Writer Tom King and artist Mitch Gerads craft a compelling hybrid modern noir/war comics/political thriller in The Sheriff of Babylon.
Set ten months after the 2003 toppling of Iraqi strongman Saddam Hussein at the hands of a US-led military coalition, The Sheriff of Babylon (DC Comics/Vertigo) by writer (and former CIA counterterrorism operations officer) Tom King (Vision, Grayson) and artist Mitch Gerads (The Activity, The Punisher) is a comment on the troubled post-invasion reconstruction effort, ostensibly framed as a modern noir.
Series protagonist Christopher Henry is an American ex-cop employed as a civilian police trainer in Badgdad’s Green Zone. He brings a mix of swagger and genuine good intentions to his job, but it is clear from the outset that he is out of his depth: he is frustrated by the slow progress of the local police professionalization process, the byzantine nature of the post-Saddam political status quo, and his own powerlessness in the face of Baghdad’s never-ending torrent of violence.
When one of the local police trainees under his supervision turns up dead, Christopher takes it upon himself to investigate the murder and he is referred by his Iraqi Governing Council liaison Sofia to Nassir, a veteran Baghdad police detective to help with the task. Nassir is a complex and tragic figure, caught between his duty as a local officer of the law (what exists of it in the post-invasion context, anyway) and his rage at the death of his children from an errant American bomb.
In the hands of a lesser writer, the odd couple pairing of Christopher and Nassir risks descending into unintentional comedy territory, a buddy-cop cliché dressed up in lazy, ripped-from-the-headlines faux-relevance. There seems to be little danger of that happening under King’s watch: In addition to providing insight into the motivation behind each character, the duo’s working relationship is the tenuous alliance between the occupying American forces and their Iraqi counterparts writ small, a metaphor for the struggle to export Western-style federalism to a country beset by sectarian violence and divided by tribal loyalties.
It is the enigmatic Sofia, however, upon which the plot’s intrigue hinges. She has grand designs all her own, using her knowledge of local politics and her access to the American military leadership in Iraq to engineer a grab for power.
The Sheriff of Babylon deals with some weighty philosophical themes over the course of its first two installments (the series is scheduled to run for eight issues). It asks the reader to meditate on the notions of revenge versus justice and ethics versus morals, all whilst interrogating the implications of the United States’ unilateral decision to invade Iraq in 2003 on the stability and security of the region—topics that are as important now as they were twelve years ago, given the latest developments in the Middle East.
Very highly recommended.