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Comic Book / Pride of Baghdad

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"Freedom can't be given, Zill. Only earned."

Based on the true story of four lions who escaped the Baghdad zoo during the American bombing of 2003, Pride Of Baghdad is a Beast Fable about the horrors of war, and the nature of freedom and captivity. Written by Brian K. Vaughan and illustrated by Niko Henrichon, it is a seriously massive Tear Jerker. You have been warned.

The allegory is fairly open; it insinuates the collapse of Iraqi culture after being "freed" from Hussein's Baath Party. It also encompasses both how War Is Hell and how war destroys more than just the enemy side. It deliberates on the nature of freedom and, to a certain extent, the responsibility of mankind to the innocents caught in the crossfire.

This series provides examples of:

  • Amplified Animal Aptitude:
    • Both played straight in the Beast Fable sense and averted with the story's heartbreaking appeal: watching the animals utterly fail to comprehend human machinations. They are intelligent enough to backtrack parallel to a column of tanks in search of food. However, their reasoning is that wherever the tanks come from must be safe; after all, how could something so enormous have any enemies?
    • Completely and utterly averted by Saddam Husein's horses, who don't speak and spend the whole time they're in the book running away from the lions.
  • Animal Gender-Bender: Judging by the length of its horns, the Thompson's gazelle that Noor talks to is male - but it's referred to as "she."
  • Artistic License Biology: Mostly averted, but there are a couple of examples:
    • Zill and Noor are unable to cross a stretch of water to save Ali from a group of monkeys, with one mockingly asking "When did your kind learn how to swim?" While real lions prefer to avoid water, they're certainly capable of swimming when they need to.
    • It's virtually impossible for a male lion to rape a female. All she has to do to avoid his advances is walk away, or sit down, and he isn't going to risk serious injury trying to force her.
    • Black bears are relatively small and shy and prefer to avoid danger when possible, while Fajer is depicted as gigantic and extremely aggressive, closer in appearance and temperament to a brown bear apart from his color.
    • A Thompson's gazelle, drawn as a male, is referred to as "she."
  • Bears Are Bad News: Fajer, a monstrous black bear, and the most morally black character in the comic.
  • Bittersweet Ending: All of the main cast are shot and killed by U.S Soldiers, but, at the very least, they died free, and Zill got to see one last sunset.
  • Child Soldier: The monkeys quickly kidnap Ali after he is separated from the pride, intending to raise him as their group's muscle in order to rise up the food chain.
  • Cool Old Lady: Safa, the older lioness. Despite refusing to leave the zoo with the others even as it is being blown to pieces, she casts this aside to save Ali from the monkeys, despite knowing that she will make too many enemies to remain at the zoo by doing so.
  • Cruel to Be Kind: Ali ventures off and gets captured by monkeys that Safa dispatches. She asks Ali if they scared him, to which he replies yes.
    Safa: Good. You needed it.
  • Death of a Child: Ali, who's just a cub, gets shot at the end along with the other lions.
  • Escaped Animal Rampage: A pride of lions escape the Baghdad Zoo during the U.S. invasion
  • Eye Scream: Safa TWICE. She is blind in one eye by the start of the story, and is blinded in the other by Fajer.
  • Foregone Conclusion: It just kind of is. Especially if you read the article the story was based on.
  • Gentle Giant: Zill, the male of the pride.
  • The Ghost: Humans rarely appear in the story, and when they do, their faces are never shown. The effects of their actions, however, are everywhere. Driven home when the pride is shot to death at the end. The humans who kill them are completely unseen by the reader until after the pride is dead.
  • Humble Goal: All Zill really wants is to see another sunset.
  • Late-Arrival Spoiler: If you know the story is based on a real life newspaper article, then you most likely know how it ends.
  • Mature Animal Story: Despite the story focusing on animals, it doesn't shy away from violence and dark themes such as rape and the horrors of war. The animals also have very little understanding of the humans' actions, which makes things even more tense. It doesn't help that the four main characters all die in the end, which is a Foregone Conclusion since the story is based on a real life event.
  • Misplaced Wildlife: A sea turtle in the River Tigris.
  • Mr. Exposition: The turtle that Ali and Safa conveniently run into shortly after their escape from the zoo. He exists to explain a ton of things to both the lions and the reader about the Iraq conflict and human behaviour. Despite his knowledge of humans, he is just as incapable of comprehending their actions as the lions.
  • Not Worth Killing: After Fajer is crushed by the stampeding horses, he begs the lions to put him out of his misery. Noor wants to, but Zill says it is better to leave him as he is to die in agony since he deserves it. They take their leave to let him die slowly and painfully.
  • Pet the Dog: Safa is nice to Ali, the lion cub. She also rescues him from the monkeys.
  • Rape as Backstory: Safa was raped by several lions in a flashback. This is her justification for tolerating the prison-like environment of the zoo initially.
  • Scenery Porn: Niko Henrichon can draw.
  • Shoot the Shaggy Dog: If you take a cynical interpretation to the ending.
  • Sliding Scale of Idealism Versus Cynicism: Played with, especially since the story makes use of clashing ideals among the lions.
  • Somewhere, a Mammalogist Is Crying: The book implies lions commit rape, can't swim, and that males never hunt. None of this is true.
  • Time Abyss: The sea turtle, being old enough to remember the first Gulf War is this to the lions due to their shorter lifespans.