Welcome to ‘Igniting the Flame’, a place to discuss books, comics and anything of the literary nature. (Others include, scrolls, tomes, notes, etc.)
This week (18 June, 2017), we turn our attention to a comic series released late in 2015 (2 December, 2015, if we’re being exact), titled Sheriff of Babylon, written by Tom King (Grayson, Omega Men).
The synopsis reads: Baghdad, 2003. In an effort to establish some semblance of order in the war-torn city, Florida cop-turned-military consultant Chris Henry has been assigned to train cadets in law enforcement. But good intentions are not immune to the chaos found in the post-9/11 Middle East. When one of Henry’s trainees is found dead, he’s forced to ally himself with Nassir, the last policeman in Baghdad, to unravel a bloody mystery. While Henry and Nassir search for answers, forces in the shadows are pulling strings that these men don’t even know they’re tied to.
Let’s dive in!
Sheriff of Babylon, Issue #01 (2015)
This is a heavy book. With the source material being what it is, I wouldn’t expect anything else, but this is a heavy book. The first issue does a good job of neatly introducing us to the main characters (Chris, Sofia, and Nassir), with bloody, violent sequences (BANG. BANG. BANG.)
The issue doesn’t shy away from the horror, from the very first panel being one of a soldier with his skull cracked open – but war is just that: horror and pain.
The art is top notch, with newcomer artist Mitch Gerads drawing everything from the arid vistas of Baghdad to the simple homes that they reside in. I look forward to what this comic has to offer.
Sheriff of Babylon, Issue #01 rating: A
Sheriff of Babylon, Issue #02: The Things They Left Behind (2016)
The second issue delves a little deeper into the dead solider, Ali Al Fahar and his life, while putting two of our leads (Chris and Nassir) in direct contact as they work together to return the body to his family.
Only thing: the whole family is dead, too.
The art continues to be spot-on, doing a tremendous job of expressing Christopher’s exasperation and exhaustion of the situation he’s in. Nassir seems to already be there – nothing fazes him – he’s simply going through the motions.
Meanwhile, Sofia gets the short end of the stick, with lesser screen time focussing on her arranging a deal of some sort? We’ll know more, soon enough.
Sheriff of Babylon, Issue #02: The Things They Left Behind, rating: A-
Sheriff of Babylon, Issue #03: Here’s Looking at You (2016)
Issue #03 shines a big, explosive spotlight on Sofia, who is basically a ray of sunshine in bleak, bronze Baghdad. She meets up with dear ol’ Chris – whose search for answers on Ali Al Fahar has yielded nothing – for a nightcap, following which her car is shot with an RPG by unknown assailants. I’m sure she’s not dead, but how badly is she injured?
Nassir is given the meat of this issue, being taken captive by mystery men who were watching him at the Fahar household. It is clear to see Nassir as a tired, old man, who is simply following the tide, letting it pull and push him with the ebb and flow. However, I’ve no doubt this old dog still has some bite in him, and it’s only a matter of time before that comes to a head.
The art, as always, is excellent, doing a great job of portraying faces in their close-ups – I particularly like the one panel of Sofia smiling while putting her lipstick on. As I said, she’s a ray of hope.
Sheriff of Babylon, Issue #03: Here’s Looking at You, rating: A-
Sheriff of Babylon, Issue #04: The Dream and the Desert
Issue #04 brings a rollercoaster of panels from start to finish, beginning with a beautiful story about Saffiya’s (Sofia’s) name and the meaning behind it. She’s alive, by the way, and has sustained only minor bruises because she’s a badass and she kept herself well-protected.
Also, she was pregnant. Was. The tumble may’ve only done slight damage, but it turns out that it caused the death of her unborn child in the womb. God damn you, Tom King with your ninjas cutting onions.
Nassir’s story exploded in a surprising twist, too, with his wife, Fatima, coming to his rescue and literally blowing away his captors with a shotgun. They have a name, now, a name that Saffiya is going to use to dig up whatever she can: Abu Rahim.
Chris only has a small role to play in this issue, serving as guardian angel to Nassir and his wife, offering them protection in the Green Zone. But the one scene that he is given clearly shows the tensions that are present in Baghdad, as he is forced to pull a gun on an innocent kid because he was behaving erratically. The whole sequence reminded me of “The Hurt Locker”.
The powerhouse performance award here goes to Fatima, though, as she delivers a speech to Saffiya that left me with tears in my eyes. “Are we children, then?” she asks. “I have seen children. I have seen them sick. I have nursed them and seen them die. We are not a child walking. We are Iraqis. We have been wronged. And we will wrong those who have done it. Not as a child does. Not even as a man does. But as a woman does. As a mother does.”
Of course, King and Gerard had to cap it off with the fact that Nassir killed Saffiya’s family.
I said this before, and I’ll say it again: God. Damn.
Sheriff of Babylon, Issue #04: The Dream and the Desert, rating: A+
Sheriff of Babylon, Issue #05: From the Cradle
Before getting into the issue, I’d just like to take a moment to appreciate the cover by John Paul Leon, which is a fantastic portrayal of the desolation of the world that Chris and his fellows inhabit, as well as the bond that two people can share, even in the midst of such anguish.
Taking a break from the explosive action of the past two issues, Sheriff of Babylon slows things down with issue five, giving us what I assume is the calm before the storm.
And what a calm it was.
Chris can’t sleep because of Nassir’s snoring, and he sneaks out to find Fatima smoking. “Don’t tell my husband, please,” she says, followed by, “He (Nassir) is a good Muslim trying to be a bad one.”
Ain’t that the truth?
Fatima is given time to shine here, and with only the two of them present and drunk, Chris becomes very open, revealing that he had met one of the people responsible for 9/11, and had let him go because there wasn’t anything all that suspicious. All that guilt weighing on him drives his desire to help people here, because he believes the war to be his fault. There’s real chemistry between Chris and Fatima, as they have a genuine night of bonding and friendship amidst the chaos and destruction.
It’s issues like this that remind one of the true frailty of humans, and how we’re all just looking for someplace to belong, or someone to listen to you. In Christopher’s case, he needed a stranger to reveal his guilt without fear of being judged, or feared.
Shukran, King and Gerads, for making this fine comic.
Sheriff of Babylon, Issue #05: From the Cradle, rating: A
Sheriff of Babylon, Issue #06: God Shed His Grace on Thee
NO FATIMA WHY. WHY.
In just three issues, Tom King made me feel for a character. A character I was convinced was going to be nothing more than a side mention in Nassir’s statements sometimes quickly became someone with flesh-and-blood, and feelings and ambitions.
And then she was killed. Foolishly. By an American. Because he thought she had a gun. The sad thing is, even though this story is completely fictional, I can see this type of killing happening. Not just in Iraq. But for people of colour, anywhere, in this world, today.
It’s a sad thought, and left me hopeless for a while. Will this world get better? I hope so.
I mentioned in my review of issue three that things will come to a head, with Nassir. I think this is his tipping point – the point where swimming with the current just won’t be enough.
Saffiya, meanwhile, seems to be at a dead end with Abu Rahim. Going to her American contact reveals nothing, and her Iraqi contact seems to be content with spouting scripture at her – something she doesn’t seem to have the patience for. Saffiya simply wants to see her country back together, in one piece, without any of the violence, war and bloodshed that has permeated it for as long as she can remember. She’s put her faith in the American Dream, and with the Americans themselves. “Sometimes,” her contact says, “I think America is the only God whose will we must care about. With America, you can make the sky rain fire. You can move a man that will not move, just by pointing a finger.”
“What fools we are to trust these Gods.”
Sheriff of Babylon, Issue #06: God Shed His Grace on Thee, rating: A
Sheriff of Babylon, Issue #07: One Fish, Two Fish
Oh, how quickly the tables turn. Nassir goes from police officer to terrorist so fast in the eyes of the Americans, and Chris, poor, sweet Chris, can do nothing about it, because he’s simply not high enough on the food chain. Nassir is taken and tortured by men who seemingly watch too much television i.e. if you’re a man of colour, there’s a good chance you’re a terrorist.
Saffiya, meanwhile, meets a man named Franklin, who seems to be aware of Abu Rahim, and what needs to be done. She’s falling ill, though, dealing with the fallout of her miscarriage, and we’re reminded in this issue that she is, in fact, not invincible. There’s a vulnerability to her, but there’s so much strength, too. The combination is what makes her Saffiya: Badass.
This was a difficult issue to read, but a powerful one, without a doubt. We’ve reached the second half of the story, and Sheriff of Babylon is firing on all cylinders.
Sheriff of Babylon, Issue #07: One Fish, Two Fish, rating: A
Sheriff of Babylon, Issue #08: Let Us Go
Sheriff of Babylon takes a breather here, as they begin to set up the endgame. We find out how Nassir and Fatima lost their daughters, and how Nassir and Saffiya began working together.
Nassir is safe once more, with Franklin getting him out. Saffiya arranges a meeting with Abu Rahim, and Nassir bids a tearful goodbye to his wife as he buries her in the broken down pool-house of Saddam’s.
From dust to dust.
Sheriff of Babylon, Issue #08: Let Us Go, rating: A-
Sheriff of Babylon, Issue #09: You’ll Hang Here
Issue #09 sets up the meeting between Abu Rahim and Saffiya, but not all goes according to plan. Abu Rahim turns up, but with a bomb strapped to his chest – effectively protecting himself and throwing a wrench into the operation.
Meanwhile, Chris finds himself fin the company of Bob, the same Bob who is responsible for the death of Fatima and, apparently, his trainee, Ali Al Fahar. It isn’t going to take long for Chris to snap and send Bob tumbling – a scene I’m personally looking forward to.
Nassir, on the other hand, seems to have returned to his deflated, swim-with-the-current attitude, with all the anger and pain stuffed inside him once more.
Sheriff of Babylon, Issue #09: You’ll Hang Here, rating: B
Sheriff of Babylon, Issue #10: The Founding Fathers
The final stretch of Sheriff of Babylon is deliberate, calculating, and masterful storytelling. There’s a balance between the waiting room, where Chris is filled in on the previous operation on Abu Rahim, led by Bob, and Saffiya’s house, where Abu Rahim and Saffiya battle for supremacy with the best weapons they have: words.
It’s very tense, with the art clearly displaying Abu Rahim and his cocky attitude, Saffiya’s anger, and Nassir’s fatigue.
Sheriff of Babylon, Issue #10: The Founding Fathers, rating: B
Sheriff of Babylon, Issue #11: Chocolate.
Issue #11 ramps up the tension while also revealing many important things, the most important being this: Abu Rahim is not the man they made him out to be. He wasn’t some great overlord jihadi who was going to free Iraq. In fact, he came to seek an alliance with Saffiya simply because he has no men!
The issue closes out with Abu Rahim being shot in the head, while Saffiya is on the ground, whispering, “It’s not real.”
Meanwhile, we learn the whole story of Ali Al Fahar, who apparently tricked Bob and his crew into killing a bunch of Christian Iraqis, and so Bob left him for dead, which brought him back to Chris, thus completing the circle. The disconnect between Bob and Chris is noticeable, with Bob clearly believing that it isn’t his fault that Fatima died – and Chris still guilty about the girl that they had killed in the restaurant in issue one. He seems to have done no good, so far, in eleven issues, and so his guilt over causing all of this still remains. Will there be redemption for him in the final issue?
Sheriff of Babylon, Issue #11: Chocolate., rating: A-
Sheriff of Babylon, Issue #12: Jim from Ops
From a series like this, one can’t expect closure. Not in the traditional sense, anyway. Everything comes full circle, though, as we find out that Jim from Ops is not Jim from Ops, but someone who was hired by Franklin to impersonate a higher-up when, in fact, Franklin was the man in charge. But that doesn’t matter, because, as Nassir puts it, “You are the one who’s here.”
And then he shoots him. And his body is found next to the giant swords. One year after the fall of Baghdad.
Everything comes full circle.
Sheriff of Babylon, Issue #12: Jim from Ops, rating: B+
Sheriff of Babylon is a wonder in comic storytelling, using both narration and art to good effect, displaying the arid environment of Iraq, and the bleak sense of hopelessness that prevails throughout. Artist Mitch Gerads is exceptional here, really drawing you into the environment and the people with nuanced expressions, while Tom King hits you with a gut punch of a story. Masterful.
Sheriff of Babylon, overall rating:
You can get Sheriff of Babylon, Volumes 1 & 2, here.