Brian K. Vaughan & Niko Henrichon
I’ll start this review with the obvious: this book is gorgeous. Henrichon’s designs for the animals in this book are fantastic. Put that together with awe-inspiring environments and beautifully choreographed fight sequences (there’s quite a bit of action in this book) and it makes for a pretty amazing final product. I should also give credit to the coloring: the brilliant colors of the animals at the zoo to the sky-on-fire war zone set the mood for their respective scenes to go that extra mile in highlighting the expertise of the artist.
The story itself follows a pride of four lions who escape from The Baghdad Zoo during the U.S. bombing of Iraq. Nearly the first third of the book actually takes place in the zoo, the beginning of which contains a scene where Safa, an intelligent lioness, tries to strike a deal with the gazelle to break out of their prison. The negotiation could have very much been along the lines of the talks between the U.S and Iraq during this crisis, and really sets the stage for the rest of the book as a metaphor for wartime. Much of the book revolves around the concept of freedom and what true freedom is. The lions discuss it freely as they take in their surroundings and really drive it home when the pride walks into the streets of Baghdad and decide that they’ve walked into another zoo.
Great supporting characters lend themselves well to the story at hand, particularly a feisty old tortoise who’s seen it all and a group of back-stabbing monkeys. Surprisingly, Vaughan takes a fairly brave stand in openly professing his opinions against the war in Iraq and has no qualms with casting the American soldiers in a bad light, particularly upon its overly dramatic ending.
I feel that I should note that despite the fact that it looks like this book could be a spin-off of The Lion King, this is a story that really does belong under DC’s Vertigo imprint. There is a lot of gore and scary scenes for younger readers, as well as adult situations, though nothing they probably haven’t already seen on Animal Planet in all honesty. The writer's decision of having the creatures talk in this story obviously humanizes them, and they should be considered as little less when scenes of rape and sexuality are involved. Such scenes were pertinent to tell the story of these characters, but it is a story for a mature audience.
Overall, this was a really good read. It’s not exactly groundbreaking, but it does turn out some interesting metaphors and thoughts on the war, offering a unique perspective through this tale based on a true event. I think that this graphic novel deserves any press attention it’s sure to receive in the coming months and should be praised for its efforts. Although I don’t exactly see The Pride of Baghdad standing the test of time, this is easily worth its twenty dollar price tag, for its fantastic illustrations if anything. B+