On his last day, disgruntled office worker Maxwell releases an audio virus through his office building’s security system, turning the corporate drones into a pack of homicidal maniacs who then explode into an orgy of slavering violence. It’s exactly the kind of scenario where a decisive figure must take charge to save as many people as possible and overcome the villainy. Unfortunately, what it has is Frankie, a dim-witted window cleaner, who far from being a reluctant hero barely has the survival sense to make it through the day.
Levels is a straightforward idea, but one that swiftly establishes itself with visceral intensity. Like a bastard hybrid of 28 Days Later and Die Hard, the comic deftly balances its horror and action aspects, each complementing the other in a fusion of madness and death. As well as the gore-strewn brutality, the comic is filled with just as much dark humour, including a demented bit of wordplay that few people other than Scottish football fans will get. Additionally, caption boxes periodically punctuate the story, often snarkily relaying embarrassing details of Frankie’s life or pointing out the shortcomings of his decisions in the face of the escalating crisis, as though the comic itself actively resents that a gormless idiot is all it has available as a viewpoint character.
The detail of the art gives a neat balance between the uniform monotony of the office building and the frenetic chaos tearing apart every inch of its interior. The margins are decorated with coloured blood splatters that get heavier as the comic progresses depending on how much madness and carnage is currently being depicted, often spilling over the edges of the panels and complementing the black blood of the main artwork.
Lettering is often one of the unsung duties of comics production, but here it adds an extra dimension to the artwork, with the ravings of the infected written in jagged letters tinted with crimson, portraying the hoarse scratching of voices from throats scraped raw with screaming rage.
This first issue of Levels is a simple opening, but one that promises far greater development to come, as well as answers to questions yet to be asked.
LEVELS #1 / AUTHOR: RICHARD ALLAN, GREG LIDDLE / ARTIST: KARL ENGRACIA, NATHAN ALLISON / PUBLISHER: DESERT WHALE COMICS / RELEASE DATE: OUT NOW