A future where people live a hard scrabble life trying to make ends meet and a war no one remembers the cause of. One girl, Thirteen, has the chance to change it all, and she just has to take one job, playing escort to the hope of the future. Find out more in the dystopian cyberpunk future that is HIGH LEVEL #1, on shelves now from DC Comics and Vertigo!
Writer: Rob Sheridan
Artist: Barnaby Bagenda, Romulo Fajardo
Cover: Guillaume Ospital
Alternate Cover: Francesco Mattina
Publisher: DC Comics
Release Date: February 20, 2019
Cover Price: $3.99
Previously in HIGH LEVEL: The first issue of High Level is the brainchild of writer, photographer artist and creator Rob Sheridan and features a futuristic world that is on the brink of survival. What came before? Nobody knows. What comes after? Well, you’ll have to read on to find out.
SOMETIMES YOU FALL SO FAR YOU BEGIN TO RISE
A couple looks out over the grandeur of the land in which they live, and they are glad. Glad they took a chance and came, glad they had a family to make happy, glad they are there, in a good place. But the man has thoughts, thoughts made life when he is approached by a hooded man who asks if he is looking for something more?
Meanwhile, somewhere that is not a good place, a shapely young woman does a dirty job, cleaning septic tanks and dealing with the sewer and all it has to inflict. Thirteen is her name and she wonders about life. She remembers a time when she made a bargain that did not pan out as she wanted, but was probably still better than how it turned out for the other poor sod. A few moments later and she has shed her working clothes and revealed herself; a young, beautiful woman any man or woman would be proud to have in their company. The Benny’s bar is crowded today, but a drink and hook-up are an excuse. Thirteen is not only a cleaner of the sewers, but someone you go to when you want something done, found or delivered. Her client of the day is happy, but she refused the offer of another job. You see, it would take her north, up around High Level, and Thirteen just doesn’t go there. Before you can find out much else, she is alerted to a group of highly armed men entering the establishment, a Black Helix Squad. Up north there is a war raging, and the Black Helix is one of the players in that war. They are looking for somebody, a girl. Immediately Thirteen tenses, but they are looking for a young girl traveling with an old man. She is safe, for the moment. She leaves the bar and goes home to her encampment. There she learns of the impending departure of an old friend and a new job with a big payoff. She accepts the job, will she survive it. And what about the old flame from the past who returns with a new purpose, and a proposition. A proposition which involves a young girl and a place called High Level.
ACT NOW! SAVE THE WORLD IN THREE EASY PAYMENTS!
HIGH LEVEL #1 is a difficult book to nail down. We don’t know what caused the world to devolve into its current state, but we know there is a perceived gulf between the haves, the have-nots, and the just getting by. Writer and creator of High Level, Rob Sheridan (Heavy Metal), presents the reader with a combination of multiple genres, none of which breaks through to present a clear defining image of the world in which the characters live. With the opening, we are presented an almost high fantasy introduction and a simple turn of the page drops the reader into a well-designed and visualized future that would make any techno savant giddy with anticipation. But, it is that odd blending of wannabe-Mad-Max and Euro-trash which causes it all to come away feeling disjointed. There is a serious feeling of identity crisis. The main character, Thirteen, is set up and presented as willing to do what it takes to get the job done while at the same time carrying a chip on her shoulder about the jobs she will take. She has a past that she is hiding from (maybe?) and the tough exterior is just a façade to cover the emotional distress she feels as friends move on while she is left playing with her techno-toys. But, the gods must be crazy, because now she has the burden of carrying the one thing which can bring peace into the one place she doesn’t want to go. Never mind the fact her long lost bae choses her for this mission.
Listen, I’m just going to come out and say it, this is not a bad first issue, but it is also not a good first issue. There are some entertaining ideas here, some snappy dialogue that reads well and carries the voice of the characters through to the reader. The problem is, the voices of those characters are very generic and archetypical. Nothing seems fresh. It has been promoted as a cyberpunk story, but there is not really enough to make it fit the genre… yet. Cyberpunk is more than gizmos and cybernetic monstrosities, its an atmosphere. It feels as if it owes much to Heavy Metal magazine and that genre and, like some of those tales, Sheridan may be subtly setting us up for a ground shaking story. Unfortunately, it all seems very bland at this point, no matter how much hair dye you throw on it.
The art by Barnaby Bagenda (The Omega Men, A1) and Romulo Fajardo (Wonder Woman, Blue Beetle) is excellent. The designs are well done and there is a brightness to the book which makes it a visual joy to look at. In fact, that very excellent artwork is part of the reason the story feels as if it is having an identity crisis. The art is too good, too clean, and it takes away from the idea that the people of this world are living a hard-luck life.
BOTTOM LINE: LOTS OF PROMISE, LITTLE DELIVERY… YET.
Rob Sheridan has made a name for himself as the creative director for Trent Reznor’s Nine Inch Nails as well as with his work in art, illustration, design and music. He has experience in creating rich backgrounds that serve a particular visual presentation and invoke feelings at his target audience. That said, HIGH LEVEL #1 reads like a story which has been waiting to be told for a long time. I’m just not sure that time is now. With the caliber of writing, plotting and world building being published by today’s writers, HIGH LEVEL has a lot to overcome in the fight for a place on your pull list. Maybe it will gain narrative momentum in the upcoming installments, but right now it reads like it came from the back issue bins.
HIGH LEVEL #1 is going to hit all the right buttons for some readers, but others may be left wondering if they haven’t read this story before.
High Level #1
HIGH LEVEL #1 strives for a techno-takedown, but comes way more nostalgic than neo.