Written by: Brian K. Vaughan
Illustrated by: Niko Henrichon
Paperback: 136 pages
June 2001, $14.99
A fictionalized account of a true story, Pride of Baghdad tells the story of four lions that escaped from the Baghdad Zoo during the 2003 invasion of Baghdad by US forces. During their brief freedom, they explore the ruined city. It is the pride's first taste of freedom. But at what cost?
The story begins with a change in the air, a change that all of the animals have begun to feel. Though there is a hierarchy in the zoo, some of the animals have broken this code (the monkeys conspiring with the lions) in hopes to secure freedom. Then we meet the four lions - Zill, his two wives Noor and Safa and his son Ali. Zill does not mind the confines of the zoo. He is comfortable and fat though he admits wanting to see the horizon one day again. Safa, Zill’s bitter old lioness also has no desire to leave the zoo as she remembers what ‘freedom’ was like (a gang rape by a band of male lions) and has no desire to risk personal safety over life beyond a cage. Then there is Noor, Zill’s current mate who wants nothing more than freedom as she believes that being free would bring her happiness. Finally there is the impulsive and inquisitive Ali, Zill and Noor’s son. He is a child and acts thus.
Of course early on, you discover that though Pride of Baghdad focuses on the lions it is hardly about the lions. Lions don’t gang rape. And though the not so subtle allusions to war and the political and social commentary can be a little heavy handed at times, it still breaks your heart. I felt the same way about Orwell’s Animal Farm. It is a heart wrenching story about freedom and the cost for that freedom. And as I said earlier it breaks your heart. For example there is a turtle who mourns the deaths of his entire family and the “lions of Babylon” that will destroy everything. I don’t like seeing animals in pain, fictional or not. More than that, I get what Vaughan was trying to do and say.
One of the best things about this graphic novel though is Henrichon’s artwork. It is stunning and beautiful. In one volume you see the tragedy of war and the beauty of the King of Beasts. The animals remained realistic and didn’t go Lion King on me despite being able to read the different emotions and expressions on their faces. In fact, Henrichon’s art is so gorgeous that I would like to find more comics he has worked on.
Between Y: The Last Man, this and his work on Buffy Season 8, I am seriously developing a crush on Brian K Vaughan. This is an amazing graphic novel and deserves the praise it has received, though I know I am a little late to the party. If you haven’t read it, I recommend it. I don’t think you will be disappointed.
4 out of 4 happy bibliosnark bookmarks