Publisher: Image Comics
Writer: Christopher Sebela
Artist: Ibrahim Moustafa
Release Date: 20th February 2019
Previously released by Monkeybrain Comics in 2013 and Dark Horse Comics in 2015, Christopher Sebela and Ibrahim Moustafa’s two-time Eisner-nominated High Crimes gets another print release, this time courtesy of the fine folks at Image Comics.
For those of you who missed it the previous two times, 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, and was legitimately blown away when I first read this back in 2015. 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, once 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. Never 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 as a reader is eerily similar to the climb itself, with the my own apprehension and doubt as I neared the finale mirroring Zan’s as she approached the summit. This is a long, arduous journey, both as a participant and an observer, and there was likely a nagging doubt on the part of 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.