High Level, a cyberpunk science fiction adventure published by DC Vertigo, is in its fifth issue and our pair are our getting closer and closer to the promised land. Written by Rob Sheridan, with line art from Barnaby Gagenda and Omar Francia, colors by Romulo Fajardo Jr., and letters from Nate Piekos of Blambot, High Level #5 starts with our dynamic duo, Thirteen and Minnow as they leave Paradise Island with their new friend Valentina, who they met in the last issue.
After the first four issues of the series, their dynamic is sisterly and it’s refreshing to see in a series that paints it’s female lead’s humor like Tank Girl. At this point, the pair have been through a lot of fights, close calls, and just as they near High Level, it may all go downhill. In High Level #5 we learn more about Valentina and her family’s struggle to take her to High Level, for a better life.
In all honesty, the allusions to crossing the border are heavy-handed and not well executed. Coupled with the fact that when Valentina uses the word “barrio” she translates it to the “slums” of the city around High Level, it’s extremely apparent that Sheridan isn’t a Spanish speaker, nor someone who grew up in a community who used that word. While the barrio can be used to reference a bad part of town, more often than not it is used to just refer to your neighborhood, the place you call home, that you go back to, it isn’t a pejorative and having it translated as such was a bad call.
Outside of that, in High Level #5, we learn that people like Valentina, born with mutations from the now dead world, are not allowed in High Level. While this isn’t surprising, it is a little bit of world-building that I can appreciate, even if it’s the plot of every dystopic science fiction with a city in the sky.
When they make it to Low Level, the city surrounding the silver city in the sky, the pair part ways with Valentina and meet up with Akan, the Black Diamond soldier and Thirteen’s old friend who brought the two together. Having tasked Thirteen with smuggling Minnow all this way, Akan’s appearance makes it feel like it’s all about to be okay, like the plan is about to be complete. But of course with one issue left in the arc, there is a twist brought on by Black Diamond, the real ones, not Akan’s group, when they find out that Minnow is in the city.
While this issue is interesting, the amazing art which I have raved about for the past four issues now can only carry the story so far. In addition, Begenda’s cover is deeply detached from the inner pages of High Level #5 and ultimately paint Thirteen to be completely unrecognizable. While each of the other covers brought a fantasy in the cyberpunk world, this one is bland, empty even. When coupled with Sheridan’s script being extremely wordy, I’m finding it hard to stay engaged with a story that sees panels so dominated by speech bubbles that the beautiful artwork is obscured.
There is only one issue left in the arc and after High Level #5 I’m not sure how excited I am to see the arc end and have some questions answered. With the recent announcement of the closing of the DC Vertigo imprint, I’m worried for all of the titles I’m reading from the publisher. That said, if this story was to wrap entirely after number six, it would feel like the journey had run its course.
High Level #5 is available everywhere comics are sold.
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.