Thursday, April 8, 2010

Pride of Baghdad by Brian Vaughan

Genre: Graphic novel
Publisher, Year: Vertigo, 2006
Illustrator: Nico Henrichon
Other Works: Ex Machina (BV), Fables (NC)
Flags: Adult themes, tenuous references
Rating: C-, or Major Problems
Challenge: Library
Premise: Lions escape from the zoo after the bombing of Baghdad.

I’m trying to read more graphic novels, and this one seemed promising. I'm sorry to report that this one did not go over as well as the first. Although the good has to be weighed with the bad. Unfortunately, it wasn’t all I was hoping for, and it left me scratching my head a little, wondering exactly what the author was really trying to do with this book.

Pride of Baghdad documents the adventures of a group of lions once they’ve been sprung from the zoo during the bombing of Baghdad. The group consists of a male, two of his ladies (one old, one young), and a little cub. Conflicts arise as they leave the smoldering heap that used to be their home and venture into the city. They have to find food and shelter, all while not quite understanding what has happened. In the end, the lions fail to find a better life. +/-

First, I have to say that Nico Henrichon's artwork in this book made it for me. I wish I could give the illustrations a different rating because, honestly, they were the best part for me. The facial expression of the lions was really wonderful, even their eyes were expressive. I still can remember those vivid red and orange colors splashing the pages. It made the events more tangible.

However, the writing for me was a little . . . strange. That’s really the only word I can think to describe it. Vaughan made his characters into such a bizarre mix of human and animal, that I wasn’t sure at all what he was trying to get at. He decided to include the idea of gang rape in the book, clearly not something found in the animal world (at least to my understanding), and yet, there’s another scene of “lion sexuality” that seems distinctly animalistic in nature. Honestly, both seemed rather extraneous to me. In another part of the book, the lions pontificate over whether they should eat an obviously dead human being, but then leave an entire bear carcass to rot, because they want that particular individual to “suffer.” Are they driven by hunger, or not?

The book is obviously a thinly-veiled metaphor of the Iraq war, but I found the characters confusing. And the moral-driven plot becomes so abundantly clear in the end, it kind of made me gag. I mean, really? Is the Iraq conflict so cut and dry? I don’t know, maybe I just didn’t get it, but this one just didn’t do it for me.

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