21 Down: The Conduit

Written by Jimmy Palmiotti and Justin Gray
Penciled by Jesus Saiz
Inked by Jimmy Palmiotti
176 pages, color
Published by WildStorm/DC Comics

It’s interesting to see how comics have shifted in the past decade. Ten years ago, comics seemed to strive to emulate Chris Claremont’s X-Men, where rambling storylines threatened to stretch into eternity with no resolutions or major developments in sight, sort of like many popular sitcoms. Now, the reverse seems to be true. We’re seeing more and more comics focusing on tighter story arcs, with small “seasons” of issues where conclusions are reached even as seeds are laid for future outings, not that unlike shows on cable networks like HBO. 21 Down from WildStorm definitely went for the latter approach, and to continue the television analogy, hopefully this is the DVD release that will help ratings for its second season.

What if you had a ticking time bomb inside of you? What if you knew exactly when it was going to detonate? Preston Kills knows. At the age of thirteen an enigmatic figure known as Herod appeared before him, granted Preston the power to see someone’s final moments before death, and then stated, “You will be judged.” Everyone else that’s happened to has died horribly the day they turned twenty-one… and Preston just had his twentieth birthday. When FBI Agent Mickey Rinaldi appears in Preston’s life, though, it’s about to kick-start him into making the most of what could be the last year of his life.

Collecting the first seven issues of the twelve-issue series, 21 Down: The Conduit managed to grab me pretty good before the end of the second chapter. It was at that point that I first started to get the feeling that writers Jimmy Palmiotti and Justin Gray knew exactly where 21 Down was going, as well as its eventual goal. That’s not something necessarily easy to convey for a book whose basic premise involves something very similar to a “road trip” in search of answers. Maybe it’s Palmiotti and Gray’s deliberate time frame they put into 21 Down, with the unseen ticking clock of one year’s time, inching towards oblivion. Maybe it’s the little pieces of the puzzle that are already starting to come together by the end of this collection, even as more fragments are placed onto the board. Whatever the reason, it’s a great overall feel to the book. Palmiotti and Gray did a nice job with telling Preston Kills’s story; by giving Preston a very low-key power, it forces them to concentrate on Preston the character instead of Preston the faceless holder of neato superpowers. Watching Preston and Mickey’s interplay is a lot of fun, and it feels realistic enough that it’s almost like eavesdropping into their lives.

Jesus Saiz’s pencils were a real delight to see in the Vertigo title Midnight, Mass and that’s no exception here. Here Saiz has to ground his art even more in reality instead of fantasy, and he does a great job with the challenge. Preston looks like a real twenty year-old kid, someone who’s filled out into his body but still has a slight air of youth about him. It’s a good contrast to Mickey, who exudes the confidence and self-assuredness that Palmiotti and Gray clearly had in mind when writing her. (It also no doubt helps that co-author Palmiotti is the inker of the series, able to make sure that the art is exactly what he and Gray had in mind.) Add in some really slick-looking covers by Joe Jusko (whose “puzzle piece” cover for the trade paperback so gorgeously sums up the entire series in one fell swoop) and this is one attractive looking book.

With so many new series hitting stores at any given moment, it’s easy to overlook a gem. That was definitely the case with 21 Down, and hopefully this collection will fix that problem. 21 Down: The Conduit is seven issues of pure fun, and if there’s any justice the new 21 Down series will be a tremendous success. Hopefully we’ll see a second 21 Down collection before too long, because 21 Down is too good to be kept a secret any longer.

Purchase Links: Amazon.com

Comments are closed.