The Sheriff of Babylon, Volume 1: Bang. Bang. Bang.
Tom King (Writer); Mitch Gerads (Artist)
Vertigo Comics, 2016

The setting is Baghdad, 2004; the story begins ten months after the fall of Baghdad. Saddam Hussein is gone, and American occupying forces are in charge. But no one is in control. The city is in chaos, much of it still rubble after the warfare and the looting that followed. Christopher Henry is a former cop who has come to Iraq as a military contractor to train a new Iraqi police force. When one of his new recruits is murdered, Chris is the only person in the U.S.-controlled Green Zone who seems to have any interest in solving the crime.

He reaches out for help, which first brings him to Sofia, an American-raised Iraqi who is sitting on the governing council. She sends him to meet Nassir, an experienced operative from Saddam's police force. He becomes Chris's partner, but he is far from a simple "good guy." We see him murder three American soldiers (as revenge for the death of his three daughters in an American bombing) before he's even met Chris for the first time. And he confesses to many killings while working for Saddam.

The whole setting is full of murky morality and casual violence. It is "gritty" in a way that few comics even aspire to, not least because it is based in reality. Writer Tom King has real-life experience to draw on, having served as a CIA operations officer in Iraq. Mitch Gerads' art is realistic and has just enough background detail to set the scene. All of his character designs are distinctive: you can easily tell his Iraqis apart (and his Americans). There's a mix of talking heads and violent scenes in the story, and he manages to make them all visually interesting. The occasional splash pages are surprising, most often favoring character moments rather than big action. There are process pages at the end of the collection that show his process, which is entirely done digitally.

In addition to fantasy and science fiction Vertigo has a proud tradition of stories featuring social commentary. This is a fine addition to that line, and a gripping story that makes me anxious to find out what happens next.

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