“The Sheriff of Babylon” is a graphic novel penned by former CIA officer Tom King and artist Mitch Gerads, who also worked on other military-themed comics including “The Activity” and “The Punisher.” At its heart, “The Sheriff of Babylon” is a detective story that takes place against the backdrop of post-invasion Iraq in 2004 as the country is beginning its descent into Hell. King draws on his CIA background to write a compelling story filled with shades of gray, where institutions are bigger and more important than human lives. Gerads’ artwork captures a specific moment in time when American military might overlaps with Iraq’s complicated cultural landscape.
The story begins 10 months after the invasion of Iraq, when the body of a murdered police trainee is discovered in the Green Zone. The trainee’s teacher is a former LAPD cop turned military contractor in Baghdad. Christopher is emblematic of many contractors and soldiers who were deployed to Iraq, as his heart is in the right place, but he is completely oblivious to realities on the ground as someone who does not understand the language or culture. Feeling responsible, Christopher embarks on a personal mission to bring the trainee’s murderer to justice.
Along the way we meet Sofia, a member of the interim governing body of Iraq, whose grandfather was a founding member of the Ba’ath Party but was ousted by the previous regime. Sofia is in many regards a defector who ran to the Americans and helped direct the U.S. military against Saddam Hussein. In Baghdad, she plays many roles—council member, troubleshooter, dealmaker, and even executioner.
With Sofia’s help, Christopher enlists the help of Nassir, who is a tough Shia cop. With his three daughters killed during the invasion, Nassir has many axes to grind, but before long it is his own dark past that catches up with him. Nassir is the cynical Arab Iraqi. He’s seen a lot of shit and done a lot of shit. Without much left to live for, he’s making deals with multiple devils to try to keep his skin intact a while longer.
The stories of these three characters overlap, but King writes a tale that is not a trite character study into the human condition or a post-modern narrative about the intersections of life—both of which are easily discarded with a shrug. Instead, he writes a graphic novel about cause and effect in a world where various players are stumbling through the dark, hampered by bureaucracy, misunderstandings, and petty self-interests.
Volume one ends in further tragedy for both Sofia and Nassir, with the second volume concluding the murder mystery, as both the NCIS and CIA get involved in a manhunt for a Jordanian-born American citizen who has joined the jihad in Iraq. The murdered police trainee figures into the manhunt, but as Christopher eventually learns, he was not killed by terrorists.
In the end, we witness an incompetent American bureaucracy spun into a death cycle that has no end game in mind, and an Iraq that seems all too willing to cooperate in the completion of this cycle, as the locals are determined to destroy whatever was left after the invasion. The Sheriff of Babylon asks a lot of questions, the type of questions that we probably should have asked ourselves before invading the country. Few answers are forthcoming, perhaps because the author is internally conflicted himself. I certainly don’t have those answers either.
Both graphic novels are illustrated by Gerads, who does an impressive job of capturing the unique look and feel of a specific moment in time, where American military culture overlaps with the world’s oldest civilization: Babylon. Gerads wasn’t holding back in this comic either, as it features quite a bit of brutal imagery, but for those of us who saw this war up close, it really couldn’t be illustrated any other way.
In a recent interview on SOFREP’s podcast, Gerads commented that sometimes he gets hate mail telling him that he sucks, but since comic books come out every four weeks, they’ll see him again next month. After reading “The Sheriff of Babylon,” you’ll see that King and Gerads certainly don’t suck, and you’ll definitely want to see them again next month.