"Pride of Baghdad
Written by Brain K. Vaughan, art by Niko Henrichon
DC Comics, $19.99
Brain K. Vaughan, best known for his sci-fi comic series Y: The Last Man, explores his own mixed feelings about the war in Iraq in his first graphic novel, Pride of Baghdad.
Based on a true story, Pride follows a family of lions after their zoo was bombed during the U.S. invasion of Iraq.
The allegory of safety versus freedom that runs throughout the book starts at the very beginning when Safa, an older lioness, argues the merits of captivity to Noor, a younger lioness eager to fend for her own food in the wild. Zill, the leader of the pride and father of Ali, Noor’s young cub, longs to once again see the sun set over the horizon, but appreciates the luxury of their daily meals at the zoo.
When their keepers have fled and the zoo is suddenly destroyed, the four lions have no choice but to venture into the war-torn country. Despite their differences, the family sticks together and defends each other in this new, terrifying world. Hungry and lost, even Noor begins to wonder if the price of freedom is too high.
Vaughan’s heart-wrenching tale is brought to life by Niko Henrichon’s equally haunting illustrations. At no point do the animals exchanging dialogue seem any less natural than the exceptionally rendered backgrounds surrounding them.
In one of the most powerful scenes, the lions attempt to make sense of the concept of war as explained by a turtle who has lived through the horrors of both the current and previous wars in Iraq. From a flashback-like panel we get a glimpse of his family dying in an oil slicked river as he watches helplessly from the bank. The turtle no longer cares why the humans are fighting, he has already lost everything that mattered.
Although Pride of Baghdad presents very human suffering and sacrifice, Vaughan resists hailing complacency over freedom or confinement over chaos. Instead he suggests that, like the turtle, only those truly paying the price will know.