Image Comics does it again with this spy thriller graphic novel collection set, improbably, on the slopes of Mount Everest. High Crimes involves a strung-out former Olympic snowboarder who now ekes by in Kathmandu ransoming bodies left on Everest when American secret agents force her to climb Everest in pursuit of vital intelligence. Zan Jansen is bad ass heroine, a former professional athlete struggling with addiction and depression, who reinvents herself by gambling with her life. Also I love the honest acknowledgement that the hero of most action movies would need to be an Olympian. It’s gruesome, gritty action that’s great for a weekend thrill.
This comic is fast-paced and gets personal real fast. Surprisingly for an adventure thriller, Zan’s obsession with drugs and her self-loathing over addictions drives her to fight past the government agents chasing her. Addiction seems like a character dilemma that shouldn’t fit, but it actually drives Zan down to the point where she’s willing to get in the gutter with anyone for the next (no pun intended) high. Discovering military intelligence on corpse, brings subtle questions of honor and necessary evils into Zan’s depressed existence. As she has fallen from the peak of excellence, she becomes forced to face real sacrifice for country and moral compromise set against the terrifying beauty of the mountain.
And the mountain looks so pretty. All the art is so pretty. But really, though, Ibrahim Moustafa provides from gritty, classically good comic art. The dark, jagged lines set the violence tone against an exotic, dreamy landscape. Moustafa’s art adds a harsh edge to, for many, an unattainable dream – climbing the tallest mountain in the world – and adds a constant reminder of the danger involved. Slick, but still dangerous, watching the action red shift when crampon hits skull is a delight. While remaining a far cry from slasher territory, there’s plenty of gore and violence to satisfy bloodthirsty readers.
High Crimes recalls those good old action days of yore when Arnold Schwarzenegger or Sylvester Stallone or Chuck Norris would randomly be somewhere exotic blowing anything at all up, but mostly for the exotic locales and gunfights. It’s an action comic, and an adventure story, so while the character fits in nicely, the alternating viewpoint of the dead spy seems a little too constructed sometimes. And while Zan certainly creates enough problems for herself, a villain far more memorable than a sneering G-Man would have taken High Crimes to the next level.
Overall, High Crimes provides a near perfect escape for the weekend. Soak in that beautiful line work that lays out the Himalayan landscape, even as Zan struggles with personal redemption. The character driven plot might rely too heavily on goonish villainy, but the splashy actions and thrilling pace more than manage to carry it. I am reviewing the first trade paperback edition, and hoping to get the word out a little about this miniseries. I had never heard of High Crimes, which originally ran back in 2014-15, but I am happy that I ran into this brand new edition that came to press in February.
Three out of five stars
Page count: 200
Favorite quote: “All I am is a machine, putting one foot I can’t feel in front of the other.”