Monday, March 9, 2020

The Creature Columns - The Pride of Baghdad: A Beautiful Response to War

Vertigo publishing had several successes in the time it stood as DC Comics' mature reading choice.The imprint has since been shut down, and DC just labels its mature books. The Vertigo label was closed in January of 2020. However, it has spawned the likes of The Sandman and Y: The Last Man along with a slew of other titles. One of those titles was The Pride of Baghdad. While this tale has fictional elements, the basis of this powerful story is true.
In 2003, during the invasion of Iraq, Fedayeen Saddam troops took up a defensive position around a zoo as United States forces began the Battle of Bagdad. The zookeepers abandoned their posts, and after about 8 days of fighting, many of the animals remained caged and starving. However, during this time bombs had destroyed some cages and enclosures. The animals were wandering free in the abandoned city. Among them were four lions.  The Pride of Baghdad tells their tragic story and serves as a memorial to these majestic creatures. Their journey and the way it finishes evoke a sense of ironic respect for all victims of war. Yes, this tale ends badly for the lions, but it is told with tremendous care and fantastic insights. 

The Pride of Baghdad is an anthropomorphic tale that beautifully renders the experiences of these lions in a way that a reader can understand them. The uncertainly and the fear that these creatures feel and the short adventure that they go on is plausible and quite enduring. They are noble beasts and only seek to escape the ravages of the war zone. They love each other and have a desire to protect their own. They face their trials with a sort of resolute dignity. Brian K. Vaughan’s writing is tender and believable. Some of the dialogue is simply majestic.

“My first pride lived next to a small hill, and the evenings I would go to the
very top of it. At the end of every day, I watched as the horizon devoured the
sun in slow, steady bites, spilling its blood across the azure sky.”
In addition to this, the pride is desperate for food. When they happen upon a dead human, a deep morality play takes place. This kind of writing makes these creatures extremely sympathetic. The art shows the duality of their expressions and the fact that they are torn between two decisions. This is masterful storytelling using both dialogue and art. 
Moments like this permeate the text, and one often finds oneself reading them with the voice of Disney’s Mufasa. These creatures have a poetic quality of speech and movement. Text like this  coupled with the incredible art of Niko Henrichon make this graphic novel one that I absolutely treasure in my collection. The story goes places that touch the heart and make us think about the other victims of war. Is the safety of a cage worth it to avoid the dangers of freedom? What is the cost of freedom?  The Pride of Baghdad just might be the best indirect response to war that I have ever read. It shows what happens when humanity cannot find its way to peace. The human cost is terrible, but there are other creatures that suffer horrible fates. I think, in the end, that this is the point of the work. It gives a voice to the voiceless and ensures that they will never be forgotten.

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