Writer: Brian K Vaughan
Artist: Nico Henrichon
Letters: Todd Klein
What's it about?
In Spring 2003, a pride of lions escaped from the Baghdad zoo during an American bombing raid. This book tells their story, from the perspective of the animals involved.
There are four lions in the pride. Zill, the patriarch, Safa, an old lioness who relishes the safety and care provided within the zoo, Noor, a younger lioness with dreams of freedom to be found outside the confines of the zoo, and Ali, Noor's cub. He is young, eager and enthusiastic about the world. During the bombing raid the zoo is hit and the lions are forced to leave their home and venture out into the city. Once out, they discover more about humans, the war and the difficulties surrounding life on their own.
The animals symbolise the innocents involved in this war, and other wars. The only humans we see are two Iraqi zookeepers, featured briefly at the start of the book, and the American soldiers, again appearing briefly, at the end of the book.
What's good about it?
Although it features talking animals this is most definitely not a children's book. It is very powerful and moving, sometimes featuring violence, but (mostly) not in a gratuitous manner. The animals' naivete about life in the wild is used to good effect to force the reader to confront their own views and prejudices, no matter what your view is on the war.
This book is written in a similar manner as Orwell's Animal Farm and uses the lions and their experiences to discuss the nature of humanity, class consciousness, religion, what it means to be free, and the nature of tyrants and the oppressed. The visual nature of the comic book medium means that some really well executed and stunning imagery is included.
If you don't know much about the American and British invasion of Iraq this book will serve as a good teaching aid. It really brings home the effects of the war upon the civilians, something which can be missed from the news coverage. It doesn't make an explicit value judgment about the rightness or wrongness of the war, and I believe that a range of people who are for or against the war would get something out of this tale.
What's bad about it?
If you don't like stories involving the humanisation of animals then this book is probably not for you.
Vaughan does include a rape scene fairly early on in the book, however there is a point to it and the aftermath and effect upon the victim is dealt with. As such it could be argued that is isn't entirely gratuitous, although if I'm being honest the point could easily have been made through a different event or experience. Whether this affects your enjoyment of the book will be dependent on your level of hatred for this particular trope. Usually scenes like this turn me off a book completely, but in this case I am able to get past it and still enjoy the rest of the book.
What's the art like?
Powerful, with depth and a real sense of emotion coming off the page:
View more artwork on Amazon.co.uk here.
Labeled for mature readers I'd say this is suitable for people aged 14 years and older. However, as I don't have children I would advise parents to flick through the pages before deciding if it was suitable for their own child.