[Editor’s Note: This review may contain spoilers]
Writer: Rob Sheridan
Artist: Barnaby Bagenda
Colors: Romulo Fajardo Jr.
Letters: Nate Piekos of Blambot
Thirteen reluctantly warms up to the idea of a journey to High Level, but now Minnow had to warm up to the idea of Thirteen. As they prepare for their travels, Minnow and Thirteen’s patience and survival skills are tested by the Black Helix… and each other.
How do belief systems shape values and vice versa?
Thirteen has been living a happy and comfortable life. She may have to fight for her survival on occasion, but she is happy where she is. Now she’s being asked to uproot her life to transport some kid to a place that may or may not exist. Thirteen has a decision to make. Would she be staying put because of how much Onida means to her, or is she afraid of stepping into the unknown?
Despite only being the second issue, Rob Sheridan, Barnaby Bagenda, Romulo Fajardo Jr., and Nate Piekos are crafting the world with care and clearly have a lot planned for the journey to come. The map at the end shows excellent preparation along with stops and locations to look forward to on the way to the ultimate destination: High Level. Each page continues to masterfully build this dytopian future that tests the limits of faith and technology. Don’t sleep on this one folks.
One may dismiss this series to be just another epic quest story with a cyberpunk backdrop. Its those elements, however, that serve to frame and support the important themes this team is expressing through High Level’s narrative. Bagenda is allowed to run the gamut here with beautiful landscapes, loud action sequences, and touching character moments, and he brings them all to life with his transcendent 3D style. Bagenda is best known for his work on The Omega Men, another dystopian future where the visuals were the most essential aspect of the storytelling. King and Bagenda’s 12-issues series is a groundbreaking testament to the power of comics, and if High Level continues down the path its going, it will be too. The characters and objects that stick out beyond the panels draw the reader’s attention to that which is important. Every character pose and every decision to project a character past the confines of the page hints at the future, whether it be in a few panels or a few issues. Piekos’s lettering works exceedingly well with this style as his thinly-outlined word balloons and downplayed effects allow everything to exist on the same plane except for what is meant to stand out. It allows Bagenda’s art to shine most often, but emphasizes some of Piekos’s stand-out onomatopoeia when the issue needs to make a statement.
Colors and colorists are essential to every book, but in a series where certain colors symbols for values or elements in society, they are even more so, and Romulo Fajardo Jr. rises to the occasion. The deep blues and purples are always present to show the troubling dichotomy between practicality and faith. There are fiery reds and yellows that surround the black helix as they bring destruction in their wake, but also rustic, natural browns and oranges that surround the more down-to-earth characters. This may not be our world or our future, but its a world filled with the kinds of problems and people we face now. Do we act with our heads or with our hearts? Can there be a delicate harmony between the two? Bagenda and Fajardo Jr.’s work to helps to manifest these questions. High Level continues to be an absolute pleasure to read.
As is often the case with a lot of sophomore issues, High Level #2 is mostly setup. Sheridan has to create the important dynamic between Thirteen and Minnow and give Thirteen motivation to complete the journey. Its all done exceptionally well, but largely takes a detour from the core themes of the book for the sake of this world building. Hopefully the next issue will return to a closer examination of the dichotomy between practicality and faith, technology and belief.
High Level #2 continues to craft a captivating journey through a cyberpunk future that tests the strength of willpower and faith.