REVIEW: Number 13 #0

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He’s a killer robot with a heart of gold, meeting people for the first time in the outside world. No, not Johnny Five. This robot is in the shape of a young boy. No, not D.A.R.Y.L. (169 Internet Obscurity Points to anyone who gets that without google) I’m talking about Number 13, the latest weapon of mass destruction on a redemption arc. But is there enough here to differentiate him from the very crowded pack of this sub-genre? Find out after the jump.

NUMBER 13 #0
Writers: Robert Love, David Walker
Artist: Robert Love
Colors: Michelle Davies, Diego Simone
Letters: Thomas Mauer, Robert Love
Publisher: Dark Horse
Cover Price: $3.99

Previously in Number 13: Not much, being an issue zero. Unlike the recent trend, this is actually a zero issue intended to introduce readers to a brand new property. Rather like a pilot issue of a TV show, this is the creators’ chance to grab the audience’s attention and hook them for the upcoming series.

A NEW BEGINNING

This is the story of a boy (about 8-years-old) with no memory wandering through a post-apocalyptic wasteland in search of his father. He rescues a girl, Lorna (coincidentally about his age), from an ogre by busting out Machine Man-style arm cannons. In return, she gives him a name by reading the number off the side of his head: Thirteen. Lorna’s not the most imaginative girl. Anyway, she takes him home and we learn a bit about Thirteen’s dark origins and about the other killer cyborgs who are after him. There’s more than enough here to peak your interest for the issues to come.

If you’re trying to figure out if you’re going to like Number 13, there’s a point where Thirteen builds a mechanical leg for Lorna. The way I see it, all of the strengths and weaknesses of the book are in that scene, and if you can deal with that, then you’ll be fine with the book. There’s a goofy side to the storytelling, exemplified by the transformation (off-panel) of an I-beam into a fully articulated artificial limb. It doesn’t make physical sense, but lets the reader know, early on, that we’re not dealing with hard sci-fi here so don’t expect it. The dark side of the book is shown in the casualness in which the story deals with a little girl getting into a situation where she suddenly needs a new leg.

In this post-apocalyptic wasteland bad things happen, and are going to happen often, especially to kids, because kids are going to be the protagonists of this story. This skates close to the cheap-writing crutch of “put the kid in danger”, but so far I think it stays on the good side of that line. The story doesn’t wallow in the kid-danger imagery and although the story elements are often very grim, it doesn’t take the tone of torture porn. That said, my kid is not reading this book anytime soon.

As an issue zero, I’m conflicted as to whether too much or too little is revealed. An awful lot of potential secrets are revealed that could have been slowly drawn out over a longer story arc. Of course the goal of the issue is to hook readers for the long haul, and if not enough is revealed up front they might not stick around. Also, the upcoming issues are listed as a Limited Series rather than an ongoing, so the writers may not feel they have time to draw things out too far.

On the other hand, I’m wondering if we get enough insight into the character of Thirteen. So far he’s shown two emotions: bemused confusion and Luke-on-the-edge-of-the-Bespin-catwalk-style denial. Not bad by themselves, but not enough to flesh out a character. Hopefully that gets done in the next issue, but if Thirteen is meant to stay a cipher we need some other characters in there, sidekicks maybe, that the reader can better empathize with.

THE NEW BLOOD

The style of the art is Tank Girl-lite, which I don’t mean as an insult. It resembles Tank Girl, butif the art were as in your face as that, it would distract readers from the story. As it is, the slightly less-intrusive style compliments the story. It’s just as crazy and wild as the things being depicted but not any weirder. And it’s a great style for a post-apocalyptic story: fantastic but with an edge.

The execution of the art is masterful. Robert Love is creating drawings of ugly things that are beautiful to look at. They’re not realistic but perfectly capture the essences of the unrealistic things they depict. Beyond the specific drawing, there’s a huge variety in page and panel layouts that tells me that Love has gotten beyond just worrying about each thing he has to draw and is able to address the bigger picture. I’ve read too many comics recently that stuck slavishly to regular grids, so forgive me if I gush a bit about how the splash pages and action breaking across panel walls can build and release story tension. It’s what comics can do that other media can’t and I love to see it executed.

THE BOTTOM LINE: This Thirteen is Lucky

I give Number 13 #0 four stars—it has me hooked. It’s not going to be a happy story, but I will be eagerly anticipating the future issues to learn more about these characters and their world. Buy it.

Rating: ★★★★☆

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