Box 13, Wikipedia tells me, was an old Alan Ladd radio show about a mystery writer who’d take out an ad in his local paper looking for “adventures” (ah, the innocence of the pre-Craigslist days) to help inspire his novels. David Gallaher and Steve Ellis’s Box 13, originally released exclusively to the iPhone on the ComiXology app, shares the title and a character name or two (a writer named Dan Holiday) with the old radio show, but little else.
I don’t quite follow the basis for this “reimagining”-- it seems like just using the title wouldn’t have made anyone bat an eyelash, but using character names forces the mind to make needless comparisons.
With their Box 13, Gallaher and Ellis have made a solid action-suspense movie in comic form--following a suspense author who keeps receiving mysterious numbered boxes from a person named “Suzie” that cause him to black out and end up in strange situations--such as being strapped to a gurney, diving into the East River, and so on.
With the help of his requisite love interest, Olivia, Dan embarks on a quest to find out just what these boxes are and why they make him go nuts. Gallaher’s script is hard and fast and thick with pulp fiction conventions--complete with shooting and car crashes and a couple good twists. Clearly the creators mean for Box 13 to continue on, as it sets up a sequel, but it also resolves the immediate plot so it’s satisfying on its own in that regard.
Ellis’s artwork is the star of the show, with its often-thick lines and action that’s surprisingly kinetic for a comic mostly consisting of a rigid 2x4 grid for its page layouts (presumably a result of the panel-by-panel display on the iPhone). Still, Gallaher and Ellis find room for ambition with such constraints--including the rendering of an entire page as an overhead shot of a staircase, with each panel depicting characters in a different position on the stairs.
I don’t know how well this story worked on the iPhone, but it looks beautiful on the page. Particularly great are Ellis’s title pages that show us where chapters begin and end in the serialized version. He always incorporates the title into the art, Eisner-style, which makes for some incredibly striking pages.
However, I get a sense that Ellis is predisposed to the supernatural and fantastic, as the weird, scary sci-fi stuff in the book always feels rendered with a bit more verve than any scene with character interaction.
There’s something delightfully “comics” about adapting a forgotten radio series into a comic, so this one is worth checking out for that factor.
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