A comic for your phone? Will the madness never end????
Okay, so Box 13 was originally released through ComiXology for your fancy-pants iPhone, but I'm a horrible Luddite, so I waited until it was printed. Mock all you want! It's a "reimagining" of a radio serial from back in the day when, you know, they had radio serials, but as I never heard of it and could still figure out what's going on, I assume you don't need to know much about the old show. The print version is from Red 5 Comics, and the entire rigamarole is written by David Gallaher, drawn by Steve Ellis, lettered by Scott O. Brown, and colored by Mike Paar.
Red 5 was nice enough to price it at a nice, round number - $13 even. Wouldn't it be nice if everything had zeroes in the cents column?
Box 13 is good entertainment while you're reading it, but it's, unfortunately, kind of forgettable. Gallaher tells the story of Dan Holiday, a novelist who has written a non-fiction book about mind control experiments. He's giving a lecture about his book when two things happen - he meets a hot girl (natch) named Olivia and someone named "Suzie" delivers a box with the number "1" printed on it to him. When he opens the box, he blacks out and wakes up in a hospital, strapped to a bed, while doctors do horrible things to him. A box marked "2" is delivered to him, he opens it, busts out of the hospital, and the chase is on! What are these boxes? What happened to Dan? Who is Olivia and can she help him? And, of course, what's inside Box 13?
Gallaher really doesn't do anything new with the paranoia/government conspiracy/man-on-the-run genre, which hurts the book a bit. Everything moves along as we know it's going to, and while the ending is ambiguous, it's only so because Gallaher leaves it open for a sequel - it's not ambiguous in the sense that we're not sure what happened, only that we understand there's plenty left to wrap up.
Dan and Olivia go on the lam, chased by shadowy agents, and Dan keeps opening boxes and having weird visions about his past and his present. It's too bad that there are absolutely no surprises in this comic - while you're reading it you can forgive it, but once you're done and you start to think about it, it becomes more and more stereotypical. What saves the writing, at least, is Gallaher's frenetic pace - he keeps everything moving very quickly, and the brief flashes that Dan has of what has happened and what is happening to him mix nicely into this pace. This is much more fun to read than it is to think about, and I can see why it would work well on an iPhone - it's a nice thing to zip through, but pretty disposable.
Ellis and Paar's art, however, deserve more attention. Ellis keeps up with Gallaher's pace, filling the book with creepy panels showing Dan strapped (rather excessively) to a hospital bed or the two principals outrunning masked agents. Ellis doesn't do too much with layouts, but within the rather conventional format, we get Dan's weird and off-kilter visions and odd touches, like Dan spouting what looks like a mathematical language during a particularly trying moment.
Paar's colors also add to the heightened, paranoid feel to the comic. Most of the book is in muted blues and heavy blacks, and the only time Paar breaks this pattern is for red, which erupts from the book in odd places, highlighting the tension Dan and Olivia feel. Toward the end of the book, as Dan sinks further into paranoia, the red almost threatens to overwhelm the book, and there's a nice wordless sequence where a crimson Dan attempts to connect with a cool blue (and naked) Olivia, and she brings him back to reality. Ellis and Paar make the book look far better than the rather pedestrian story suggests. The art isn't the only reason to get the comic, but it's the main one.
Box 13 is a nifty little thriller that won't stay with you very long. It's entertaining but doesn't do much beyond the expected with the ideas of mind control and government experimentation in that area. But it's obvious that Gallaher, Ellis, and Paar have talent - it'll be interesting to see if they work together again.
Tomorrow: Furries? FURRIES!