(2006) Brian K Vaughan and Niko Henrichon, Titan Books, £18.99, hrdbk, 136pp, ISBN 1-84576-242-8
I'll get the moaning out of the way at the beginning. Ready? This is a bloody expensive book! The US price is $19.99 and the current exchange rate is something like £1=$1.80 as I write. Now, notwithstanding print runs and other factors, there is just no way to justify charging £18.99 for this book. It would be cheaper, even at airmail rates, to buy this book on-line from a US retailer than to pay the British price. Don't say I didn't tell ya...
Now for a pleasant surprise: given that some readers will have noticed that I've never been overly impressed (despite the critical acclaim of others) with Vaughan's titles Y: The Last Man and Ex Machina I must admit that I loved this book! Yes, you read it right, Brian Vaughan has written something that I like. This tale is based upon the facts that, during the bombing of Iraq, in April of 2003 four lions escaped from Baghdad Zoo and the starving animals were later shot and killed by US soldiers. The rest is a fictionalised account of their last days together with the theme of captivity and freedom, imprisonment and liberation. If recent reports of the numbers of civilian deaths in Iraq are even remotely correct, then the 'coalition' has managed to kill in just 3 years twice the number that Saddam accounted for in his 25 year reign. Very much a case of "Give me liberty or...". Or, to put it another way, what's the point of being free if you're too dead to enjoy it? I'm not familiar with the work of Niko Henrichen, having not seen Barnum!, but everything in this book is lovely to look at, striking just the right note between ultra-realism and cartoonish funny-animal art (ie. it has the best elements of both, without the weaknesses of either). The story is subtle and not in the least heavy-handed, the characters endearing, the situation terrible and the resolution inevitable. Whether or not it's wasted on an American audience is another question, but it's no surprise to me that comics like this, and genre tv (such as the HBO Masters of Horror episode "Homecoming", directed by Joe Dante), make more telling points about the invasion of Iraq than any number of lately converted politicians. This is highly recommended, but I'd advise importing the Vertigo edition from the States - it'll be a lot cheaper!
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