Publisher: Dark Horse Comics
Writer: Christopher Sebela
Artist: Ibrahim Moustafa
Release Date: 8th July, 2015
Digital publisher Monkeybrain Comics’ critically acclaimed thriller High Crimes has finally earned itself a print release courtesy of the fine folks at Dark Horse Comics. The story here revolves around Zan Jensen, a disgraced Olympic snowboarder and media darling who finds herself dabbling in the world of high-altitude grave robbing, recovering the bodies of climbers from Everest and returning them to their families – for a fee, of course. However, when the body of government agent Sullivan Mars is found at the summit, complete with a tasty treasure trove of state secrets embedded under his skin in a series of microfilms, Zan’s world is turned upside down as she finds herself racing a sadistic government hit squad to the top of the world, battling her own inner demons in the process.
I’ve long been a fan of Christopher Sebela’s work, which makes the fact that I’m only just picking up this series even more inexcusable. To be blunt, this is absolute career-best work from him, displaying a firm grasp of drama and tension while creating an absolutely stunning lead character in Zan; a captivating paradox of self-loathing and confidence, strength and vulnerability.
From the opening pages – which you can enjoy in all their glory below – it’s fairly obvious that this isn’t going to be your run-of-the-mill thriller. While on the surface Zan initially seems like an unfortunate victim of a freak accident, doing her best to weather the fallout from her destroyed career, one we peer a little deeper into her life throughout the course of the story, it becomes apparent that everything isn’t quite as straightforward as it first appears.
Zan’s inner monologue throughout is both realistic and poignant, particularly as we find ourselves flicking back and forth between her own thoughts and the contents of agent Sullivan Mars’ journal. The parallels between the two are plentiful; the obsession with redemption, the never-ending chase to escape the past and the battling of their own all-consuming inner demons. The supporting characters all have their own part to play as well, from ‘friend’ and fellow guide Dorje to mentor, boss and would-be father figure Haskell Price.
Moustafa’s artwork is a masterpiece in subtlety and nuance. Not overtly ‘showy’, it works perfectly alongside Sebela’s brilliantly realised story to paint a detailed, realistic picture of Zan and the world she inhabits. Emotion and expression are the words of the day, with Zan’s subtly shifting expressions doing a far better job of conveying her mood than any over-exaggerated caricature ever could. The action scenes are handled calmly and matter-of-factly, making them somehow even more chilling, and the desolate beauty of Everest herself is lovingly recreated.
The pace here is glacially slow at times, but it works perfectly in terms of the overall narrative. Readers looking for a quick fix of action and drama are likely to go home disappointed, but those who take the time to digest the full beauty of this large-scale yet incredibly intimate story are in for an absolute treat. Interestingly, the journey through the book is eerily similar to the climb itself, with my own apprehension and doubt as I neared the finale mirroring Zan’s as she approached the summit. This had been a long, arduous journey, both as a participant and an observer, and the doubt was there for both of us about whether the final steps would actually be worth it. Well, suffice to say that both of our doubts were most definitely misplaced, and the reward of the sheer beauty of the final few pages made the journey more than worthwhile.
High Crimes is an absolutely stunning piece of multi-layered storytelling, featuring one of the most engaging and intriguing central characters I’ve read in years. Buy, borrow or steal a copy as soon as humanly possible. You can thank me later.
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You can purchase High Crimes HC from Turnaround Publisher Services (who generously provided the review copy of this title) via their official website.