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A review a day: Box 13

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!

9 Comments

Thanks for the review and the kind words.

This seems like a pretty fair review, except for two things:

- Ellis’ layouts are pretty conventional, almost certainly because the story was written/drawn specifically with the iPhone/ComiXology app in mind. Of the comics I’ve read on the iPhone (few, mostly because of the difficulty of following a layout on a small rectangle), Box 13 was the easiest to read because the panels (I’m assuming) were intended to mostly match the aspect ratio of the phone display.

- Personally, this story is anything BUT forgettable. I first started reading it as “issue” #4 was released, and as soon as I heard it was going to be a TPB I had my LCS order it for me (and I even had some fun comparing the digital and print versions, because there are some differences). It’s entirely possible that I’m a simple minded idiot, but I keep coming back to it with questions. Not about the ending or what’s next, but about the journey.

I keep trying to figure out what isn’t “in” the story. Some boxes were clearly intended to be opened at certain times, to get Dan to do specific things. Others were opened at random points in time (at least it seems that way), so what do they impart? Why doesn’t it matter that Dan never saw the inside of Box 3 (other than maybe being the reason for the grey shock of hair over his forehead)? How did things get so precise to get Dan to the mall in the specific spot to see the “lid” to Box 11? Why did “Box” 11 work w/o being opened? Why did Olivia’s trick with Box 12 work (and how/why did it get Dan to snap out of his trance? How much does Olivia know that she hasn’t told Dan or has lied about?

It’s not a perfect book (obviously. What is?). I had trouble trying to figure out what was the present and what was flashback. If Dan’s father is in the flashback(s) with the child, he looks too much like Dan to tell them apart. If that was planned, it was frustrating to me.

Still, I really enjoyed it. The idea of giving it away for free digitally was the reason I bought it (having enjoyed it when it was over, I wanted to buy the TPB if only to get some kind of reward to the creators. I tend to be averse to getting just a first issue free and relying on just that to buy more (issues or a whole series/trade).

David: Thanks for reading!

Dann: Sure, I had plenty of questions, too. For me, there’s a difference between having questions and liking the book enough to want the answers. It seems like those ambiguities were thrown in without really having anything behind them, so they’re just empty mysteries. If the book was longer or the creators were going to continue the story, it’s possible they would address them. But they felt a bit like red herrings to me.

That said, I do want to check out High Moon now, even though I’m not a big werewolf fan. So that’s something!

*nod* I do see your point. I guess I just wanted to say that I liked it enough to want the answers. Or at least some indication that some of those answers are in the remaining issues of The Pandora Process.

I did also say that it’s possible I’m a simple minded idiot, though, just to cover all the bases. :)

BOX 13 was once a Radio Show with Alan Ladd playing Dan Holiday.

You can download/stream the radio shows at this link.
(Thanks for alerting me/us to that info Ponset!)

[...] A review a day: Box 13 | Comics Should Be Good! @ Comic Book Resources (tags: review comic box13) [...]

>>If the book was longer or the creators were going to continue the story, it’s possible they would address them.>>

Just for clarity’s sake there is a sequel that has been released through the Comics App on comixology. And we’ve been addressing answers along the way.

Thanks, David. I’ll be sure to look for it if and when it gets printed!

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