The Sheriff of Babylon series that continued to gain steam and notoriety throughout 2016 is a perfect representation of what comics can be and mean when at its best.
This wasn't just a gritty, dark tale based in Iraq during the war. It was a masterfully creative, authentic and character-centric dive into the thousands of layers at play.
Whether focused on two characters drinking liquor in a bombed-out building overnight or stuck in the middle of some high-action cliffhangers, Tom King and Mitch Gerads were able to up the ante each month this book hit shelves.
It's not enough just to talk about how gritty the art was or how deep the story connects with the generations of readers who grew up during the War in Iraq. King is a self-proclaimed format nerd, and he and Gerads are changing the way a creative team can play with panels/formats/symmetry.
Gerads, as he did throughout the entire series, just captured something so deep about the setting, conflict and the pain in each of the three main character's eyes.
The first issue hit in December 2015, and right off the bat, the artistic work from Gerads and the ever-playful structure work from King hit me as something special. What I remember most about that first issue, are the panels with Sofia speaking with four other men, at four different times in four separate conversations.
King and Gerads made this work, it fit the structure, it moved the story along and it was brilliantly illustrated. There was something about the work these two did together, even as a reader it felt as if you could feel their chemistry oozing out of every page.
The two creators of the Vertigo series kept raising the bar in structure playfulness in issue No. 3.
It starts 16-box panel with Christopher -- the American tracking down the people who took out one of his trainees and the trainee's family -- asking 16 different questions to Iraqi police officers in training. While the questions are different, the answers are the same:
With the above page, King and Gerads were able to not only create a fun sequence but showed the uphill battle of blockades and frustration that our character Chris faced, and the ones faced during the War in Iraq.
Another issue that sticks out in my head, is No. 5. This issue of Sheriff was literally just Chris and Nassir's wife drinking a bottle of vodka in a bombed-out building. It remains, in my mind, one of the series' strongest to date as a magnificent dive into character-centric storytelling.
When I say storytelling, I'm not just talking King, but also Gerads who was able to bring this one-setting issue come together with emphatic bottle clanks, dark tones, Chris' ever-evolving facial expressions and the odd yet beautiful bond between these two very different people.
It was/is f*cking beautiful.
While issue No. 8 featured some of my favorite of Gerads' work from the series, you'll see why soon, it also marked somewhat of a personal celebration for myself and the Court of Nerds. We had been strumming this book's strings for the better part of the year on this little website, and it turns out that people caught on.
A blurb from our review was quoted on the cover, and now this issue sits in most of our houses framed on the wall:
But, selfish reasons aside, issue No. 8 was extremely intense.
It feels like Gerads and King did things that most creators are told to shy away from, but they are such freaking pros that they make it work. I'm specifically speaking on a near 3-page phone conversation where we just see Sofia on the phone.
It's things like this that most don't have the time, patience or ability to make work ... but that's not the case with this dream team.
Gerads makes it work with Sofia's ever-moving facial structure, a clear distinction of who is speaking at the time, as King leaves us on the edge waiting to see the cliffhanger of where she is and who she's with come to fruition. After a lengthy phone conversation (in a comic book!), we get a zoom out and see everything we needed to see.
Also, No. 8 had this freaking panel that captured the utter-insanity of the setting and mental state our characters are in. Here are Chris and Sofia ducking from some incoming mortar fire. Normally I would blame the blurriness on my shaky hands trying to do the art justice, but that's how it was presented. It's brilliant. It makes the scene that much more important. The Pow pulls you out while the blurriness and Sofia's crazy ass brings you right back in:
These two combined on so many strengths that it feels like comic readers created them in a chamber.
When the series finale hit with issue No. 12, it did so just as it started. On a note with punch-in-the-face realism that is not only unmatched in the comic industry, but any medium.
The stories in this series were based on writer Tom King's real life experiences in the CIA and the War in Iraq, and saying "it feels so damn real" doesn't do it justice.
I remember picking up this book on a whim about a year ago, I was familiar with Mitch Gerads work and was deeply interested in the subject matter. I wasn't familiar with King at the time, but that changed the moment I set that first issue down. It was a feeling that I had missed for quite some time. That feeling, was the utter amazement at the balance between the writing and the art/colors, the experimental format, the brutal and real honest put me in my place.
These two will rejoin forces on Batman #15 and for season two of the Sheriff of Babylon. That's right, we're getting a second season and these two have steamrolled into being the masterminds looking over Gotham.
The comics world is in good hands thanks to people like Tom King and Mitch Gerads.