For the last few years, Witchblade publisher Top Cow has conducted a talent search, providing opportunities for yet-unpublished writers and artists to showcase their talents on a national level. Among the winners of the 2015 Top Cow Talent Hunt were writer Amit Chauhan and artist Eli Powell, who collaborated on an original story in keeping with the 13 Artifacts mythology of the Top Cow Universe. The 13th Artifact, now available as a one-shot from Image/Top Cow, is more of a sci-fi offering than the fantasy-horror fare one would expect from the Artifacts series.
Submitted for your approval: an astronaut’s escape capsule crashes into an unknown (and, we soon learn, highly toxic) body of water bordering a strange and seemingly abandoned city. With a rapidly diminishing oxygen supply and a dead partner, she is forced to explore her destination, and stumbles upon an alien civilization where men are enslaved. A strange holy man’s attempt to rescue her is preempted by the alien tyrants, and as the two sit and await their fate, the holy man explains what has happened to their once-thriving metropolis: a lack of sustainable fuel sources and false promises of rescue courtesy of an old monk with a catastrophic agenda. Will the unnamed “foreigner” and holy man survive, or become slaves to the Master of the Thirteen?
Though as previously stated this comic is meant to be a tie-in to Artifacts, one need not be familiar with the series or the 13 Artifacts concept to appreciate it. In true one-shot fashion, Chauhan’s story stands just fine on its own, having the classic feel of a Twilight Zone episode (writers of the recent Twilight Zone: 1959 could take a few pages out of this book, if you’ll allow me a brief moment of shade), with its themes of human oppression, displacement and pending obsolescence (with an underlying environmental message relevant to the modern age). In fact, the entire book has an old-school sci-fi comic feel; Eli Powell’s art boasts an aesthetic similar to that of pre-Code horror comics, slightly modernized by a subtle splatter effect. Some very astute color choices by Andrew Elder complete the package; with the exception of the hellish red glow of the slave quarters, almost every setting bears a sickly green glow, beautifully conveying the toxicity not only of the atmosphere, but of the rule of the Master of the Thirteen.
This is a great-looking book and an engrossing read, for fans not only of the Top Cow Universe but of any classic horror or sci-fi comic. If anyone gets that the dystopian sci-fi market is a bit saturated and that these stories seem kind of obvious in this day and age, it’s me; yet this one holds up with its classic take on the fall of modernity. Definitely deserving of that Talent Hunt win.