Review: The Sheriff of Babylon: The Deluxe Edition hardcover/paperback (DC Comics)

Looking back and ahead at the calendar, I'm finding myself with some weeks where I'm purchasing no new comics. Take a few weeks ago, when the trade releases were mainly books like the combination volume of Batman: City of Bane and the first DC Through the '80s — the latter I might read sometime, but no regular-series trades jumping off the shelf. Whether this is a natural occurance for this time of year or relates to some of the recent goings on at DC, I'm not sure; I'd venture the answer is a combination of both.

Many of the series I've been meaning to catch up on — Saga, Y: The Last Man, Mind MGMT — I have already. And one of these days I plan a grand post-Crisis re-read, going over those expanded Robin editions and reading Millennium and Invasion! for the first time, but not at least until the Batman: The Caped Crusader and Dark Knight Detective series finish, plus the time to read it all. So instead I'm looking down the reading pile to a couple of books I picked up lately that were of interest but not enough to be immediate reads, graphic novels like Green Lantern: Earth One Vol. 2 and some 12-issue maxiseries.

I liked Tom King's Batman run a whole lot, and his Omega Men, Heroes in Crisis, and Superman: Up in the Sky; essentially, though I know King's work hasn't been for everyone, I've really enjoyed it. His Mister Miracle is just the right kind of thing for me to read when I have "nothing" to read, so to speak, but if I'm doing that, I might as well start where it all began — that deluxe edition copy of King and Mitch Gerads' Sheriff of Babylon I picked up.

[Review contains spoilers]

If all of this introduction suggests this won't be a typical review, that's because while I did also think Sheriff was great, I also feel I'm wholly unsuited to review it. For one, I am simply not familiar enough with the fine details of the politics to always be able to say what's happening in this book — and that is, even, the internal Iraqi politics, about which this book is quite detailed but not particularly transparent. I don't fault King for that; this is a book about Iraq and rightfully it should deal with it in an authentic way, and just after writing this review I'll go and look up some other people's reviews that'll give me more insight into what's happening in the text (which is what one would normally do when reading a book they don't understand). To give my honest impression, however, I have to say I was lost at times, while still understanding the macro plot and being riveted and emotionally invested in the characters.

Second, even though again I think I've got the story in the macro sense, this is a multi-layered mystery, and while I understood some of the revelations, I'm not sure I've got them all enough to say, "This is what this was all about." Jumping right into it, what we come to find is that it was American forces who caused the death of an Iraqi police trainee that's being investigated by his trainer Christopher Henry, though whether those forces are NCIS or intependent contractors or etc., I'm not entirely sure. Further, for most of the book Chris, Iraqi politician Sofia, and Iraqi policeman Nassir believe they're hunting terrorist Abu Rahim, responsible for the trainee's death, but come to find out he's not — and also that Rahim did not carry out an attack on Sofia's car that caused her to miscarry, either. Whether that was actually NCIS or contractors or a random Iraqi faction, I can't say either.

I won't be surprised if I find that some of this ambiguity is intentional. Part of what I think King is trying to show in Sheriff is "simply" the chaos of the time, that there are no rules, that a body shows up in the beginning and a body shows up at the end, and these bodies are tied to long strings of conflicted events about which no one's talking to anyone else and no one's responsible. The whole of Chris' investigation could have been prevented — saving quite a few lives — had someone just informed him about his trainee going undercover and then being cut loose. But it is, as is alluded a few times, the "Wild West," all these factions moving independently, and so if Sofia was the victim of a random attack or fired upon by one of her other enemies, causing blame to fall on Rahim, and we're never meant to know who it actually was, again that wouldn't necessarily surprise me.

I'm in the fifth season of Bosch right now, also enjoying it, but both comforted and annoyed about how every season seems to involve the police looking in to another one of Bosch's cases with some suggestion of misdeed that will turn out false in the end. At the start, I enjoyed Sheriff as a police procedural of which Bosch is cut from the same cloth — a murder, a showboat cop who's the only one who cares, and so on. Something that surprised me about Sheriff is how it went from police procedural to crime thriller by the end, and I differentiate those in that at some point — maybe about the end of the eighth chapter — this stops being about Chris, Sofia, and Nassir solving the mystery and starts being about vengeance on those who've wronged them — bloody revenge, and sometimes on underlings or those tangentally related and not on the culprits themselves. By that point, we're given to know that Chris may be our protagonist, but he's no saint — that while he's out for justice, things like murder and revenge aren't beyond him, and that's not where I had expected Sheriff to go. (Most assuredly, of King's works, Omega Men is very much in the orbit of and continues the themes of Sheriff.)

Narratively, I think what bothered some readers about King's Batman isn't present here — no repetitious dialogue necessarily, no issues with only one character's dialogue; for all the ways Sheriff appropriately makes things hard for the reader, it's more straightforward than King's Batman saga. That makes sense; coming later, King's Batman is more avant-garde than his earlier work. Still, one certainly sees the same King between the two runs, especially the book's long fifth-chapter conversation done in almost just one location. King and team also have most of the sound effects here done in Christopher Priest-esque white-on-black boxes, "pows" and "bangs" and "smacks," what seems a kind of abstracting of the book's violence, a meta-acknowledgment of presenting this story through comics, and also a riff on the unviolent-violence of something like the 1960s Batman show — which is also something we'd see played with later on in King's Batman.

Artist Mitch Gerads looks as good as ever in Sheriff and I'm interested to see a kind of before-and-after with his Mister Miracle work. Early in the book, Gerads uses photorealism effectively, for instance a young blindfolded child whose fright is tangible with just a sliver of his mouth showing. Later in the book, Gerads' art gets softer, and it's especially effective in the scenes where Nassir is held captive and brutalized, semi-nude and nude, as Gerads simultaneously depicts a hardened investigator and also a vulnerable old man.

Support Collected Editions -- Purchase The Sheriff of Babylon: The Deluxe Edition



For those like myself looking to see where both Tom King and Mitch Gerads came from before they were suddenly here, Sheriff of Babylon is the answer and also a good retroactive signpost of what was to come. This is the part of the review where I might say I'd be interested in another mature readers work from King or to hope that he and Gerads can do a collaboration like this again, but fortunately it's already here — on now to Mister Miracle.

[Includes original covers, introduction and afterword, sketches]


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