Tuesday, February 23, 2010

Pride of Baghdad (2007)

I remember when Brian K. Vaughan was first coming up in comics, as fans bellyached over his "off" fill-in work on various Marvel and DC titles. The only mainstream thing he ever did that I liked was The Hood mini-series, starring characters he created. I figured that was probably his forte, so I gave both the initial trades of Ex Machina and Y: The Last Man a try, but they came off limp. I also read his entire run of Runaways, and I guess that was okay. It was one of those books I was interested enough to read for free while coasting on the momentum of the book's intrigues, but never gave a shit about the characters or worried I might miss out if I didn't finish. It was just convenient and disposable.

A friend passed me his copy of Pride of Baghdad and a recommendation over a year ago, but it sat on the back shelf of my closet until I moved, at which point it sat on my new IKEA bookshelf. He had actually forgotten I had it, and accused another friend of swiping his copy, so egg on his face when he spotted it again at my place. He then told me to read it or give it back already, so with that ultimatum, I moved it up my reading pile.

You see, Pride of Baghdad is about escaped lions roaming Iraqi streets during the U.S. invasion of 2003. Thing is, I don't give a fuck about animals. Sure, I'll play with somebody's pets for a while when I visit their place, or feed the odd stray, but I don't care to keep any for myself. "Oh, your beloved 'family member' got run over? Look, you go inside and cry it out, while I scrape this up and chuck it in a dumpster. We'll swing by the pound later and get you a replacement." I remember when everybody was jizzing over We3, which to me was just saccharine Disney crap with shitty texting dialogue, some automatic fire and over complicated layouts.

All this is to say I finally started reading Pride of Baghdad as a chore while my girlfriend was getting her taxes done at H&R Block, and could not put the fucker down. This is in no way pandering, but a straight-up bad ass page-turner that just happens to involve talking jungle cats. Each of the primary characters are well defined within a matter of pages, and by the thirteenth you've had your first "oh shit" shock that lets you know this is an adult work with a serious mind. I'm not the kind of reader who usually invests emotionally in human characters from most comic book stories, but in fairly short order I felt deeply for these beings. Their circumstances are dire, the situation is intense, and even incidental characters impact on your reading experience and psyche.

Artist Niko Henrichon matches the script beat for beat, imbuing the characters with personality and soul. The visual storytelling is clear, fluid, and lushly colored in autumnal tones. Pride is a thing of beauty; a masterwork from both creators. This is a powerful, mature graphic novel that should be among the first things you grab when introducing new readers to or attempting to validate the medium. I implore you to pick it up at the next opportunity, before someone inevitably adapts it to film and you feel like a jerk for not having embraced it sooner.

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