This has been out in hardcover for quite a while now, but I waited for the paperback because I'm cheap like that. Justin's even cheaper...he read it in Barnes & Noble months ago. He is the one that bought our complete Y : The Last Man collection, though, so maybe he can be forgiven this time. Anyway, it's old news for the comic geeks reading this, but I'm gonna put in my two cents anyway, and maybe some of our uninitiated readers will be interested enough to check it out. You never know.
Pride of Baghdad is a graphic novel written by Brian K. Vaughan of Y and Runaways fame, and beautifully illustrated by relative newcomer Niko Henrichon. It's (very) loosely based on the true story of a pride of lions that escaped from a zoo during Operation : Iraqi Freedom, and their hunt for food and safety in war-torn Baghdad. That basic premise and the ending (which is fairly inevitable, but I won't ruin it here) are pretty much where any similarities to the real events end. More than anything else, this is a Disney story with an edge (the lion cub is the spitting image of young Simba), and that's not a bad thing. Disney movies have been known to make grown men cry and leave lifelong impressions on many viewers, after all. Some of the hype may have gone overboard on this book (one quote on the back cover equates it to Watchmen, which is an exaggeration). It's not an especially subtle story, and if you go in expecting a deep examination of politics and the nature of freedom, you may be disappointed. These topics are touched on, but this isn't a meanings-within-meanings mind-blowing revelation sort of story (unless something went totally over my head, which is always possible). What it is, however, is a touching, haunting, and surprisingly action-packed dysfunctional-family-on-an-adventure story.
The characterization of the lions is the real magic of the book, although it's a bit hard to swallow sometimes. They are very anthropomorphised, to the point of turning down food multiple times for very human reasons, even though they're starving. This sometimes tests the reader's ability to suspend disbelief; the lions hesitating to eat dead humans is understandable from a storytelling point of view (if unrealistic when you consider that even housecats will often consume an owner that has died), but when they refuse to eat a mortally wounded enemy because he 'doesn't deserve a quick finish' even though they're almost falling down from hunger...it gets a bit ridiculous. I don't mean to deter you from reading the book, this is just the kind of thing you feel the need to point out when you're over analyzing something for review. My point is that it's not exactly the discovery channel...we're talking about a book where a gang of monkeys kidnap a lion cub and try to brand him as one of their own, right after a religious giraffe gets it's head blown off by a missile, after all. Once in a while, though, we're reminded that these lovable characters really are predators : "I hope there are other animals my age out there. I always wanted to kill a baby goat!" These moments are cleverly done, and more than a little creepy.
Pride of Baghdad is a relatively quick and accessible read that's a perfect introductory book for new comic readers. In fact, it's the kind of book that should really be worked into high school English classes, both as an introduction to the medium and a worthy reading experience in and of itself. Check it out.