Review – High Level #1 (DC Vertigo)


Publisher: DC Vertigo
Writer: Rob Sheridan
Artwork: Romulo Fajardo Jr
Colours: Barnaby Bagenda
Release Date: 20th February 2019

Hundreds of years after the apocalypse the remains of humanity are still struggling their way back to civilisation, scavenging for the basic resources to survive and making their way the best they can. For some there is the sanctuary of the glistening jewel that is HIGH LEVEL, a utopia in the wilderness where the lucky few who earn their ascension can live in luxury and safety. However, Thirteen isn’t interested in ascension and she doesn’t want to live in the ivory towers of High Level. She is a scavenger and a smuggler, and she’s very good at what she does. She has everything she needs right where she is, and that’s just fine by her. At least, until she’s introduced to a mysterious child that needs her help.

It’s not often I get to use the words dystopian, post-apocalyptic, cyberpunk, and fantasy adventure all in one sentence, so I’m going to savour the moment. There are a lot of very familiar themes and tropes in this first issue but don’t get me wrong, this isn’t a bad thing. There are a lot of influences clearly at work here, but this is a story that’s not afraid to sing them out loud and proud. Vertigo has a long and illustrious history of producing epic adventures which have thrilled and horrified in equal measure, and of giving us stories that have expanded our imaginations and dreams. If Rob Sheridan’s vision and aspirations for this series are half as well realised as he describes it, then we’re in for a fantastic journey.

Unlike most post-apocalyptic stories, this isn’t the story about what happened, or even what happened after the apocalypse. This is the story of what happens when society has started to remodel and rebuild itself. When the world has shed the preconceptions and the burdens of its previous existence, how will it look and how will its priorities change? This is the story Sheridan wants to tell us, and the opening of this first issue highlights vividly what people abandon and prioritise. Our heroine tells a story of an old man trading her a book for some water, a book that used to hold incredible power and mystery and truth for millions of people. She reads it, it’s boring and makes no sense. How could people want to spend their days desperately wanting to be told every day how to live their lives? She wishes she’d kept the water.

Thirteen’s world is beautifully realised through the artwork of Romulo Fajardo Jr and Barnaby Bagenda. There is a superb mixture of junk yard salvage, sci-fi and neon punk that has a comfortable, familiar feel to it while at the same time bringing us something new and, if not shiny and fresh, then satisfyingly dirty and shamelessly satisfying. The town that Thirteen lives in is the decaying corpse of a fun fair but it is a world that’s filled with warmth and light.  By comparison, and following the initial depiction of High Tower as a gilded heaven of lush gardens and beautiful architecture, we see a world depicted in muted greys and blues, a world where the promised nirvana appears to be far from the reality.

I’ve really enjoyed this first issue, and while it’s always hard to see the shape of a story from such a brief first glimpse, I think this is going to become a truly great series.

Rating: 3.5/5.


The writer of this piece was: Mark Scott
Mark Tweets from @macoy_comicgeek ‏

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