The Sheriff of Babylon


2015-12-03-sheriffofbabylonAmong this week’s new comics was the first issue of an 8-part miniseries, The Sheriff of Babylon (Vertigo/DC). I was intrigued by author Tom King’s plug for the book, which boasted authenticity in spades. As a young man, incensed by the 9/11 atrocities, King joined the CIA and found himself, age 23, living and working in occupied Iraq. So this is a bit like having a Batman book written by a former superhero.

I expected realism, insight, and the day-to-day nitty-gritty of the Green Zone and surrounding districts, all of which I got.

What I didn’t expect was King’s command of the medium. Working with artist Mitch Gerads, he doesn’t just adapt the usual filmic and novelistic techniques, as many writers do, but goes for the unique opportunities available in comics, the repeated panels setting up a rhythm that is well-nigh irresistible. He’s not the first to use such methods by a long way, but, wow. Does he do it well.

Set some ten years ago, the book remains all too timely. This week, the UK government voted to bomb Syria. You can read arguments for and against elsewhere on the web, but the very proliferation of ISIS, or Daesh, as it is also known, suggests that decades of Western military involvement in the area have gained only the most short-term goals, along with the enrichment of a few large corporations, and a major increase in the debt of Western nations.

In short, the War on Terror has gone the way of its predecessor, the War on Drugs. More and more resources have been poured into the battle, yet the problem keeps on getting worse.

And strategies have not been changed.

It seems the West suffers a failure of understanding, not just about extremism, but about the whole geographical, cultural, political and religious situation in the Middle East. Today, as some would have us believe, we don’t even know who the enemy is. Those refugees, fleeing the devastation ISIS has already wreaked in their country, are labelled as potential terrorists. The Muslim you may work with, socialize with, pass in the street – or actually be – is suddenly a terrorist sympathizer, secretly longing for the downfall of the western world.

There’s a devastating scene early in this issue of Sheriff, in which the hero tries to talk down a suspected suicide bomber. I won’t reveal what happens, but it seems to encapsulate in miniature the Western military experience. Those Americans involved are well-meaning, decent guys, just trying to do their jobs. They’re actually compassionate, for God’s sake – and it still goes wrong.

I have great hopes for The Sheriff of Babylon. If future issues match this first one, it will be a joy to read, at a time when the real life situation offers very little joy indeed. Before closing, I should point out that any political views expressed above are mine, not King’s. I don’t know which way he’s going to play the book. I suspect it’s going to be complex. I suspect it’s going to feel real.

And one more thing. It’s a detective story.

What’s not to like?