High Level, a cyberpunk science fiction adventure published by DC Vertigo, is in its fourth issue. Written by Rob Sheridan, with line art from Barnaby Gagenda and Amancay Nahuelpan, colors by Romulo Fajardo Jr., and letters from Nate Piekos of Blambot, High Level #4 picks up with our main character Thirteen waking up from near death after the events last issue.
Just as Thirteen and Minnow, the future of the world, were beginning to connect and build their relationship beyond bodyguard and messiah, Thirteen’s bad decisions caught up to them, resulting in Minnow’s abduction. Now, in the Sunken Lands and separated from her charge, our main character must embark on a new quest line: Find Minnow. However, Thirteen’s information is too old and the the kidnapper of last issue is now dead and Minnow is being sold to the highest bidder in the sanctuary of sin: Pleasure Town.
This issue expands on the world of High Level, building out the places that exist and the people who inhabit them. In four issues we have explored multiple locations that are each unique from each other and High Level #4 is no different.
Sheridan utilizes narration to deliver information to his readers that is not readily apparent and to subtly build out the world. That being said, the introduction of two locations this issue leaves me with questions about the inhabitants of the Sunken Lands. While they are consistently referred to as savage, secluded, and set a part from the rest of the world of High Level, they are introduced quickly and ultimately leaves me with more questions.
Why are they set apart? Who are the elders who know the old language – the language spoken by Thirteen? We are expected to accept that the people of the Sunken Lands are know throughout the world and yet there has been no mention of them until now. This serves as a disconnect between the tone that Sheridan is going for and the way it is executed.
As the story moves from the Sunken Lands to Pleasure Island, we see an other new area, and one that is more fleshed out. Sheridan establishes rules for the new land, a system of government in the form of the Room, and dives into the purpose for the creation of Pleasure Island, all while pushing forward the story of Thirteen’s search for Minnow.
On a quest to find Minnow before she auctioned by traffickers, Thirteen purposefully breaks laws that result in a death sentence in order to get an audience with the Room, those in charge of the island. To do this, Thirteen beats white supremacists as the yell their hate-filled rhetoric in the streets, while dressed in white robes. While the statement against white supremacy is welcome, the writing in this section isn’t the best, and hits the nail on the head with a jackhammer.
Sadly, this issue aims to do a lot of big things. It attempts to make social commentary, establish new cultures within its world, and show a deeper look into who Thirteen is as a person, scared to fail and break. That being said, the storytelling in the art is beautiful and remains breathtaking. The worlds built in the artwork leaves me wanting more information about them.
Overall, High Level #4 shows that the world of the series is large, really large, and we have only begun to scratch the surface. That being said, after this issue, its clear that there needs to be a better balance between the world and the script.
Fans of science fiction will jump into this series with ease. The people, mutants, settings, and plot have all the makings of a Bethesda video game, and the script reads like a quest line, for better or worse. That being said, High Level will still remain on my recommendations list.
Kate is co-founder, EIC, and CCO of BWT. She’s also a Certified Rotten Tomatoes Critic, host, and creator of our flagship podcast, But Why Tho? and Did You Have To?. She also manages all PR relationships for comics, manga, film, TV, and anime. She has an MA in Cultural Anthropology and Religious Studies focusing on how pop culture impacts society.