Christopher Sebela

writer, wronger, rearranger

Fear and Loathing at the Top of the World (or, why you all need to read High Crimes right the fuck now)


I don’t know how many you have read High Crimes. If you haven’t, you should (And here’s why in five hundred words or less).

High Crimes is a high-octane, high-altitude tale of murder, espionage, and mountain climbing, but even saying that doesn’t really do it justice. Instead of falling apart thinking about all the tiny, amazing little details I like about it, I’m going to go back to the beginning.

“Morbid fascination” is the phrase that I would use to describe what I feel when I read about the kinds of things that happen above twenty-six thousand feet. On the one hand, there is the sheer awesomeness of realising that people have climbed through impossible conditions to reach the highest spots in the world. On the other hand, there’s the fact that they’re climbing over the bodies of those that fell before them. As surprising as it sounds to those who don’t know a lot about mountains, is that Everest is something of a non-technical climb. That’s a double edged sword in some ways, because it means that people that don’t have the slightest bit of experience think that they can get themselves Sherpaed up, and die trying. Compare that to a mountain like Annapurna (38% fatality to summit ratio) or K2 (a mountain that’s so fucking remote, it’s still known by its map notation).

But I digress.

There’s a certain sense of cognitive dissonance that runs through the mind of many armchair mountaineers. It’s the simultaneous thought of “holy shit, climbing a mountain is fucking terrifying,” and “holy shit, I want to climb a fucking mountain.”

But what does any of that have to do with High Crimes?

At its heart, High Crimes is the story of Zan Jensen, a disgraced ex-Olympian (why yes, I have been watching the snowboarding, why do you ask?), taking rich people up mountains by day, extorting families for the bodies of their loved ones by night.

If there’s one thing I love in comics, it’s flawed characters. Maybe it’s because comic books have traditionally been the stomping ground of superheroes, where the characters can often seem a little larger than life, and without tarnish. I don’t care that much about Superman. Give me Carol Fucking Danvers any day of the week (That’s the third middle name that no-one ever talks about, but everyone knows exists).I prefer the heroes who, on a bad day, are one stray punch away from falling apart. When the lows are low, the highs are so much higher. When you reach rock bottom, the only place you can go is upwards.

For Zan, “upwards” means “to the top of Mount Fucking Everest” because that’s how she rolls. She’s not bombastic, or heroic, or profound. She’s a pile of flaws and subtleties balled up into a fierce, determined, and yeah, kind of badass woman. She’s a human being caught up in an existential journey that happens to involve spies, blackmail, and the world’s tallest mountain.

I could write another thousand words about all the things I like about High Crimes. I could talk about Ibrahim Moustafa’s beautifully subdued, yet amazingly detailed art. I could talk about the way past and present are so seamlessly integrated, and how the story of Sullivan Mars ties so neatly into the present day narrative. I could talk about how I have read the issues out so far a half dozen times, and I feel like I need to read them again.

99c for Issue 1 (and for every issue thereafter) means you’ve probably spent more on a cup of bad coffee.

Now, I’m going back to watching clips of the women’s slopestyle snowboarding.

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