“Sheriff of Babylon” #1 is an incredibly strong debut to this new eight-issue miniseries from Tom King and Mitch Gerads and plunges the reader into 2004 Baghdad less than a year after its fall. It’s hard to keep from feeling a little shaken by the experience; part of you will yearn to escape, but the rest of you will be desperate for more.
This first issue follows three characters; Christopher, Sofia and Nassir. What starts as a simple enough story — Christopher training Iraqi citizens to become police officers — rapidly turns into something much darker and haunting, as deaths begin to pile up and we learn that what little peace exists in Baghdad is fragile at best. King’s story plunges into their minds, letting us see each of them as they’re pushed to varying degrees of need and desperation to try and achieve their own goals. And then, just when you think you understand how “Sheriff of Babylon” will unfold, King begins to draw the connections between the characters and you can all but see the sizzling fuse attached to the metaphorical stick of dynamite.
Set a decade ago, King’s story feels like there’s a great deal of research into what it was like in Baghdad at that time, but he also conveys that by showing rather than telling. The dialogue crackles here, and he effectively gives us a picture of the complex web that connects all of the different players within the city. Something as simple as a protest outside of a gate leads to a stolen truck, which leads to a powerful family, and so on and so on. Nothing is easy, and violence ends up solving immediate problems even as new ones are created. Add in a note of despair from so many of those within a city that’s crumbling around them, and it’s a visit you can’t easily shake.
Gerads’ art is simply amazing. Just look at the page where we see the four men first sitting across from Sofia, each in their own vertical panel. There’s so much care put into them; their postures, their clothing, their facial expressions, even their surroundings are all different as we instantly understand who each of these four men are. Then, after Sofia accomplishes what none of these others can do, we revisit the page. The sly grins and the condescension just oozes off of the page, and you can even see them all attempting to literally look down on this incredibly effective woman. You get such a sense of not only Sofia, but her world through Gerads’ art, and in those two pages in particular it is without ever seeing her body.
“Sheriff of Babylon” #1 is breathtaking. It’s hard to look at the two-page splash that doubles as a credits page and not gasp at your first look at Baghdad. The crossed swords over the street, the burning buildings, the sepia color scheme washing over it all — it’s a real tour de force. King and Gerads have taken a modern event, given just enough time since its occurrence so that one can effectively create fiction set inside of it, and turned out a winner. And there are still seven more issues to go! In an ideal world, “Sheriff of Babylon” is going to win a lot of awards in the next year or two. Highly recommended.