Written by: Brian K. Vaughan
Art by: Niko Henrichon
Published by: Vertigo
Pride of Baghdad might be the most emotionally wringing graphic novels I’ve ever read. The action is based upon a true story: in 2003, an American bombing raid allowed a pride of lions to escape from the Baghdad Zoo. As the lions wander the war-devastated city, the action follows them fighting to survive in a world that is not where they–or anyone really–belongs.
The story is incredibly complex, touching upon issues of freedom, sacrifice, family, loyalty, and of course the true and all-too-often hidden costs of war. Animal lovers will be devastated by this piece, but the true power of this graphic novel is it has that effect on even the most hardened readers. The nobility and desperation of these creatures is too much like our own as humans, denying our claimed separation from the world and other animals. Like all great war stories, we learn that we are all connected, whether we like it or not.
The art is typical of comic books, but perhaps slightly more stylized, with clean backgrounds that allow the focus to remain upon the emotion of the protagonists. There are some panels that include speech bubbles by the lions, and the art is more effective without this, but the verbalizations do further the story and allow readers to see deeper into the lions’ minds. The heartbreaking final panels, including the last one with a word on it, are quite simply some of the most powerful images I have ever seen in comics, and I’ve been a comics fan for decades.
In short, Pride of Baghdad is a must-read by any graphic novel fan, as well as anyone who cares about or enjoys history, war stories, and/or philosophical commentaries. Read it and absorb the story. Like all important stories, it is not an easy story to read, but it is a vital one.