Monday, 23 April 2012

Review: Pride of Baghdad by Brian K. Vaughan and Niko Henrichon

Book cover of Pride of Baghdad by Brian K. Vaughan and Niko Henrichon

Produced: Vertigo 
Written: Brian K. Vaughan             Artist: Niko Henrichon

Based on a true story, acclaimed writer Brian K. Vaughan (Saga) and artist Niko Henrichon present a tale of love, war... and pride. In war-torn Iraq, many casualties have gone unreported - among them, an escaped pride of lions. This struggling family of four great cats must find a way to stay together and avoid the deadly conflict that's exploding around them in a world they can never hope to comprehend.

Pride of Baghdad page image by Brian K. Vaughan and Niko HenrichonPride of Baghdad isn't the only book to explore what happened when the war and subsequent bombings in Iraq caused animals to escape their encloses at a zoo and roam free around Baghdad. Babylon's Ark: The Incredible Wartime Rescue of the Baghdad Zoo by Lawrence Anthony offers a different take, and is definitely worth a read to get a true account of events, as this graphic novel is more of a concept than an actual report.

I would like to start by saying Pride of Baghdad has the potential to be a really great story - it has an interesting plot and some out-of-this-world art. At face value, this is an extremely well drawn view of what happens when lions are set free into a world they don't understand, reminiscent of the journey in Watership Down.

Pride of Baghdad page image by Brian K. Vaughan and Niko HenrichonThe problem is Vaughan's writing - every so often he hits you with a nice and subtle anti-war sledge hammer. If Vaughan had just kept to the great story theme of family and the journey into an unknown world and left Henrichon's art to tell the war story in the background, it would be an absolutely perfectly written and delivered story with the quiet undercurrent of an intelligent look at war through the eyes of animals.

Instead Vaughan seems to assume readers are stupid and won't grasp the message. In many ways, it would suit a story written for children-  the animals explain the concept of war to an audience it assumes has no knowledge of it. But then there's the scenes of sex and gang rape amongst lions, so obviously it is aimed at adults. There's even a scene when the the zoo is being bombed and a giraffes head explodes; nothing else, just it's head. But then the next bomb is big enough to send all the lions flying through the air. Where's the consistency? Clearly that scene only occurred to suit Vaughan's sledge hammer of shock, and best demonstrates Vaughan's unsuitability to tell the rest of this story.

Pride of Baghdad page image by Brian K. Vaughan and Niko HenrichonThe best example of Vaughan's inability to tell either an anti-war story or a simple journey of lions set free, is a scene where a turtle explains how when 'walkers' (people) fought, a 'poison' (oil) escapes and ultimately killed his entire family in the water. You get a full page image of his dead family lying in oil, little turtle babies and all, with a caption carried across from the previous page - the lion cub asks why the 'walkers' are fighting and the turtle responds with "Damned if I know son... Damned if I care."

The very next page shows lions having sex and the lioness demanding she wants more... It almost feels like a teenagers wet dream of sex and violence, for no purpose other than to shock. If you're going to treat the readers like children then remove the sex, violence and rape, and it could be a brilliant child-appropriate story. But if you want it to be a story that conveys a strong message to adults, then treat the reader as if they have the appropriate amount of intelligence.

It's not all bad though, as Niko Henrichon's art is simply stunning. It really is perfectly suited to tell this story through the unusual perspective of animals. He captures full, perfect emotion and reaction in the animals' faces and his art is the the real triumph of Pride of Baghdad. The art is what really drives this story and creates a bond between the reader and the characters. There are a few full page images and also some spread across two pages. These really have to be seen to be appreciated. Henrichon's take on Pride of Baghdad using different panel perspectives and colours schemes to convey the atmosphere of each scene is amazing - I can't speak highly enough of the art, it's truly impressive.

To summarise, it wasn't subtle enough to be smart and it wasn't consistent enough to be a good story. Though Pride of Baghdad is worth a read just for Henrichon's art alone, I would recommend this to somebody that's prepared to view this as a simple, don't ask questions story. A quote from Vaughan's own writing in Pride of Baghdad describes his take on this subject best - 'You ignorant young 'Radicals' disgust me. My dung has a deeper understanding of this world than you.'

Read my (more positive) review of Babylon's Ark, or purchase Pride of Baghdad from Forbidden Planet. 

1 comment:

  1. This story seems fascinating but I don't really like books that have stuff in them with the purpose of just to shock. I don't mind sex and violence but it needs to serve a greater purpose in the narrative arc.


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