The Pride of Baghdad
Writer: Brian K. Vaughan
Art: Niko Henrichon
An incredibly clever story and some truly beautiful art come together to form what is often proclaimed to be one of the best graphic novels of the last decade. Written by Brian K. Vaughan with art handled by Niko Henrichon, this story will send you on emotional journey with a small group of lions, and is even inspired by real events and we all know that works inspired by real events are more meaningful, right?
Pride of Baghdad functions as something of a modern allegory about war and is largely successful at not coming across like a polemic. It's ham-fisted at times (more on that later), but rarely distractingly so. I've read some reviews that criticize Brian K. Vaughan's dialogue, which I thought was just fine and totally suited to the story. Some critics called Pride out for making its characters too human, which made the story unbelievable or too cartoonish. I feel they couldn't have missed the point by a wider margin. This is a cartoon, no different in style than, say, The Lion King. Of course, substantively the two works couldn't be more dissimilar, and Pride mostly succeeds at living up to its conceit.
What really floored me about Pride, however, was the art, which was masterfully rendered, from the inking style to the subdued (but incredibly visually compelling) colors. I was impressed by the artist's take on the animals, and how well he was able to imbue them with intelligence and humanity, which went a long way toward making this book work. Even more impressive, however, was the depiction of Baghdad itself. The city really came to life, and became as much a compelling character as our four protagonists.
Honestly, I would say this book is worth the cover price for the artwork alone, which is why it's getting four stars rather than three. Where the book doesn't quite work is its ending. Now, I fully understand that the way things go down is meant to represent the senselessness of war and the thoughtlessness of its perpetrators, and for that to work, what happens should be sudden and disorienting. Here, however, it simply doesn't quite work. Such endings can be sudden and disorienting and feel like a sock in the gut while still feeling emotionally satisfying. You can even trick or shock the reader as long as it feels earned. Unfortunately, that's not the case here, and the reader is left feeling sort of jerked around.
I'm pretty much always down on works that don't reward the audience (in some way--it doesn't have to be via a happy ending) for their emotional investment. In the worst cases, if there is no reward, you just feel sort of used, the butt of a particularly mean practical joke. You feel like the author wasn't engaging in good faith and doesn't respect your intelligence. I'm not going to say that Pride is quite as demeaning or deceitful as all that, but the ending doesn't feel earned, and there is no emotional payoff. It's also where the book is the most heavy-handed, where it comes closest to bludgeoning the reader with its perspective on war and humanity. More thorough characterization would have gone a long way toward making Pride more successful. I wish that our protagonists had been given a bit more room to breathe, to flesh out their characters, to get us invested in them.
All in all, Pride is an excellent story with amazing visuals, that ultimately leaves me wishing I knew the characters better.
4 out of 5 stars