Review: The Sheriff of Babylon #1
“The Sheriff of Babylon #1 is one of the brightest spots among a host of bright spots in Vertigo’s series rollouts. Regardless of whether King and Gerads’ tale makes you think, creates anger, or leaves you longing, it is sure to stay with you long after you’ve set the book aside.”
The Sheriff of Babylon #1
Publisher: DC Comics/Vertigo
Writer: Tom King
Artist: Mitch Gerads
Release Date: Wed, December 2, 2015
With so many of its series ending in the past few years, DC Comics’ has made a concerted push this fall in reinvigorating its Vertigo line with new blood, and that’s a tall order. The imprint has a high pedigree of creators who have left their mark with books like Sandman, Preacher, and Fables. Folks who have the most minimal of comic book knowledge know the names of those titles just by virtue of their quality and accolades that have burst through the sometimes-insular four-colored world of comics.
Thus far, Vertigo’s new campaign has more than lived up to its past reputation for engaging tales brimming with thought-provoking concepts, thanks in large part to the bevy of talented creators the imprint has enscripted for its next chapter, with that talent producing nary a bad book in the stable. All of this is said to hammer home just what a revelation writer Tom King and artist Mitch Gerads’ The Sheriff of Babylon is and a crystallization of everything that a Vertigo yarn can be in the hands of deft creators.
The book’s first issue follows the lives of three characters 10 months following the toppling of Baghdad at the beginning of the second Iraq War. All three are adjusting to the changing landscape left in the wake of that fall, all coping with what’s become of the country they’re all tied to. Chris, a former Florida police officer working as a contractor in Iraq, has a crisis on his hands after one of the trainees he’s been hired to train ends up dead. With the fall of Saddam came a dispersing of the police force and no real chain of command as to what to do when bodies turn up. He turns to Sofia, who’s on the Iraqi Council and who, with the fall of Saddam, sees her opportunity to use her calm ruthlessness to reclaim her birthright taken from her when she was forced to move to America. Turning to Nassir, a former officer under Saddam’s rule, Sofia offer of help to Chris could be either altruism at work or part of a long game yet unrevealed.
What King has accomplished in the first issue is capture that state of flux and uncertainty people across the globe were experiencing, in and out of the theater of war. Soldiers and their loved one were left without an idea of how long the conflict would span. Saddam was sent fleeing, true, but the Iraqis who were part of his regime were still pressing on against America and her allies. Everyone with even the slightest interest in the region’s future was making a power grab and had their own ideas about the big What Next. King’s plotting and the character development paint a picture of the humans, not caricatures, involved, who have their own morality which shapes their actions. Nobody is depicted as Good, Bad, or Grey, but merely people with their own passions, prejudices, and interests, whether they be selfless or not. While readers might be taken aback by Sofia’s puppeteering to get what she wants, we’re given a window to see why she would see certain people as obstacles to goals. Her cunning and calculation, while perhaps off-putting, make sense in context. Some folks are just trying to control the storm, lest it control them, while others just want to weather it.
While King’s plotting and characterization are compelling on their own, Gerads’ use of linework and color help to sell the Iraq of 2004, following the fall of Saddam Hussein, with a nuance rivaling the network news camerawork taking place during that time period. Maybe it’s the visceral immediacy of reading the book in hand coupled with the blood-splattered crime scenes the likes of which never made it to air, but the art gave me a lump in my throat those broadcasts never managed to bring. The blood pooling around Nassir’s feet as he murdered and wept, both in the names of his lost daughters, felt wet and immediate, adding another layer of symbolism atop King’s deft prose and dialogue.
The Sheriff of Babylon #1 is one of the brightest spots among a host of bright spots in Vertigo’s series rollouts. Regardless of whether King and Gerads’ tale makes you think, creates anger, or leaves you longing, it is sure to stay with you long after you’ve set the book aside.
DC Comics/Vertigo’s The Sheriff of Babylon #1, written by Tom King with Mitch Gerads on art, is in comic shops now.