3 out of 5
Sheriff of Babylon is a super serious comic, y’all. Very thinky. And, y’know, for smart people, like me. And because you’re so very obviously not smart, I’m going to give you a clue as to how you can know ahead of time if you’re reading a Super Serious Comic, so you don’t waste your time trying to befuddle through pages, figuring out which page to masturbate to: Flip through any issue of the second volume of Babs. See how there are a lot of words, but very little movement? Boom. Obviously this is some intelligent shit.
…Look: Most writers are going to have their crutches. And exposition-heavy books can certainly have their place. For example, though I dont think Alan Moore walks on water – and he can absolutely be excessively loquacious – he’s proven time and again how to apply both repetition and hefty wordiness effectively. But, water-walky or not, this is because Moore has a keen sense for his medium; i.e. when it works for the story to use these methods, he uses them.
Mr. King wowed the universe with his 9-panel grid and circular writing style on Omega Men. I missed out on that, and caught up on Vision, which I thought was great for a little while, with its 9-panel grid and circular writing – which seemed to fit with the whole robot family vibe. Later, though, when I finally got to read Omega Men and wasn’t too impressed, those tactics started seeming like limitations, not intelligent, story-based applications, and my reading of the back half of Vision was a skeptical (and then similarly unimpressed) one.
Like Vision, the first arc of Sheriff felt particularly strong. On his own – no Marvel and DC mandates – I felt Tom had found a fantastic way to express himself, and his repetitious latter and setups again worked for the story, underlining the hypocrisies, ironies, and horrors of war while US law Chris tries to piece together a murder mystery in Iraq’s Green Zone which no one else seems to care about.
The Vision comparison holds up through its second half as well, unfortunately. It’s worth noting that Sheriff was, I believe, a limited series, until King was nominated as the current comic god and it was upgraded first to a maxiseries and then to an ongoing. As such, what maybe was meant to wrap up sooner was extended, and if that’s not the case, it sure as fuck feels like it. This is the King style extended to the breaking point: Pages and pages of a single talking head for no discernible story reason; issues of unmoving inaction, slowed down by using “naturalistic” dialogue, which amounts to, like, mumblecore. (Hint: I don’t like mumblecore.)
The story ends with an effective punch (again indicating this was expanded), and when we’re not looking at repeated words and images, the down-in-the-dirt ridiculous tragedy of things that the first issues captured so well is again apparent. Artist Mitch Gerads photo real style and colors ground the book immensely, though I found the juxtaposing clear action lines distracting. …And, of course, it’s not a style that’s all the exciting for the whole repetition thing, but I don’t know what style would be.
Pow Pow Pow brings our mystery to a close with an awful lot of padding, and flip-flops Tom King’s unique pacing into more of a crutch than a necessity. The core elements and ending are strong enough to make it worthwhile, but the lack of the preceding issues’ consistent tonal gut punch definitely makes it pale in comparison.