Unraveling the Mystery in “The 13th Artifact” (Review)
Written by: Amit Chauhan
Art by: Eli Powell
Color by: Andrew Elder
Lettering by: Troy Peteri
Cover by: Linda Sejic
“Cities are built by the dreams of man and fall due to the fears of a populace.”
Beating over 580 entries, Amit Chauhan and Eli Powell are the 2015 Talent Hunt winners for their comic The 13th Artifact. The goal of the Talent Hunt competition is to find unpublished amateur comic book writers and artists and give them a chance to showcase their work to a larger audience. The winning comic is also published in print. In its fourth year, the Talent Hunt competition found something remarkably imaginative in The 13th Artifact, and the only downside is that it’s a one-shot comic. At the end, Chauhan has the reader yearning to know more about the enticing world he and Powell have depicted for us.
The Thirteen Artifacts are thirteen ancient, mystical items or entities that guide the fate of the universe. Bringing them all together is thought to bring death and destruction to mankind. Playing off the Top Cow series Artifacts, Chauhan offers readers his interpretation of the mysterious, unknown thirteenth artifact and its bearer. After an astronaut crash-lands on a strange planet, she soon discovers that the air and water are toxic and ventures inland. What she comes across is straight out of a nightmare: an army of devils patrolling the streets and policing enslaved people. Powell’s depiction of the overrun, smoky, dark, and dingy streets are creepy and disturbing—everything you need to equate the sense of fear that the main character is experiencing. The image of the skull—a symbol of the thirteenth artifacts—plastered in what looks like a town square immediately sets up the totalitarian, Big Brother–esque world the astronaut is now in. Andrew Elder’s muted coloring is spot-on throughout, adding the perfect balance to each scene. His use of reds and oranges help to symbolize the poisonous atmosphere the inhabitants are experiencing, reminding me a bit of Total Recall. Troy Peteri’s lettering (of the astronaut’s internal commentary, the devils’ dialogue, and so on) really ties all the elements together nicely.
Chauhan’s writing is impressive. He has clearly meticulously chosen each name and detail. For example, one of the devils’ leaders, Astaroth, who resembles Red Skull (minus the red skin), finds the astronaut and takes her to the Master of the Thirteen. In demonology, Astaroth is thought to be the Great Duke of Hell, who forms an evil trio with Beelzebub and Lucifer. The first few lines of his dialogue are questions: “From who?” (when an old, holy man tells the astronaut to run) and “Can it be? A foreigner? Where did you find this exotic treasure, holy man?” It makes sense for Astaroth, the demon prince of accusers and inquisitors, to be incredibly suspicious and interrogative. Also, in a glimpse of the astronaut’s origin, we see her holding a folder that reads Project Lorentzian Dimension Jump Drive. Lorentzian metrics, named after Nobel Prize–winning theoretical physicist Hendrik Antoon Lorentz, are used to model spacetime into four dimensions. Spacetime weaves space and time into a single continuum. Lorentz’s work paved the way for great theories in quantum physics, even influencing Albert Einstein’s special relativity theory. Seeing the folder, and thinking about manipulating the spacetime continuum, makes me think The 13th Artifact is pulling a Planet of the Apes on us: she was on Earth all along! The only change I would make to the writing is the death of her teammate, Akio, in the first couple of pages. I think having her man a solo mission would’ve worked a bit better. Having a teammate seems like an unnecessary device to move the plot forward. However, Chauhan’s thoughtfulness shows on each page of the comic, and it definitely makes for a compelling read.
To be honest, Linda Sejic’s cover is what drew me to this comic, being initially oblivious to the Talent Hunt competition and the thirteen artifacts. The appealing linework—with its thick, broad brushstrokes—make for a smooth, almost milky finish. The look on the astronaut’s face is mix of worry, surprise, and curiosity. From the reflection in her helmet, we can see she is looking upon a cityscape, which is a nice touch on Sejic’s part. Her use of reds and oranges perfectly parallels Elder’s color palette in the interior, setting up the reader’s expectation at the onset. We know from the cover she’s in for a dangerous ride.
Amit Chauhan and Eli Powell’s The 13th Artifact is creative and captivating. They truly deserve to be the 2015 Talent Hunt winners. I only wish we could get another issue! As they start their professional careers in the comic book field, I can’t wait to see what they have in store for us. I’ll definitely keep an eye out for them in the future.