J.G. Keely's Reviews > Pride of Baghdad

Pride of Baghdad by Brian K. Vaughan
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's review
Jan 07, 2009

did not like it
bookshelves: comics, reviewed

Despite the originality of the idea, and the wealth of symbolism and meaning such a story might have held, Vaughan did little with this book. His predictable plot, thoughtless characterization, awkward dialogue and overpowering allegory drained this book of any strength or beauty it might have had.

Start with some factual errors, such as antelopes being kept within sight of lions, sea turtles living in the Tigris, and zoo birds (which would have had flight feathers clipped) simply flying to escape their cages. If they could just fly off, why didn't they do it before? These small errors are negligible but typical of the thoughtlessness with which the plot, characters, and dialogue are treated.

The overt and sensationalized sexism amongst the lions was insulting. Not only because it misrepresented animal sexual behavior (particularly that of lions), but because as a thinly-veiled analogy of human sexual behavior, it was both simplistic and chauvinistic. Like in his 'Y the Last Man', Vaughan is interested in rape and gender inequality only because they give his male protagonist motivation, not because of how they affect his characters or story in general.

One thoughtful commentator pointed out that the rape scene never actually comes to the attention of the protagonist, meaning it couldn't be an attempt to build his character. So I guess it's just extraneous to the plot? I'll beg off debating which is worse.

The animal dialogue was also rather jarring, indicating that lions understood what a 'brain' is, that they measured time in seconds and integers, and that they felt their keepers were beneficent protectors. Vaughan did not make any attempt to create a dialogue based on the individual challenges and experiences of being a lion, he just stuck simplistic human characters in lion bodies.

At that point, it's not even an allegory, it's just a cartoon. Vaughan's lions are not lions, but melodramatic representations of the Iraqi people, a metaphor which becomes increasingly ham-fisted and awkward as the story continues. By the time we reach the climax, we have the antagonist delivering long philosophical speeches about power and rulership.

These prolonged speeches are set directly into the action sequences, so that between winding up and hitting, he delivers a good paragraph of moralism. I can only hope if I'm ever in a fight, my opponent will try to summarize Plato's Republic between blows.

For all that people praise the art, I didn't see much salvageable there, either. It was often difficult to tell the lion characters apart and action sequences were more abrupt than exciting. The cover's pretty, but not a good representation of what's inside.

Tack on a weepy ending, say something unoriginal about American Nationalism, and roll credits. If you want cute, badass animals in comic form, just read WE3. It has better art, better characterization, a better plot, and less pulpit moralizing from the author.

My Suggested Readings in Comics
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Reading Progress

Started Reading
January 7, 2009 – Shelved
January 7, 2009 – Shelved as: comics
January 7, 2009 – Finished Reading
June 9, 2009 – Shelved as: reviewed

Comments (showing 1-22 of 22) (22 new)

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message 1: by Tom (new) - rated it 1 star

Tom I was so happy to find a review on this book I agreed with that I signed up at Good Reads to
cast a vote for it. So smart and well-done. Thanks!

J.G. Keely I'm so glad you liked my review. I must admit, I was expecting a lot more from Pride after all the praise it got.

Seth T. Mostly agree, but just a technical note: I don't think the rape scene in Pride was used as male motivation, since Safa's rape was not at Zill's hands and being (presumably) well-before the two met, it's unlikely that Zill would ever have known either of the rape or of how Safa lost her eye—since she doesn't appear to be the kind who would reveal that story to Zill. That said, I'm not certain why Vaughan would have then included the scene.

J.G. Keely Oh dear. Now I feel like I should try to reread a comic that wasn't very good in order to work out whether rape is more insulting when used purely to build a male character, or when it's simply extraneous. Who knew critical diligence could express such an ugly face?

Thanks for the clarification.

Seth T. Yeah, I wouldn't worry about it. It's not worth it.

My best guess after putting almost no thought into it? Vaughan gave Safa the gift of gang rape in order to give her the toughened survivor mystique. I mean, why else would she also get the ol' one-eye treatment if not to make her look that much more like Nick Fury.

message 6: by David (new)

David Who, as we all know, got his own one-eye mystique when he was also gang raped by lions.

Seth T. Sounds like something Millar would write.

J.G. Keely Millar's To-Do List
-What if Superman's pod fell six hours later, in the Pacific, and he is raised by singing fish? (I smell movie deal, Hayden Christensen as the fish?)
-Biography of Eminem based on his song lyrics
-Update Howard The Duck for the Millar Generation
-Finally unveil the Nick Fury lion-rape backstory

Nathan I thought the purpose of the rape scene was perfectly clear: to explain why Safa wanted to stay in the zoo. It's a reason that a human reader would be able to understand, and it can be shown in a couple of pages. He could have picked something more realistic, like starvation, but it wouldn't be as visceral and would have taken up more space.

It's not hard to understand.

J.G. Keely He could have picked something more realistic, like starvation, but it wouldn't be as visceral and would have taken up more space.

So, instead of developing a realistic psychological motivation for his character, he decided to use rape as a hyperbolic emotional appeal? You're right, it's not hard to understand, it's just insultingly poor writing.

And how would starvation have taken up more space than a superfluous rape story?

message 11: by Zach (new) - rated it 4 stars

Zach I haven't read all the comments, so if what I'm about to say is a repeat of what someone else has already said, I apologize. Keely, I think you might have been a little too harsh in your critique of this work. Specificly, I think you might have brought unfair expectations to Pride of Baghdad. When approaching any piece of art, the audience must ask two questions, 1) "What was the intented of the artist?" and 2) "How effective was the artist at delivering that message?" Now, you are entitled to your own opinion, and I appreciate your critical reception of this graphic novel. However, why does it matter if the lions in Pride of Baghdad do not behave like real lions? Or if the bear offers his political philosophy in the middle of a fight? Compared to Superman or Hellboy comics, Pride of Baghdad is far more believeable. Vaughan was attempting to write about the violence in Iraq, not an accurate portrayal of wild animals. I offer Orwell's Animal Farm as proof of an allegory involving animals that would not have worked, let alone become a classic, if the animals behaved like real animals.

J.G. Keely "However, why does it matter if the lions in Pride of Baghdad do not behave like real lions?"

Because they are introduced as real, unremarkable lions who live lion lives and think lion thoughts. The problem isn't that they are anthropomorphized, but that the anthropomorphization is sloppy, and doesn't make sense for the characters. If the lions suddenly started talking about NASA spending policies, it would be jarring and make little sense.

The examples here are more minor, and on their own, don't ruin the story, but as I said in my review, they are symptomatic of the thoughtlessness with which the characters and dialogue are constructed. In Animal Farm, the characters do have intelligence beyond what animals actually have, but they still express opinions and knowledge that make sense for barnyard animals.

"Or if the bear offers his political philosophy in the middle of a fight?"

Because it's silly and unrealistic? Firstly, the pacing doesn't make sense. In the middle of a battle, there might be time for some grunts and comments, here and there, but cramming a ten-minute discussion into one minute of action panels is poor pacing.

In addition, having the villain monologue at length about politics is about the laziest way an author can deliver their message, especially when that message is not particularly complex or groundbreaking.

"Compared to Superman or Hellboy comics, Pride of Baghdad is far more believeable."

I don't see how that's true, both of those comics make sense within the confines of their setting. We can understand why Hellboy knows certain things about unearthly creatures, and why he has the abilities he has, so there is definite internal consistency.

Though the ostensible setting of 'Pride of Baghdad' might be less fantastical than many comics, that hardly makes it more believable, especially when it does have internal consistency problems in how the characters behave.

Certainly, there are things we will accept from the author, even if they are unusual, if they fit into the meaning and structure of the story, but I don't see how the factual errors, pacing problems, monologuing, or inconsistent characterization were vital to the story or its message.

message 13: by Zach (new) - rated it 4 stars

Zach I never said Pride of Baghdad was without errors. Also, Animal Farm has animals behaving in incredibly irrational ways (horses building windmills, pigs plottings violent takeovers, etc). Once animals start talking, even among themselves, the audience must suspend disbelief long enough to hear them out, whether they are lions discussing freedom or pigs discussing economics. But maybe you are on to something, demanding animals in fiction must always behave like animals. Maybe National Geographic could release a comic book series of fish swimming wordlessly through the ocean while occasionally eating smaller fish? I'm already enthralled.

J.G. Keely I never said animals have to behave like animals:

"The problem isn't that they are anthropomorphized, but that the anthropomorphization is sloppy, and doesn't make sense for the characters."

There is nothing to be gained from disproving an opinion I have not professed to hold. If all you want to do is build up and knock down straw men, then we, the citizens of the internet, would like to remind you that this is an activity which can be as effectively pursued alone--and since it rather betrays the goal of communication and discourse--should be.

I'm talking about characters fitting the confines of their story and setting. The creatures in Animal Farm do remarkable things (though not 'irrational' ones, as you contend) to show the development of a political power structure and the struggle that ensues. Their actions help to build the meaning of the story.

Having lions suddenly comprehend anatomy and the Imperial Measurement System does not help to build an allegory about Iraq and American war-mongering. Again, sloppy anthropomorphism is hardly the central critique of my review--such small (if pervasive) errors wouldn't necessarily ruin a good book, but they certainly don't make a mediocre one any better.

message 15: by Ill (new) - rated it 1 star

Ill D I just read this today at my library and your review is dead on Keely. Maybe if I read your review first I wouldn't have wasted my time reading this. :/

message 16: by Seth (new) - rated it 2 stars

Seth T. Dan - At least it was a library read and you only lost 30 minutes instead of twenty bucks :)

J.G. Keely Well, glad it resonated with you. Sorry I couldn't intervene sooner.

message 18: by Rosa (new) - rated it 2 stars

Rosa Even though I rated it higher, I completely agree with you. I was extremely disappointed. I felt like Vaughan was trying to make parallels with human suffering during the Iraq war, but the narrative was so shallow that it is insulting to the Iraqi people who suffered. I wished it would have been stronger because I do think there could have been actual parallels made.

I was also disappointed that the rape never came up again. If it was an important part of Safa's life, I felt it should have been touched upon more and added more to her characterization other than showing why she does not want to leave the zoo.

Overall, I was disappointed.

message 19: by Andre (last edited Mar 03, 2015 09:40AM) (new) - rated it 2 stars

Andre Three things:
1) Zoo birds are not always clipped, they can stay e.g. due to food or when they are inside houses or big cages.
2) The rape scene was obviously an explanation as to why Safa was not so keen on freedom as Noor was.
3) Also you couldn´t always tell the lion characters apart? Weird. because I found it very easy. Where did you ever confuse them?

Richard Kolivoski I appreciate your depth of reading. Sometimes you look too deeply at the content, expecting much more than the story has to offer. There is nothing moral here, only nature. Hope and faith are only illusions.

cardulelia carduelis I agree 100% with Keeley, also, had exactly the same thought about WE3 on reading this! +1

message 22: by Saif (new) - rated it 5 stars

Saif Daghestani Obama was here

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