Written by Christopher Sebela
Art by Ibrahim Moustafa
I really didn't know what to expect when I started reading High Crimes, the Dark Horse edition of which collects the original online Monkeybrain series by Christopher Sebela and Ibrahim Moustafa. My only other exposure to Sebela's work wasn't all that memorable (Welcome Back? something like that), and I had not heard a whole lot about this book going in.
Well, that's hard to understand, because this was one of the best-written, most suspenseful comics I've read in a long time. The story is centred around Zan, a former Olympic snowboarder who basically chose to throw her life away, and is now working with a shady associate, Haskell, in the Himalayas, where they recover and repatriate mountain climbers' bodies for money. When not working at this (or often while), Zan keeps a pretty steady stream of drugs and alcohol, not to mention self-loathing, flowing into her body.
Haskell returns from a trip up Mount Everest with the severed hand (it's too hard to bring the bodies down on spec) of a man Sullivan Mars, who died right beneath the summit of that storied mountain. When his prints are run, it alerts a secretive US agency, and the plot of the book gets underway. Zan discovers his journal and some hidden microfilm in Haskell's things, and takes it with her.
When this agency arrives, they force Haskell to take them up the mountain to find the body, while Zan decides that she needs to rescue her friend.
From there, Sebela and Moustafa give us a dense and layered story that explores Zan's character deeply, while making sure that tons of cautious readers will never attempt an expedition up the mountain. They do an amazing job of capturing the majesty of the setting, and contrasting it with the constraints and difficulties of making a planned climb, let alone the drug-fuelled desperate attempt initiated by Zan. There is a depth of research on display here that really impressed me, and the images of frozen corpses littering the trail to the summit will stick with me.
I really enjoyed this book, and wish that it had a higher profile. It's fitting that the foreword to the book is written by Greg Rucka, because the writing here frequently reminded me of his style and intelligence. I cannot recommend this book enough.