[Editor’s Note: This review may contain spoilers]
Writer: Rob Sheridan
Artist: Barnaby Bagenda
Colors: Romulo Fajardo Jr.
Letters: Nate Piekos
Thirteen is a smuggler on Earth hundreds of years after society collapsed an rebuilt itself, and she only looks out for herself. That all changes when she gets her biggest smuggling assignment yet, and it involves going to a mythical city at the top of the world which may not exist and where no one has returned from. Piece of cake right?
“Are you looking for something more?” Its a question posed to many young sci-fi/adventure protagonists living in a dystopian society, and is asked again by a mysterious figure at the beginning of High Level #1. The issue’s concept is not the most original, drawing largely upon stories such as Ready Player One and Stars Wars among others. There are number of stories where a smuggler from a poor town on a futuristic planet needs to deliver or retrieve something to a far away place of legend, but High Level brings the trope into the modern age by adding elements largely rooted in the past.
As comic move into the future, there is great debate as to whether or not religion has a place of discussion within the panels, and Higher Level #1 shows that it does. Thirteen is about to embark on a journey about more than just the possibility of a better life. This issue brings a religious element that raises the stakes to be about higher purpose or calling in life and whether or not anyone could achieve a higher state of being. It enriches the sci-fi elements by providing further connections to here and now.
Thirteen is first introduced walking into a bar reminiscent of the Mos Eisley Cantina and carrying herself like Jyn Erso. She is cynical, practical, and presents a stark contrast to the personalities around her that are in similar situations but are filled with hope, even in a time of conflict. She isn’t looking for something more, only to make the best out of what she has.
It must be said that the art and colors for this issue are phenomenal. The rich blue and purples are very reminiscent of the Ready Player One movie and help signal the most important aspect of this issue: the transition. The blues of this issue are represent science. They are cold, practical, rigid, and technologically focused. The purples represent faith. They are warm, flowing, and spiritual. In the middle of the issue, Thirteen returns home to solitude and dyes her purple from blue. As this change occurs, the cold, cynical thoughts, condemning others for having hope transitions to a state of questioning her present. She asks herself if she is happy with her reality, and chooses to face the possibility of there being nothing more with trepidation. As the comic comes to a close, Thirteen is faced with questions that bring forth change and uncertainty. And readers will be in awe as she answers before the stormy purple sky. The issue is existential and poetic, asking the limits of human existence through the lens of steampunk sci-fi. It has an exciting future.
The dialogue is a bit choppy, and it can take the reader out of the moment sometimes. It is normally a minor issue, but High Level #1 produces so many wonderful moments and its a shame to see anything detract from the full experience. There are also very few compelling supporting characters. Thirteen carries the issue well, but it would be nice to see a few more characters that can match that level.
High Level #1 is a natural evolution to dystopian sci-fi that existentially ponders the limits of human existence and the balance of practicality versus philosophy.