Review by Ian Keogh
Preston Kills isn’t a man happy with his lot. There’s that name for a start, and his over-achieving police detective brother, and his lifelong lack of confidence, and those damn super powers haven’t helped. Yeah, Preston has them, but as far as he’s concerned he drew the shortest straw there is. Coming into contact with dead people’s skin enables him to tap into some reservoir of residual surviving memory to see how they died. It’s as squirm inducing as it sounds.
It turns out he’s not the only person with odd powers, and there appears to be a link. This is being investigated by Mickey Rinaldi, representing herself as an FBI agent, tracking people with super powers who contact a website she operates. She’s aware that there’s another level to the occurrences, and drags Preston along for the ride.
When 21 Down was published in 2003 there was no great market for crime thrillers, making it very much a fish out of water. Jimmy Palmiotti was primarily known as an inker, and Justin Gray was virtually unknown. Since then they’ve become an accomplished scripting team, so it’s odd that they’ve never returned to 21 Down. The genre has boomed, the concept is good, and the characters work. They’re unfurled slowly over the book, the layers scraped back, and there’s a killer final page setting up a sequel.
Issues of trust and power, and the abuse of both gradually seep into the foreground as Preston and his brother work on following a trail of corpses, and despite the involvement of super powers this is very much a crime thriller. The powers are more window dressing, although integral to the plot. Not everything works, although in some cases this is because a sequel appears to have been planned, yet all these years later a couple of sub-plots have been left hanging.
There are pros and cons to the pages illustrated by Jesus Saiz. His designs are fine, his pacing instinctive, and he’s good with naturalistic figurework. His emotional characterisation, though, is diminished by a tendency to supply blank expressions and he falls down when depicting age. It’s highlighted in the dialogue that Preston is youthful and Mickey a woman with a fair working life behind her, yet you’d not know this was the case without the script.
There’s a lot to enjoy in 21 Down, and it deserves better than sinking into obscurity.