Everybody enjoys a mysterious box from time to time, and in Box 13, writer David Gallaher and artist Steve Ellis offer the reader thirteen of them. A seemingly never-ending rush of action which grows more and more ludicrous as it goes on; Box 13 tells the story of Dan Holiday, an author-slash-biologist who opens a box addressed to him and wakes up in a mental asylum. He opens up a second box shortly afterwards, and bursts free, seemingly jacked-up on some kind of adrenaline. It is, you may have gathered, utter madness.
Published originally on Comixology, Gallaher and Ellis released the story as a series of digital vignettes, with a new one every so often to continue the narrative. That means that the chapter breaks are quite short, and each section features some kind of flash-bang hook to keep you reading. The short chapters also serves to heighten the pace of the story, similar to something like a Dan Brown novel –the reader whizzes from one sequence to another so quickly that it’s only when they stop and pause that they can start to actually process everything that’s happened.
And a lot of things happen here.
As the story goes on, Dan meets Olivia, who tags along with him as a sarcastic foil and love interest, in the very best Bond fashion. Ellis actually draws the two as very similar to Pierce Brosnan and Izabella Scorupco from Goldeneye (the best-ever Bond film), which makes the comparison between Box 13 and the Bond series even more noticeable. The fast-paced narrative and sharp, quippy dialogue outpace Bond, though, with Gallaher’s knack for campy one-liners giving the series a unique tone. Self-aware but completely self-serious, the story does sometimes trip over itself in terms of story – things move so quickly that some of the later reveals are hard to keep up with. The overshadowing conspiracy element of the story also suffers a little, from not being as interesting as Dan’s race for the other boxes. The touches of science noir add a fun edge to the story, but it’s still a relief that Gallaher chooses to focus more on the chase than the origin.
Of course, when you have Steve Ellis on hand as artist, it’s hardly a tough choice to make. Ellis draws some of the most dynamic action sequences in comics, throwing the characters into fistfights and gun battles with relentless glee and stylish abandon. His designs for the main cast are pulpy but likeable, with Olivia in particular standing out as different from the average femme fatale. There is great fun to be had from even the barest of conversation scenes, as Ellis chooses the right frame for the sequence every single time. And the artwork which breaks up each chapter, acting as mini-covers for the series, as some of the best I’ve seen. The actual book cover is just the tip of the icing here.
The book ends with a hook for a sequel, which will hopefully materialise at some point in the future. While Box 13 is a fun, madcap story, it also features a few straggly plot points and a weak ending. The conspiracy is not as interesting as watching Ellis scrap the two leads about, and being surprised by faintly ridiculous plot twists every few pages is the main joy of the book. I mean… at one point Dan ends up smashed out of his mind on experimental science technology, standing on top of a clock-tower, snarling and literally spitting equations out his mouth.