High Level and DC Vertigo

I’ve been in and out of comics over the last few years. I still love them, but they’ve kind of hit the back-burner for me as I’ve focused more on film. But when DC announced their DC Vertigo relaunch for their 25th anniversary, my ears perked up. This is a label known for publishing mature comics that pushed boundaries. Think Sandman. And Preacher. And Fables. Fantastic stories with striking art and uncompromising voices and vision.

And then the slate of new comic creators were announced and I jumped for joy because these are the same types of artists that I used to read Vertigo for. The kind that’d bring their own unique voices to the genre. That’d create something special.

In particular, two creators immediately caught my eye: game designer Zoë Quinn and artist/graphic designer/amazing human Rob Sheridan. Zoë’s comic has already launched and Rob Sheridan’s comic is scheduled to hit shelves next month. I was lucky enough to get an advanced copy and, dear readers, this is one you can’t miss. I think we have something special here.

What Is It?

High Level is a POST-post-apocalyptic punk sci-fi adventure, set hundreds of years after the collapse of the American empire, when society has rebuilt itself from scratch after generations of raw survival brought upon by global climate change and wars for resources. The 1% who control all of the wealth in the world have long since consolidated their power into the ultimate bunker for the elite, a place spoken of only in myths by the people of the lawless outlands where our story begins.

There we’ll follow a self-interested smuggler named Thirteen who’s forced into a dangerous mission escorting a child messiah to the fabled silver city at the top of the world: High Level.

Who’s Involved?

Writer/Creator: Rob Sheridan

Nine Inch Nails fans will know the writer/creator Rob Sheridan as the art director for the band through most of the 2000s, up until their Twenty Thirteen tour. More specifically, he was involved during the Year Zero Alternate Reality Game (ARG) that had fans, this one included, in a tizzy, coming up with theories and scouring the internet for clues.

Artist: Barnaby Bagenda

Barnaby is an inventive artist who’s been involved in a number of DC releases. He’s probably most known for his work on The Omega Men, but has also been worked with DC Comics, BOOM! Studios, Titan comics, Arcana and more. As I started digging into his art, I was stunned. Check him out.

Colorist: Romulo Fajardo, Jr.

Romulo has worked with publishers such as DC Comics, Marvel, IDW, Image Comics and Top cow. Digging into his work, I was impressed with his use of color. It’s striking. Take a look at his blog.

My Thoughts

First issues are difficult because they have to do so much. Establish characters. The world. The plot. The conflict. The setting. Oh and they have to be exciting enough that you’ll want to pick up the next issue. High Level #1 focuses on Thirteen, a smuggler who’s trying to make it in this torn world. You immediately get a sense of her character due to an internal monologue where she thinks back to a time a man traded her an ancient text for water. Turns out the book was The Bible and her assessment of it was pretty bleak:

The rest of the issue sets the stage of the current world. It has that kind of Mad Max: Fury Road feel to it; bright colors meshing with a world that’s obviously been through shit. There’s talk of this colony up north, called High Level, where people seem to be of two minds. Either it’s a paradise, filled with glory and wealth. Or it’s a sham where people are kept like prisoners and those who are “Ascended” to some supposedly magical place are never seen before.

Sheridan plays with this dichotomy through the issue, as he introduces characters that are on either side of the High Level question. It ties into the myths and need for mythology that Thirteen discusses earlier with The Bible. And I’m sure we’ll start to learn more about this society, which is hinted at through a brief prologue. It’s mysterious and it looks like it’ll be an interesting visual clash from the rest of the so-called Outlands.

Rob and his team also create a stunningly realized world, through both the dialogue and world design, but also some of the small details in the background. I loved the characters who appeared merely in the periphery and I can’t wait to really dig into this world. I mean take a look at this scene:

I need to see more of these unique characters. The art design is stunning and those colors just pop with individuality. The mix of a cyberpunk aesthetic with a post-post apocalyptic world is so vibrant and full of life. I’m here for it. And the story does a great job of balancing the need to establish this world with these little details and also setting up what looks to be an epic story. The way it ends isn’t completely surprising, given earlier foreshadowing earlier, but it immediately snagged my attention and I can’t wait to see where it goes from here.

Consider me hooked.

One Last Thing

If you read comics, you probably know this, but what makes or breaks a comic’s launch are preorders. It’s just simply super important. So if you have comics that you like, you should be sure to subscribe to them at your local comic book store or through your digital store of choice.

I’d like to be selfish for a moment and suggest you preorder this comic. I need to see where it goes and, honestly, I’m so happy that Vertigo comics is relaunching with such a diverse set of comics and I want to see it be successful. So, if anything above tickled your fancy, do me a solid and think about preordering.

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