Overview

Trading Up: Box 13

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You may already know of Box 13 from your iPhone. Originally released as an iPhone exclusive from Comixology, the entire series has now been printed by Red 5 Comics for those who don’t enjoy the digital comics, or simply for those who want Box 13 on their bookshelves.

Loosely based on a radio series of the same title, Box 13 is a thrilling chase story in the style of North by Northwest and The Fugitive. Mr. Dan Holiday is a writer who has recently released a book detailing the CIA’s military experiments on people and animals. During a book signing, he finds a strange black box with a red number one emblazoned on it. After opening it, he finds himself tied to a hospital bed and declared a danger to himself and others with no idea of how he got there.

What follows is an unraveling mystery as Holiday attempts to figure out what has happened. Every step he takes, he finds another box, which again throws his entire world out of proportion. Along his trip, he is joined by Olivia, a very forward woman who is a fan of Holiday’s fiction spy novels. Together, they travel from city to city, desperately seeking answers.

Box 13 is a story for the noir reader. The art, by Steve Ellis with colors by Mike Paar, is reminiscent of Hitchcock, but the story is also infused with a blatant sexuality not present in those older stories. The muted colors, with the exception of red, give the book a distinct texture, like that of a grim Scorsese flick.

There are even inside jokes and references, such as Olivia being Holiday’s “Girl Friday” and Holiday going “Manchurian Candidate” that prove writer David Gallaher knows his source material.

As I stated above, this story is based on radio serial that began in 1947. Though not required for readers of this comic to understand, Gallaher has taken a great number of liberties with the source material. The hero from the radio show was a mystery writer who would respond to letters sent to him, in order to gain material for his books. Fans of the original Box 13 will find a few connections between the two versions, but the comic is an animal all its own, featuring a unique story that is only inspired by the radio show.

As Box 13 was originally written and published as for a digital medium, the format of the comic is rigid. There are 13 chapters, each of eight pages. Each chapter begins with an amazing frame of art from Ellis, perfectly capturing the feel of each chapter.

The pages, as well, are seen to be rigid. Most pages adhere to an eight panel grid, with some pages varying on this format by combining multiple panels for larger, cinematic shots. This isn’t a slight to the book at all. In fact, Ellis’ art fits wonderfully in small panels, and the gridded format gives the book a nostalgic feel of old-time crime comics.

The book’s feature characters, Holiday and Olivia, were made for each other. Their obviously sexual relationship is something that is most often skirted around in other stories, and the clear honesty between these two characters is immediately refreshing.

While Holiday is mysterious because of his relationship to the numbered boxes, Olivia almost steals the show. At times, she is the sultry femme fatale, but at others, she is the caring sidekick who loves the hero. Ellis draws her beautifully, and she’s the star of every panel she is in.

My only complaint about the book is its pacing. The mystery builds for eight chapters or so, and then the answers come all too quickly. While I won’t spoil the book here, I will say there are a few plot twists, but none are too spectacular or original. The entire mystery surrounding the boxes and Dan Holiday is wrapped up too suddenly, and I still feel like there are a few loose ends.

The thirteenth chapter of the book does end in a cliffhanger. I can only imagine a sequel is on its way, and I can then assume the second book will answer some questions from the first.

Readers who have already experienced Box 13 on their mobile devices may not feel the need to reread this in print, but those who have not yet experienced this neo-noir re-imagining, and enjoy a good chase every now and then, will find this collected edition worth their time.

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