Tom King is a relative newcomer to the comics writing scene, but he has already turned heads using his military experience to convert Dick Grayson into DC’s premiere superspy, and last month, he scared the crap out of me with his take on The Vision for Marvel. Mitch Gerads is a long-time friend of the North Carolina Comicon and is well-known for his grim realism on such weapon-heavy books like the latest volume of The Punisher. So an eight-issue Vertigo miniseries about life in Baghdad ten months after the fall to American forces sounds like a scary, powerful, enlightening experience.
It’s the best work I’ve seen out of either creator thus far, even including that Grayson-Five-Years-Later one that made me cry a little. It’s haunting and provocative and deeply respectful, and I feel convicted as an American to pay close attention to this material.
The book is, at this point, a layering of three stories set in February 2004. Christopher is an American soldier training Iraqi men to police their own city in preparation for eventual extraction of US troops. He gets word of a frightened suicide bomber and heads in to talk her down before a painful, tragic resolution, and as he reels from this experience, he is tasked to investigate the murder of one of his trainees in a city with zero supportive law enforcement infrastructure. Sofia is an amazing Iraqi woman rising to power via her relationships to the US and local/tribal authorities. She may be able to help Christopher, but her story suggests she is more of a femme fatale. Nassir is a Baghdad resident reluctantly accepting a dangerous and brutal mission – his connection to the tapestry is less clear, but his story is gripping.
This book is amazing. King’s politics are not discernible from the page – he neither criticizes nor praises the US presence in Iraq. His story is much more about the profound difficulties that arise from this clash of cultures, how none of us understand each other yet and how hard it is to even start asking the right questions for that to happen. The plot pulls beloved noir tropes like the brave-but-flawed male hero, the mysterious corpse, the secretive woman – this is Chinatown in Baghdad. Gerads gives each character such life and identity that it feels like watching Traffic all over again, enjoying the attempt to map out relationships and learning so much about our own cultural blind spots. This book has HBO miniseries potential.
Come to Ultimate Comics in Raleigh and Chapel Hill to pick up a copy for Mitch Gerads to sign next time he returns to the NC Comicon. Please tell him I loved it.
-Matt Conner for Ultimate Comics