Written by: Rob Sheridan. Art by: Barnaby Bagenda, Amancay, Nahuelphan, and Omar Francia. Colours by: Romulo Fajardo Jr. Lettered by: Nate Piekos of Blambot. Published by: DC Comics.
Hundreds of years ago, an unknown disaster hit the United States and Canada and society was forced to start again from scratch. But even after decades of rebuilding, the world isn’t what it once was with war ravaging in the north and with those in the south making do with what remains. But there’s hope with a mythic utopia, known as High Level, in the far reaches of the continent. Thirteen, a smuggler by trade, is apprehensively forced to escort a child messiah back to High Level, which is said to end the war and save society. But is High Level all that it is cracked up to be or is she putting herself through a lot of unnecessary danger?
Out of the gate, High Level has a strong sense of world-building. Rob Sheridan, who was responsible for Nine Inch Nails’ Year Zero, sprinkles details about the world through the dialogue to give the reader a taste of what’s to come. It walks the line between not overloading the reader with information but also having them hungry to know more.
Once Thirteen is off on her journey the world opens up to the reader with each location having a distinct feel. Barnaby Bagenda litters each of these locations with lots of little details in architecture and the people who inhabit these spaces. It makes these places feel lived in and makes the reader want to spend more time there. It also allows for the creative team to explore different themes, including sexual identity and privilege just to name a few.
The one thing that really separates High Level from other post-apocalyptic comics is how bright it is. While colourist Romulo Fajardo Jr has given the wastelands muted browns and blues, he really leans into the cyberpunk influences in other locations with the inclusion of vibrant purples, teals, and oranges. It makes for something refreshingly different for the post-apocalyptic subgenre which is often defined by dark tones.
As much as High Level is story-driven, there is a lot of moments of growth for the characters – Thirteen in particular. When we’re first introduced to her she has a tough exterior and motivated by money. But as we go along with her on her journey we see her open up to a far more emotionally depth character, with her decisions based on the needs of others instead of her own.
Unfortunately, the journey is more satisfying than the actual destination. High Level’s final chapter does the rest of the book a disservice by wedging in a handful of revelations that don’t make a lot of sense in a very rushed manner. Hopefully, these can be fleshed out in a satisfying way in a sequel series.
Apart from the rushed ending, High Level is a journey worth taking. This comic stands out from the post-apocalyptic crowd with the use of vibrant colours and exciting locations that differ from the usual gloomy fair. If you’re looking for a story within this congested subgenre then this is the comic for you.