Post-apocalyptic stories with malevolent overlords and super-advanced technology are commonplace these days. In times of political unrest, our stories tend to go this way — our imaginations run wild with possibilities and visions of a dark future. But even so, we haven’t seen a story quite like HIGH LEVEL #1. Throughout HIGH LEVEL #1, we learn about a war that’s been waging for ages. People suspect that even those fighting don’t know why the war is still going on, but its effects are felt everywhere. Even though Thirteen, our main character, makes an effort to stay out of it, that doesn’t seem to be possible.

The Major Elements

HIGH LEVEL #1 has all the things you’d expect from a sort of dystopian tale. However, writer Rob Sheridan paints a vivid picture for us. Thirteen is a woman who just wants to keep her head down and make a living. That living may not be honest, but she’s gotta do what she’s gotta do. She hangs out in seedy bars, has a flying robot companion, and rocks one hell of a haircut. Thirteen is very skilled with tech, and we get to see those skills on full display throughout HIGH LEVEL #1. She’s a skeptic by nature and has a pretty negative view of organized religion as we know it today. And as for the mysterious High Level area to the north? She most certainly has her doubts.

HIGH LEVEL #1 page 8. Courtesy of DC Entertainment.

High Level promises to be a land of opportunity, offering the chance to “ascend” through the ranks of society. But of course, Thirteen and other locals have heard other stories about this supposed “ascension.” It’s an interesting premise, even if some elements are familiar with dystopia. Although, just because two cakes have similar ingredients, that doesn’t make them the same cake. Sheridan is mixing in things I haven’t seen before and is creating something very new in this genre. The execution is pretty wonderful so far, and I’m truly thrilled to see where this goes.

HIGH LEVEL #1 page 9. Courtesy of DC Entertainment.

An Interesting Art Style

While the story, characters, and setting of HIGH LEVEL #1 are gripping, I cannot offer enough accolades to the art in this book. It is for sure a highlight. I’ve flipped through it several times just to look at it. Barnaby Bagenda and Romulo Fajardo Jr. are a team to be reckoned with. While Begenda breathes life into these characters and places — absolutely transporting us to another place a time instantly — Fajardo takes it to the next level. HIGH LEVEL #1 is a masterclass in coloring. The pages are absolutely astounding to look at. And maybe that’s because of how this team works together.

HIGH LEVEL #1 page 10. Courtesy of DC Entertainment.

As Sheridan explained in a tweet, the team does not have an inker. Fajardo paints over Bagenda’s pencils. My first reaction to this bit of intel is, “HOW? Just… how?!” My second reaction is, “Hot damn, that’s the most impressive thing I’ve ever seen.” This means that Fajardo has to create the proper lines and shadows with the colors, and that leads to some pretty vibrant pages. That’s not to say that every book should operate this way. Inkers are extremely important comic artists and their work is incredibly valuable.

But in the case of HIGH LEVEL #1, the look Fajardo and Bagenda have created together cannot be matched.

HIGH LEVEL #1 page 11. Courtesy of DC Entertainment.

The Deeper Themes of HIGH LEVEL #1

Besides looking phenomenal and having an exciting plot, the ideas and concepts Sheridan explores in this book are so important and impactful. From organized religion to class systems, to methods of systematic oppression, to gender norms and expectations, to freedom of information, Sheridan is absolutely touching on topics in the zeitgeist right now. HIGH LEVEL #1 is political. It should be. It needs to be, especially right now.

HIGH LEVEL #1 page 12. Courtesy of DC Entertainment.

However, it isn’t alienating in any way. I think that some people will see real-world applications of the statements being made here, and others will just enjoy the futuristic story. But if you do see the parallels — the way this world is not so far from our own — the story will be all the more rich to you. Yes, there are robots and technological advances all over this book. But HIGH LEVEL #1 is a human story at its heart and a good one at that. I read a lot of first issues and rarely does one excite me in the way this one did. Sheridan, Bagenda, and Fajardo really have something here, and I cannot wait to read the next issue. To go on this journey with me, check out HIGH LEVEL #1 from DC’s Vertigo Comics when it comes out on February 20th.

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