High Level #1 – Rob Sheridan, Writer; Barnaby Bagenda, Artist; Romulo Fajardo Jr, Colorist
Ray – 8/10
Ray: The latest Vertigo launch, Rob Sheridan and Barnaby Bagenda’s High Level #1 is a sci-fi dystopia filled with enticing visuals that do their best to mask a fairly pedestrian story. What I like about the first issue is the way it doesn’t jump right into the spectacle, instead grounding itself in the day-to-day drudgery of making a living in the post-apocalypse. For young scavenger Thirteen, she manages the sewers and takes secret raiding gigs on the side. She deals with sexual harassers, gets into bar fights, and like everyone else dreams of a better life. But she’s skeptical of the legendary “High Level”, the elite society in the sky that peasants like her are told to dream of. The issue’s opening is rather bizarre, a non-sequitur scene involving a fantasy world combined with an extended rant on the futility of religion in Thirteen’s opening segment. But the story picks up pace in a big way once the world’s threats emerge.
First the government forces, Black Helix, show up. While the wastelands are usually no-man’s-land and don’t attract the attention of the government, now they’re in ruthless pursuit of a mysterious little girl. From there, Thirteen takes a raiding gig, runs afoul of a mysterious group of cyborg-worshipping cultists, and is rescued by an old friend of hers – now wearing a Black Helix uniform. That sends her on a transport mission to take that same little girl back to her home in the sky-city High Level. But as we see earlier in the issue, what High Level actually contains is very much up for debate, and Thirteen may be walking into a trap. I feel like I’ve seen elements of this world many times before and there’s nothing overly original here. But it has an intriguing world and a likable main character, and I’m intrigued enough by its mysteries to keep reading for now. Especially since we still don’t know what that opening scene was all about.
Corrina: Bagenda was the artist for the brilliant Omega Men maxi-series, Tom King’s first big writing gig for DC Comics. What Bagenda brought to that series was an interpretation of reality that was, in some ways, fluid. Sometimes his dreamlike panels conveyed confusion, other times their fluidity added to the confusion inherent in a violent war.
Bagenda is again at the top of his game in High Level #1, conveying something of the dreamlike quality of the High Level while, at the same time, grounding Thirteen literally in the sewers. The art fills the requisite bar with life while, at the same time, honing in on Thirteen’s perspective of the place.
It’s terrific sequential storytelling, pulling the reader into the world. The plot, however, does hit some familiar notes, including Thirteen dealing with a harasser at the bar, the old flame who claims she’s the only one he trusts with a job, and the backstabbing, not to mention some of the dystopian elements. But I can take a familiar plot, especially with fine storytelling and good characterization. This series has both.
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Disclaimer: GeekDad received this comic for review purposes.