Review: The Sheriff of Babylon, Vol. 1: Bang. Bang. Bang. by Tom King King & Mitch Gerads

 

Babylon02.jpgThe Sheriff of Babylon is far more than the sum of its parts. It would be easy to label it as a crime story set in post-9/11 Middle East — and you wouldn’t be wrong, because at a fundamental level, that’s what it is: a whodunit set in unfamiliar terrain — but its pointed political subtext, and its creators’ willingness to explore wider issues, makes The Sheriff of Babylon a far more provocative tale.

In post-Saddam Baghdad, Iraq’s capital city has been devastated, and is without a police force to keep its citizens safe. Former Florida police officer Chris Henry is now a US military consultant, and has been assigned to train the city’s future law enforcement personnel. But when one of his trainees is found dead, Henry is forced to take the mantle of investigator, and partners with Nassir — a former Baghdad detective — to unravel the mystery. Naturally it’s not quite as cut-and-dry as that. Nassir has his own secrets; the dead American soldiers in his basement is merely the exclamation on his troubles — and Henry’s sometime lover, Sofia — an American-born Iraqi — is convening with disparate factions to seize control over her country.

The Sheriff of Babylon is appropriately gritty and layered with authenticity thanks to writer Tom King’s experience in the CIA. Together with artist Mitch Gerads, they perfectly encapsulate the sense of a city, and entire nation, perched on the abyss. Everyone – from the civilians to the military personnel – are paranoid, and cognizant that they are a hair trigger’s moment from complete capitulation and anarchy. Chris Henry is a fabulous protagonist – as determined to uncover the truth as he is reluctant to shake too many trees – and King’s aversion to cluttered caption boxes means readers get to know the character exclusively through his dialogue and actions. It’s nice to not have his every thought and inclination spelled out – nuance is increasingly rare in comics, and it’s even rarer for creators to not baby their readers with voluminous explication.

King and Gerads have created an important work that conveys the culture clashes and inner-workings of post-Saddam Iraq. But just as it highlights the cultural differences, it underlines the kinship that unites all humans, regardless of race, ethnicity, or place of birth. Nothing is black and white in this world, and The Sheriff of Babylon is not afraid to expose the grays. This first volume concludes with plot threads left dangling, and like any great season finale, ends with a deserving (and devastating) cliffhanger that’ll leave readers emotionally drained, and desperate for the next installment. I’d say this is as good as comics get, but I wouldn’t put it past this creative team to one-up themselves in the next volume . . . which can’t come soon enough, as far as I’m concerned.

ISBN: 9781401264666
Format: Paperback
Pages: 144
Imprint: DC Comics
Publisher: DC Comics
Publish Date: 27-Jul-2016
Country of Publication: United States

Review: The Punisher: Vol 1 – Black & White – Nathan Edmondson & Mitch Gerads

The PunisherThere have been several world-class runs of “The Punisher” in recent years. Garth Ennis set the tone with his “Marvel Knights” series, then raised the bar with “Punisher Max;” Jason Aaron built on that foundation, propelling “Max” to even greater heights; and Matt Fraction, Rick Remender and Greg Rucka adeptly molded the character for Mavel’s 616 universe. “The Punisher” is now synonymous with quality. And “The Activity” creative team of Nathan Edmonson and Mitch Gerads certainly deliver that.

Punisher detractors label the character as very one-note. He is, essentially, an action hero with archaic tropes, who exists in a world of tights and capes. What purpose can he possible have in a world of superheroes? This is a point that is reiterated throughout BLACK AND WHITE, the first volume in this new series: The Punisher exists to handle the villains too dangerous for cops, but not big enough for the superheroes. He cleans up the dirt that falls between the cracks, and does it exceedingly, and brutally, well.

Edmondson and Gerads don’t reinvent the wheel; instead, they refine the elements that’ve made the character resonate for decades. The biggest change is the shifting of locales, from New York to Los Angeles – a welcome amendment, as Marvel characters are habitually based in NYC – and the introduction of a new supporting cast of characters. While Frank Castle remains a methodical killing machine, Edmonson makes the character a little less cold and stoic than what’s customary – and it’s refreshing. I can’t remember the last time I saw Castle’s lips curl upwards; but he does it a couple times here.

PUNISHER: VOL 1 – BLACK & WHITE sees Castle taking on the powerful Dos Sols gang, who have formed an allegiance with A.I.M. and have set in motion a plan to take over the city with a “secret weapon.” Meanwhile, the shadowy military unit known as the Howling Commandos have been tasked to bring Castle in – and these dual storylines coalesce with a grand finale, and of course, a cliff-hanger ending. The plotting is tight, and Gerads’ artwork is spectacular, the action scenes executed superbly; I was a big fan of this creative team from their work on their creator-owned series “The Activity” and it’s great fun seeing them adapt their style for the mainstream.

For the foreseeable future, THE PUNISHER will remain synonymous with quality. A remarkable feat for a character who, really, isn’t all that remarkable.