High Level #1

Writer: Rob Sheridan
Artist: Barnaby Bagenda
Colorist: Romulo Fajardo, Jr.
Cover Artist: Guillaume Ospital
Publisher: DC Vertigo

Review by Michael Farris, Jr.

High Level #1 introduces us to Thirteen (aka Tee), a scrapper and smuggler trying to get by in a post-apocalyptic world. She is perfectly happy to do odd jobs and get by living at an abandoned theme park in Onida, but more and more of her friends are abandoning her to move up north to High Level. What type of place is High Level? It depends on who you ask. Some say it’s a place full of fortune and glory; some say it’s essentially an internment camp; while others believe it’s full of religious fanatics. However, the goal of everyone in High Level is the same: ascension. Tee has no need for any of that, but then an old ex drops in with an assignment for her: take a child messiah through an ever-growing war zone and deliver her to High Level.

This was one of those comics that felt like I should have liked it more than I really did. It’s full of all the right ingredients: sci-fi, a post-apocalyptic world, philosophical discussion about religion and meaning in life. However, for some reason, there was something about this book that didn’t make it all fit together.

The very first page, we see what looks like a high-fantasy world. A noble and his wife are watching their children play from a balcony, and a dark hooded figure appears. Then we move on to the post-apocalyptic side of the story. I almost forgot about that one-page scene until I looked through the comic again. What was the purpose of that? Couldn’t I have had an additional page or two to make that stick in my memory just a bit more? It’s always important to leave those mysterious hooks in a comicbook, but it doesn’t help if you have no context and no reason to remember it.

Relatedly, a lot of this comic felt familiar and surface-y. It’s like one of those faces you see in a crowd that you think you’ve seen before, but you’re not that sure. I don’t quite feel convinced of the setting and the rules of this world. It feels more like Sheridan decided, “A little Blade Runner here, some Han Solo roguish spirit there, sprinkle in some Children of Men and Thunderdome, and we’ve got ourselves a story.” On top of the un-unique setting, the dialogue all felt very safe and expected for a story you’d read about a post-apocalyptic smuggler. We live in a time where we have content coming out the ears, and this story unfortunately didn’t do much to set itself apart from the crowd.

The parts that stand out in this book mostly come from the art. Every page almost looks like it could be a cover. The attention to detail catches your eye but doesn’t overwhelm. The light linework combined with the soft, neon colors makes everything feel like it’s glowing. The lettering is very crisp, and they made some cool design choices to match text boxes with the color of our protagonist’s hair color.

Verdict: Wait and see.

I wanted to like this one, but so far it seems way too familiar and forgettable. I feel like in about a month, I’ll vaguely remember something about this, and it will probably have something to do with the art. The child messiah hook has promise, and diving into the chemistry between her and Thirteen might be worth giving High Level a second chance.

Michael Farris Jr.
Michael is a Virginia-born Idaho convert and a huge fan of sci-fi. He took time off from comics and sci-fi during the dark years of being a teenager and trying to impress girls, but has since married an amazing woman with whom he regularly can geek out and be himself. He's also a drummer, loves metal music, and can always be found in a melancholy state while watching all things DC sports.

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