting with all their struggle to save themselves and their loved ones, Iraqis who were killed with such inadvertent simplicity, in complete denial of their humanity and all that they've been through, it was such a powerful moment, both in the straightforward lion and the allegorical cost of war sense, that rendered me visibly shaken for a long moment.
It is clear that such a powerful work of art cannot be easily followed, and Mr. Vaughn has every right to bask in his triumph as much as he can, as Pride of Baghdad makes almost perfect use of its medium's aesthetics to create the unexpected war story that lays down the cost of war at its most engrossing and harrowing, it succeeds on all fronts and fulfills every ambition. A must read.