9.27.2006

Graphic Novel Of The Month

Pride of Baghdad (DC/Vertigo): In almost all of the online reviews I've perused, the comics community seems to be cautiously optimistic that Vaughan can pull this off. How can he write an original graphic novel without using his usual tricks? What will he do without the ability to use kitschy pop culture references? Oh no! He won't be able to use his trademark cliffhanger endings that he does in his serialized stories! How can he possibly survive without his Mamet-derived, Bendis-inspired, Sorkin-like, staccato dialogue? They're animals, not people! Argh! I'm here to tell everyone that they can relax. Brian K. Vaughan really does pull this off, gracefully and succinctly. And you know what? All of his trademarks are right there if you look close enough. Pop culture references? Maybe there aren't lines from movies or references to pop culture icons that jump out at us in the usual familiar way, but it's The War(s) in Iraq... isn't that the biggest pop culture reference one could muster in today's world? Cliffhanger endings? They're right there at the 22 page mark. If you count from the first page all the way through the book in 22 page increments, you'll see nice one page shots where instead of sending us the "continued next issue" message, they serve as nice little pause-inducing story beats. A chance for us to catch our breath and continue on with the journey of the Pride in this war torn paradise. And the dialogue, even though emanating from animals, is Vaughan's typically fluid style that boasts strong interpersonal dynamics via fully realized and distinct personalities. In fact, the animal's speech patterns feel so realistic that we tend to forget these are zoo animals and start believing they are representative of human voices in all their variegation. We see base motivations (notice how the monkeys help Ali only because it serves their selfish cause), double crosses, differing opinions, Mother/Daughter disputes over childcare, jealous squabbles, cynical elders, affection, loyalty, and a great comment on the futility of war from the POV of a... turtle. A regretful, sorrowful turtle, who ended up being my favorite character. Niko Henrichon's art is a perfect match for this tale. At first, it's very pleasing to the eye, aided by the warm colors, and sort of lulls you into this world with it's intricate and realistic detail. Then suddenly, it becomes exaggerated to great dynamic effect and blows your hair back in a very visceral way (that poor giraffe!). And make no mistake, this ain't The Lion King. There's no "happily ever after." Though I'd heard this was based on true events, I had no idea how it would end. That was unexpected and really had the power to evoke emotion. Grade A.

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