Pride of Baghdad is a stand-alone graphic novel written by Brian K. Vaughan (Ex-Machina, Saga) with artwork from Niko Henrichon (Noah). The story follows a pride of starving lions that escaped captivity from the Baghdad Zoo in 2003 during the American bombing of Iraq.
This comic has been sitting on my shelf for over a year. It was a gift that I received in 2016 and somehow never managed to read. Recently, during one of the many readathons that I participated in for the month of July, I decided to pick it up. Honestly, I’m a bit ashamed of myself for not reading it much sooner as it ended up being quite extraordinary.
The narrative offers provocative insight into a city that has been terribly devastated by war. The perception provided to us is presented via a unique lens: from the eyes of four grown lions and a cub. As these animals go in search for food and water, the landscapes that they trudge through are absolutely heartbreaking. There are buildings that have been destroyed, amassed in broken and brittle piles along sand and dust draped roads. Corpses have been smashed or shattered from the falling debris and subsequent explosions, leaving behind bright, blood splotches everywhere. Even some of the other animals are running around in a wild panic as the only home that they have ever known has been completely devastated. It feels savage and raw with it’s brutally honest visage.
These images are further amplified by Henrichon’s extraordinary artwork. Every detail is superbly refined and penned to create an atmosphere that truly envelopes the reader. Vivid palettes of golds, oranges, and greens greet you as you immediately open up to the first couple of pages. This creates a foundation that’s aesthetically sweeping, hooking you into a tale that lingers even after you’ve read the last panels. It also evokes strong emotions of awe, anger, and hollowing sadness.
Because the narrative is so well-written and further complimented by magnificently stunning artwork, the comic feels sensationally fast-paced. As the zoo gets bombed, I felt myself getting immensely invested in the pride’s survival with keen fascination. There are a lot of little details that go into giving each one of the lion’s an unique and individual personality. I found it riveting to watch these caged animals struggling to survive beyond their prisons. There’s an element of foreign impulses that begin to overwhelm them. Lions are wild, predatory creatures that typically have extremely sharp instincts. However, because these specific animals spent their entire lives locked up, they never got the chance to truly hone and familiarise themselves with their most basic instincts. Watching them grapple with what should have been innate was positively heart-rending.
The only real flaws that I encountered while reading Pride of Baghdad consists of the scenery. Due to the fact that the story takes place amid a war-torn country, there is a lot of disturbing imagery. I feel that some people may not be able to stomach the atrocities depicted here, especially in relation to animals. There is also a mild implication of the poor animal treatment amid the Middle East within a small section of the comic where a large, ruined mansion has exotic animals in chains. While this last bit isn’t a flaw, I still feel it should be mentioned that the graphic novel in its entirety is a sad story.
Overall, I enjoyed the comic for what it is: an allegory of war. It does a phenomenal job of illustrating that humans aren’t the only ones who suffer so horribly when violence rings out between two opposing groups of people, while simultaneously exhibiting the merciless bloodshed that humans are capable of imposing. If you like comics, and if you don’t mind an unhappy finale, then I do highly recommend Pride of Baghdad. It’s exceptional.
4.75 cubs outta 5.