Review: High Crimes By Christopher Sebela and Ibrahim Moustafa
Alasdair Stuart writes for Bleeding Cool
Everest has a litter problem. It's one of those facts that you hear and just sticks, something which sounds like a random sentence generator threw out something halfway sensible, only it's true. Mount Everest, the highest spot on Earth, has a litter problem. So many people make, or attempt, the ascent now, that 1.5 tons of litter were pulled off the mountain last year and given to 15 Nepali artists to make art out of.
Another one of those facts that sticks in the brain? There are 200 pieces of litter on the mountain that they couldn't use. Those are the dead climbers, frozen into the ice of the mountain and, in some cases, used as a landmark for other climbers. The path to the surface marked by the remains of the people who couldn't make it. They're a stark reminder, and a resource, and that's where Haskell and Zan come in. They run the highest altitude cottage industry on the planet, identifying the bodies of climbers who died on the mountain through the brutally effective method of slicing a hand off and having their contact at the local police run the prints. Everyone gets paid, everyone goes home happy. Until the inevitable happens, a hand is red flagged and a Hell they will never see coming is called down on them from 12 hours across the planet…
High Crimes' first issue is one of the most elegantly designed opening issues I've seen in some time. It opens with Haskell, on the mountain, going about his business and removing a hand. It finishes with the hand being identified and a kill team dispatched from the sort of small airfield that gets left off maps. The hand is leads to them being targeted. Haskell literally, and metaphorically, steps off the path and death comes for them. As on the mountain, so on the page.
Christopher Sebela's script echoes that brutally simple biological algebra with pared down, considered dialogue that tells us everything we need to know about Zan and Haskell as individuals and as a team. Haskell is a veteran, a man who is endlessly experienced and only trusts himself whilst Zan is a woman on the run from an Olympic failure and with it, any kind of responsibility. One is precise, neat, almost militaristic. The other is slumped, scruffy and perpetually flinching away from people who recognize her. She's at the mountain because it's a fight she wants to pick but doesn't know if she can finish, Haskell's there because his world is there. Sebela sketches all this out with some great, laconic dialogue and uses each character to show the other in a different light. Haskell is almost paternal, albeit grumpily so, with Zan whilst Zan's ambition to climb the mountain is something she may only have shared with Haskell. Two loner, together at the top of the world. They're an instantly likable, and instantly real double act and Sebela's touch with them is so light the dialogue actually feels natural instead of sounding like what writers think natural sounds like. The only misstep in the entire issue is the besuited spook in the closing pages. Precise, buttoned up and clearly insane, his random murder of one of his unit feels, for now, more like a Frank Miller beat than anything else. It'll be interesting see if later issues contextualise this. I suspect they will.
Ibrahim Moustafa, like Sebela, takes the harsh surroundings of the book to heart and his pared down, clinical style is absolutely perfect for the story. The opening scene with Haskell is almost abstract, a tiny amount of lines used to create the sense of thick, dense snowfields. Everything is clean, as though viewed under harsh, cloudless sunlight, everyone looking cold and drawn, because everyone is. His art also wraps around Sebela's script in several moments of real visual wit; the lack of blood from the severed hand on the opening pages contrasted with the blood from Zan's face when she wipes out, the first thing we see of Haskell is his hands digging for a corpse, the first thing we see of Zan is her hair streaming behind her in her frozen moment of near glory. The characters are linked visually as much as by circumstance, creating a tightly packed, information heavy book. Nothing here is wasted, every line serves a purpose and that seems eminently appropriate for a book set on Everest.
High Crimes is a Monkeybrain digital comic which means it's a little shorter and a lot cheaper than most print comics. Yet another entry in Monkeybrain's diverse and frequently brilliant line it's tightly paced, fantastically drawn and looks set to get very nasty. There may be 202 bodies on Everest by the time this is over.