Graphic novel, published by Vertigo Comics in 2006, written by Brian K. Vaughan and illustrated by Niko Henrichon. It’s based on an incident from the early days of the most recent Iraq war where a number of animals escaped from the bombed-out Baghdad Zoo, with several starving lions being killed by U.S. troops after several days of freedom.

So that’s the core of the story. We follow a small pride of lions from the Baghdad Zoo -- Zill, the calm but somewhat spineless male; Safa, an older, half-blind female who wants to stay safe in the zoo’s wreckage; Noor, a younger lioness desperate for freedom; and Ali, Noor’s cub, who has never known a life outside of the zoo.

Once the American jets blow a hole in the lions’ enclosure and free many of the other zoo animals, the lions make their escape into the bombed-out remains of Baghdad. They encounter various animals, including a short-lived giraffe, a long-lived turtle, a herd of horses, a bunch of militaristic monkeys, and a very, very bad bear. They also have a run-in with some armored tanks, which are completely perplexing and terrifying to them.

And they all argue a lot. Safa’s need for security and safety clashes with Noor’s rebellious desire for freedom, and both of the lionesses are a little disappointed in Zill’s weak will. And they’re all set on edge by the difficulty in finding food in the city.

It’s a great story -- a fable about the prices of freedom, security, and most importantly, war. The lions have to go through a number of trials that the Iraqi people went through during the war -- would-be warlords (the monkeys try to kidnap Ali and turn him into a member of their army), random horrible violence (hello and goodbye, giraffe), savage cruelty (the bear is certainly the most frightening character in the book), and opulence, terror, and starvation all side by side. The environmental horrors of the previous Iraq war also get a mention, thanks to the turtle’s heartbreaking monologue.

Vaughan’s writing is just outstanding in this book -- characterization and dialogue are great, and the plotline feels even stronger by weaving in and out of the fable itself. Yeah, it’s a heartbreaker of a story -- don’t go into it expecting funny animals, or you’ll be deeply disappointed.

The big standout here is the art -- just brilliant, beautiful artwork. Everything Henrichon draws is breathtakingly gorgeous, from landscapes to action scenes to individual animals -- the stuff he puts down on paper here is simply amazing. Some of the splash pages Henrichon creates, as the lions discover the rapidly decaying grandeur of modern Baghdad, will stop your heart. 

It's a beautiful story, and a sad one. But no one gets through a war happy.

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