Sunday, 29 May 2016

The Sheriff of Babylon, Volume 1: Bang. Bang. Bang. Review (Tom King, Mitch Gerads)

February 2004, ten months after the fall of Baghdad. US Military contractor Chris Henry is training new Iraqi police and then discovers that one of his trainees has been murdered. Teaming up with local cop Nassir, who has his own set of problems involving some dead American soldiers in his basement, Chris and Nassir must navigate through the chaotic power vacuum that is Iraq post-US invasion. Elsewhere, a young Iraqi woman called Sofia is trying to control the disparate criminal elements, determined to do whatever it takes to seize power of her country. 

I’ve been thinking about whether I’ve read any books or seen any movies about the Second Gulf War that were any good and nothing springs to mind; The Sheriff of Babylon is another crap entry in the sub-genre to emerge from this turbulent conflict. Tom King and Mitch Gerad’s rambling narrative is so painfully boring! 

Though we spend a lot of time with them, I never really understood the Iraqi policeman Nassir’s story. He’s introduced doing something terrible, which is understandable given the loss of his kids, but I don’t get why he helps Chris or his motivations for anything really. What is he trying to do in this book? I have no idea.

Same with Sofia/Saffiya - how is she able to be taken so seriously in a patriarchal society where women are second-class citizens and still go so far? And why is she trying to become a mob boss? To be fair, it might’ve been explained in the book but I was honestly so utterly disengaged when reading it that it went over my head. King is just not a very good writer. 

Tom King is a former CIA operative though who was in Iraq during this time so his experiences lends the story depth and realism. You do get a strong sense of a country in freefall, murder becoming a casual everyday affair, with people walking around nervous and paranoid, death just a hair trigger’s moment away and feels so cheap and pointless - Americans shooting Iraqis, Iraqis shooting Americans, Iraqis shooting Iraqis; total anarchy. 

I can see why Mitch Gerads got this gig as his last book was a long run on The Punisher, a street level gun-toting vigilante - it’s not a stretch to go from that to this - but I’m still not impressed with his art which is so plain and uninteresting. Couple that with an uninspired colour palette - varying shades of browns and beiges - and you’ve got a flat visual style that matches the script. 

You’d think this and other stories to come out of this time would be compelling to read about but all I get from them is that it was a nihilistic time in a miserable country where both sides did horrible things - there’s little more to get out of the experience than noting that human beings can be evil scumfucks to one another. 

This first volume of The Sheriff of Babylon is a long way from being the thrilling crime drama it sells itself as - I think it wants to be The Wire in Baghdad - and when I got to the end I was just glad that it was over; definitely not coming back for future volumes! This is the guy who’s taking over from Scott Snyder on Batman? Yeesh…

The Sheriff of Babylon, Volume 1: Bang. Bang. Bang.


  1. How severe ! I found this book more interesting that most of Vertigo books from nowadays, pardon my french ! (I'm French)
    Best film about Gulf War 1 : Three Kings.
    Wasn't Generation Kill about Gulf War II ?

    1. I think it was but it didn't really look very appealing so I haven't read the book/seen the HBO show. Unfollow and Jacked are a couple of pretty good Vertigo books.

  2. Thanks; I left my heart in Constantine (everything but the reboot)

  3. Jacked let me very unsatisfied, not because of its bad taste but the story is really thin and Kick-Ass style. (I'm 53 and need solid nurture).Unfollow is more subtle. Thks.