Book Review: Pride of Baghdad

Pride of BaghdadTitle: Pride of Baghdad by Brian K. Vaughan, Niko Henrichon
Genre: Graphic Novel, War
Pages: 136
Publisher: Vertigo
Publication Date: 13th September 2006
Rating: ★★★★★

In the spring of 2003, a pride of lions escaped from the Baghdad zoo during an American bombing raid. Lost and confused, hungry but finally free, the four lions roamed the decimated streets of Baghdad in a desperate struggle for their lives. In documenting the plight of the lions, PRIDE OF BAGHDAD raises questions about the true meaning of liberation – can it be given or is it earned only through self-determination and sacrifice? And in the end, is it truly better to die free than to live life in captivity?

Based on a true story, Vaughan and artist Niko Henrichon (Barnum!) have created a unique and heartbreaking window into the nature of life during wartime, illuminating this struggle as only the graphic novel can.

Pride of Baghdad is a standalone graphic novel by my favourite comic writer, Brian K. Vaughan.  Based on a true story, it follows the escape of four lions from Baghdad Zoo when their enclosure is bombed.  The animals soon realise that freedom comes at a steep price.

The four lions each have very unique personalities and viewpoints, from Safa, the old lioness who accepts captivity as she recognises it is safer than life in the wild, to Noor, the younger lioness who has radical views of escape and longs for freedom.  These different outlooks cause constant tensions in the pride, which only adds to the fragility of the group in their new, confused life.  The addition of Ali, Noor’s naive and curious little cub, makes the group feel even more vulnerable.  Head of the pride is Zill, who appears weak compared to the feisty lionesses, but who is able to show his strength as the story progresses.

Pride of Baghdad

It’s easy to forget sometimes that the cost of war goes well beyond human suffering.  This novel is a stark reminder of the wider consequences of war, and the creatures that must endure our human conflicts.  In the story, the lions meet an old sea turtle whose family was torn apart by the actions of humans, with a grueling image of their death.  Niko Henrichon doesn’t shy away from much in his illustrations, and his boldness in drawing death and destruction really makes this graphic novel stand out.

The story itself ends abruptly – anyone who has read or seen the article in the news will know the fate of our four protagonists already.  As for me, I was oblivious to the outcome of the lions’ journey through Baghdad, and the ending was difficult to experience.  Even for those who do know what to expect, the end of the book will still feel too sudden.  This is not a criticism of Vaughan’s work though, as I interpet it as an honest representation of the unfairness of war.

A moving read.  I’ve yet to be let down by Brian K. Vaughan, and Pride of Baghdad certainly doesn’t disappoint.

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