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‘High Level’ #1 advance review: Counter culture, cool and captivating

Vividly rendered punk look at fighting the plastic and artificial artifice of society.

Rob Sheridan
Price: Check on Amazon

DC Vertigo continues to expand its slate of new series this February 20th with High Level. This series, written by Rob Sheridan (former art director for Nine Inch Nails, co-creator of the Year Zero alternate reality game) and art by Barnaby Bagenda (The Omega Men, Green Lanterns) takes readers into a future where society ended and was rebuilt. How has it changed and, more importantly, how is it the same? This new series aims to consider a world that is logically possible wrapped in a story that seeks to shine a light on the truth.

So what’s it about?

The official summary reads:

Hundreds of years after the world ended and human society was rebuilt from scratch, a self-interested smuggler is forced to traverse a new continent of danger and mystery to deliver a child messiah to High Level, a mythical city at the top of the world from which no one has ever returned. Don’t miss the start of a new series from writer Rob Sheridan, co-creator of Nine Inch Nails’ groundbreaking Year Zero alternate-reality game!

Why does this matter?

Science fiction is possibly the most essential genre of all, due to its ability to shape how we might view a potential reality or technology that may become true. It’s also a genre that this series leans into heavily, exploring what our world could be like if given a chance to ultimately fail and rebuild.

One point of view.
Credit: DC Vertigo

Fine, you have my attention. What’s good about it?

High Level introduces a story about a world that is in the dumps, but there’s still hope and promise. That hope and promise can be found in crafty characters and a place called High Level, where some consider being a type of Heaven. It’s an element of the first issue that drives home curiosity and potential conflict for the main character and the world at large. It’s a story with cyberpunk sensibility with low tech and high tech mixing well with the overall premise.

If you’ve ever felt like a loner, or maybe you are a loner, you’re going to relate to Thirteen. She’s the main character who has made a living in this future that isn’t so bad. It’s a character that is prime for adventure but may not want it. This works well with interesting stories told to her in the narrative creating two different points of view on a potentially good or horrible place. Not unlike Alita: Battle Angel, there appears to be another place inaccessible to most, but what it is and what happens there is the big mystery of the series. It’s a driving force that’ll make you come back for more.

Sheridan has crafted a story that feels unique, but also familiar, making it easy to jump into and enjoy. The world is vividly rendered and feels like one that Sheridan has probably mapped out and written much more than is visible here making it quite realistic and believable. He’s playing with themes about what is fake, real, and what is ultimately important forcing Thirteen into a story that will eventually determine real truths. That’s exciting, and as a science fiction story, it’s interesting to see how this futuristic society battles against these themes.

The art in this series is on point by both Barnaby Bagenda and color artist Romulo Fajardo, Jr. The skin tone is realistic which helps bring a level of reality to the story that makes it feel real and gritty. The world is rendered as scum covered with a cloudy haze over everything in night and day. That isn’t to say that it’s all dark though, with Thirteen’s blue hair and purple coat popping nicely amongst the riff-raff of the eclectic bar folk. Late in the issue, there’s an excellent visage of a place called High Level from two perspectives. Bagenda and Fajardo capture different types of sci-fi tropes in both aspects — one being hopeful and vibrant, while the other is cold and horrific.

The visuals throughout are pleasing and quite helpful in capturing this quasi-futuristic world. Characters still wear regular looking clothes, and vehicles look the same too. It’s clear this is a society only barely keeping its head above water, and it’s not too hard to think of it as a possible future.

And another.
Credit: DC Vertigo

It can’t be perfect, can it?

There’s a bit of Deus ex Machina afoot in this issue, and it takes place near the end. It’s a quick way to get the story shifted in the right direction, but it cheapens the dramatic effect of the moment. It is also followed by quite a bit of exposition in the introduction of a new character that leads down a path you’ll probably see coming. It’s a path that’s great, but I ended up guessing it earlier on.

Is it good?

High Level is a vividly rendered punk look at fighting the plastic and artificial artifice of society. Counter culture, cool and captivating.

High Level #1
Is it good?
High Level is a vividly rendered punk look at fighting the plastic and artificial artifice of society. Counter culture, cool and captivating.
An interesting premise with a killer deeper meaning
Vivid art and color make this world cyberpunk in the best of ways
Deus ex Machina, exposition, and a cliffhanger you might see coming
9
Great
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