When I first saw this one at my local comic shop I really didn’t know what it was about. My first thought was that it looked kind of goofy, some sort of Lion King wanna be story, but at the same time looked like it could be a nice switch up from the normal superhero comics out there. I was extremely close to putting it back on the shelf and not giving it a second thought, but something told me to take a chance on it. I sure am glad I listened to that voice.
Brian K. Vaughan is from Cleveland Ohio and is one of the best known and most famous comic writers out there. He made a name for himself writing on the TV shows Lost, and Under the Dome. In the comics world he has written some of the most famous and most popular comics out there including Y: Last Man, Saga (which I cannot believe I have not done a review on yet), and Ex Machina. He has also won several awards for his work including multiple Eisner Awards and in 2007 Wired Magazine’s Rave Award. I knew who he was but I did not know he had written so many super popular books, he truly is a one of a kind talent.
This book takes place during the Iraq war back in 2003 and follows four lions as they escape the Baghdad zoo. American forces bombed the city damaging the zoo allowing the lions along with other animals to escape and roam the city freely. The lions lead by Zill, the male lion, his two wives (Sofa and Noor) and a male cub, Ali, as they try to figure out what is going on. Their world is turned upside down going from the cushy lives at the zoo, to now having to fend for themselves as a war tears the city apart.
When I saw the cover I thought it would be about some sort of apocalyptic future where all the humans were gone and the story followed some lions trying to figure out what happened. I have got to start reading the descriptions of stories, but at the same time it is kind of fun to just go with the flow and be surprised by the story. With all that being said, I really liked this one, and it is funny because as I mentioned above I was very close to not buying this one, but I am glad I did.
I thought the story was very interesting and had my full attention throughout the entire read. It was such a different story that I really could not stop reading. You may think it is a little childish, as there are talking lions in it, but that could not be further from the truth. The main focus of the story is the war and how it affects everyone and everything using the lions to portray many of the emotions and feelings that befell humans during wartime. That is what I found most fascinating about it, the lions are trying to figure out what is going on while the war is raging around them, and it is very alien and foreign to them. Which I am sure many humans can relate to that feeling on a variety of topics.
The other cool thing in the story is how the characters all interact with each other, esp. all the lions. The two female lions bicker and fight with each other about every decision that needs to be made. Zill the male lion is very laid back and only gets involved when he has too. The young cub, Ali, is just like most children, and I think Vaughan did an excellent job portraying the free spirited naivety of Ali, which is how most children are. War is a very difficult topic to get a child to understand, much less live through. Again I think Vaughan does a great job with all the characters and how their view on the war and how they deal with understanding their surroundings.
I don’t often talk about how stories start or their beginnings, but I did enjoy how this story started. It was quite clever how Vaughan started this one off, and it immediately grabbed my attention by adding a little humor. Despite the overall seriousness of the story I did snicker to myself as the story kicked off. If zoo animals could talk I imagine this is what they would talk about.
Believe it or not this is mostly based on a true story. What I find fascinating is that it is a seemingly nothing story, but when a great writer like Vaughan gets a hold of it, it suddenly turns into something more. When US forces rolled into Iraq they did find the Baghdad zoo in sad shape. Many of the animals were near starvation and most had escaped. Some of the animals had even been stolen if you can believe that. (Spoilers Ahead). There were also four escaped lions that eventually had to be shot by US forces because they would not return to their cages and supposedly charged at the soldiers. So like is said, the story is mostly based on actual events that happened in the Iraq war.
The most difficult part of this story to swallow, at least for me, was the ending. I did not like how Vaughan ended the story, especially how he insinuated the US troops maybe were in the wrong with how they handled the situation with the escaped lions. I was not there so I do not know what exactly happened, but the ending while it was still good and really showed the realities of war, I did not like. But, it was real, it was a real ending, there is no fluff, no winding down of the story, it was a hard, real ending. Which to me represents life and the highs and lows and eventual end, you never know when you will draw that last breath. I could talk extensively about the ending and the more I think about it I go back and forth. I think deep down I liked it, because again it shows the travesty of war, but the main reason it is rubbing me the wrong way is because I did not like how it painted the troops, or the potential political undertones that were shown. That is what bothers me just a little. So as always, before you judge this one do some of your own research and read up about this event. There are quite a few articles out there about actual events that took place during the Iraq War in 2003.
The artwork in this one is very solid, and is mostly traditional but also stylized. There were times when felt the artwork was more rugged, but then I would turn the page and would get an entirely different feel. This is the first comic I have read where animals are the main characters as opposed to humans, so the art style is a little hard to compare as every other style has humans in it. Regardless the artwork works well with the overall story. The colors are very bright and the whole book uses the desert colors extensively, meaning almost every page has a faded yellow overtone. While reading you almost want to squint your eyes because the colors do a great job showing how bright the sun is as it bounces off the landscape and what it might look like reflecting off the sand. It is almost like walking outside on those days when the sun is halfway out but you cannot help but shield your eyes. This is how the colors in the book are in my opinion. They are bright but seem faded at the same time. I felt the Niko Henrichon knocked it out of the park with the color palate and technique in this one. It really set the scene and built a magnificent picture as to what a lion walking down the streets of Baghdad might look like. The page layouts were fairly normal, but there were some great full page splashes where you really get to see how the artwork and the color palate come together.
All in all I highly recommend this one, and so far this is one of my favorite graphic novels I have read this year. Again I don’t know how great books like this one are relatively un talked about. I know it has been out for a while, but I think this one would and should still be in the mainstream. Sadly somehow it has somewhat been forgotten. The only other thing to mention is that there are no chapters or individual issues for this story, it is just one long story from start to finish, not stopping points. You need to read this one if you have not already, it is a great story with some solid artwork. You will not be disappointed.