I’m back for another round. Having previously looked at first issues of Wildcats, Youngblood (15 months ago) and Cyberforce (last week), I’m ready to take on another one of Image’s super-teams. However, this time, I’m moving on to the second wave of Image comics. The first wave of Image featured the original founders, three of whom presented team titles and three of whom presented solo stars. Those comic books were so successful that a second wave of artists followed the founders, including Sam Kieth with The Maxx, Dale Keown with Pitt and J. Scott Campbell with Gen13.
Gen 13 #1 (1994)
by Brandon Choi, J. Scott Campbell and Alex Garner
The first issue of Gen 13 reads more like a solo title than a team book. The story starts with Caitlin Fairchild, a mousy bookworm in her sophomore year at Princeton. She’s overshadowed and pushed around by her sexbomb room-mate until some strange men in black suits tell her that she’s been accepted into the Gen 13 program. The next time we see Caitlin, she’s just finished her first day of orientation at the Gen 13 facility. She’s still mousy and bookish. Now, she’s also slightly dazed and confused. She meets a couple of the other initiates, goes through training with them and starts to experience severe headaches.
The big moment comes when Caitlin decides to sneak out of her room to find out what’s going on. Since she’s super-smart, she attempts to hack into the facility’s main computer. She becomes nervous about the Gen 13 when she discovers the high level of security on the system. Then, she’s startled by Eddie and Roxy who were hiding in the security room since it’s the only one without cameras. The three of them are accosted by security guards wearing SWAT gear. The confrontation triggers something in Caitlin and she transforms into a superhero with super-strength and a super-hot bod.
It’s a decent first issue. We have a point-of-view character to lead us through the action. We have enough of a mystery to keep us interested. And there’s a strong cliffhanger at the end to bring us back.
However, the devil- as they say- is in the details. And in this case, the details are somewhat problematic.
The first set of problems has to do with the introduction of the villains. We meet the villains in a long scene between Caitlin’s introduction and her orientation at the Gen13 facility. Caitlin is supposed to be the point-of-view character, but we spend more time on the villains bickering (6 pages) then we did on her introduction. The long scene introducing Bliss, Lynch and Matthew interrupts the story’s flow and our connection to our main character. It’s also bogged down in exposition, with arguments about government programs and references to a bunch of organizations we don’t know yet. Plus, it undercuts the mystery that should keep the story going. We know that Caitlin is being used, leaving us only the question of when will she find out.
The second set of problems has to do with the introduction of the other team members. Choi and Campbell do a decent job of introducing Eddie, aka Grunge, and Roxy. We get two significant scenes with both of them. First, we see Eddie running away from a nurse while wearing a hospital gown. Then, we see Roxy’s minor confrontation with the same nurse about her cigarette. Those short scenes give us a sense of their characters, which is only confirmed when we meet them again later hiding from the security camera. So far, so good. However, we also meet a fourth Gen active- Bobby. Except Bobby doesn’t do anything. He simply stands in the background and scowls. Campbell and Choi should have made a choice- either tell us something about Bobby or hold off on his introduction until the second issue.
Of course, the main selling point for Gen 13, as it was for almost all of the early Image comics, is the art. J. Scott Campbell brings a fresh manga influence. His art is very graceful and whimsical. It’s also a little over-sexed (though I didn’t mind at the time).
The final verdict is that the first first issue of Gen 13 is a decent comic that’s flawed in terms of its pacing and its introduction of its main characters.
by Brandon Choi, J. Scott Campbell and Alex Garner
After the success of the initial mini-series, Campbell, Choi and company came back with an ongoing Gen 13 series. As noted in last week’s column, Marc and Eric Silvestri had difficulty writing a second first issue for Cyberforce so soon after the first one. That’s not a problem here. Choi and Campbell do a much better job the second time around.
This time, they fully introduce five team members, a mentor and a housekeeper. Every single member of the team is given something to do and a reason to stand out. Caitlin re-establishes her nerd bona-fides by working on the computer, Bobby shows a bit of personality by playing the guitar and Sara (added to the team after the first issue) shocks the house by going skinny dipping.
Yet all of these introductions are arranged in such a way that they don’t interrupt the flow of the story or get in the way of some action. The opening scene is a delight. It initially appears to be a fight between two characters we haven’t met yet only to be revealed that it’s actually Eddie and Roxy playing a game of Mortal Kombat. That little scene gives us a little bit of action. More importantly, it gives us a great deal of characterization. We see the blossoming romance between Eddie and Roxy. Plus, we see them acting like teenagers, which is something that other books about super-teens sometimes forget. Their youthful exuberance and vitality is part of the appeal.
The main story gets underway when Roxy, aka Freefall, sneaks out at night to go to a dance club. Again, it’s a typical teenager thing to do. But Roxy isn’t a typical teenager. An older goth guy hits on her. Roxy appears to be attracted to him but a bathroom break breaks the spell. She ditches him, but that isn’t the end of her adventures. The dancehall is attacked by a band of mercenary freaks. Roxy finally makes a break for it, only to discover that an alien creature had stowed away in her coat.
The rest of the Gen 13 team noticed that Roxy had gone missing. They find her at the same time that the mercenaries find their alien, resulting in a big superhero fight. The good guys win. But they’re left with a bunch of questions. Like where did this creature come from? What did the mercenaries want with him? And, though Roxy doesn’t mention it to the others, what’s up with the goth guy?
All in all, it’s a stellar first issue. It’s a complete tale into itself, while also leaving unanswered questions for future issues. It maintains the sense of whimsy (and playful sexiness) that was a part of the first mini-series. Campbell’s art is even better. It’s still graceful, but now it’s more consistent from page to page and from character to character. Plus, it comes with thirteen different covers.
by Chris Claremont, Ale Garza and Sandra Hope
Gen 13 survived the comic book crash of 1996 and several changes in style. But, in 2002, after 77 issues, WildStorm decided to re-launch a brand new Gen 13. They handed the reins of the title to X-Men super-scribe Chris Claremont and up-and-coming artist Ale Garza. The new series was promoted as being part of a grittier, more mature WildStorm and it was grouped with other new titles such as 21 Down and the Resistance. The marketing created some cognitive dissonance, both with the earlier version of Gen 13 and with Chris Claremont’s new take.
Claremont did indeed try to bring Gen 13 into the real world. He set the first issue of the new series (which was a zero issue, rather than a number one) at the San Diego Comic Con. He introduced a New York firefighter/comic book fan father who had brought his family to the greatest comic book convention in the world. His teenaged sons were less than interested.
However, despite the cover and the marketing push, this wasn’t a gritty comic. Ale Garza’s art is sunny, like Todd Nauck on DC’s Young Justice or Teen Titans Go. That’s not a bad thing. I like Nauck. And I like Garza’s work here. But it showed that this version of Gen 13 wasn’t sure what it was supposed to be about.
The story picks up as the two sons, Ethan and Dylan, attempt to ditch their dad and the comic book convention. Outside, they see some men in black attempting to subdue a teenage girl in short shorts and a halter top. They run to intervene, and tackle the men in suits as if they were a couple of linebackers. Ethan offers a hand up to the girl. The girl takes his hand. And then she runs. At superspeed. Dragging Ethan along in her wake. When they stop, they’re in Big Sur instead of San Diego. They have a tender moment and then the girl, Maria, brings Ethan back to San Diego.
After a good-bye kiss, Ethan finds his family in their hotel room. Meanwhile, Maria finds Caitlin Fairchild. However, men in black suits have been to see Ethan’s family. They warn them that they’re in great danger. Other men in black suits attack Caitlin’s house, injuring Caitlin and apparently killing Maria. And that’s where the story ends.
As I said earlier, it’s a story that isn’t sure what it wants to be. It’s schizophrenic, at odds with itself. It’s not that a light-hearted story can’t pull the rug out from under the reader with a surprise, tragic ending. That tactic is a big reason why Invincible became such a success, turning the all-American family inside out by revealing that the father was an alien spy. And Claremont has pulled a similar twist off in othe r places, such as interrupting a Gray family reunion with a Shi’ar death squad in Uncanny X-Men. But it doesn’t work here. The change in tone, and even art style, is too abrupt. It feels as if we read two different comics- one with Ethan and Maria, and then another with Maria and Caitlin.
The result is that we don’t know what to expect next. That can be a good thing when talking about a comic with lots of plot twists, like Thunderbolts. But it’s not a good thing when talking about a comic’s tone or style.
by Gail Simone, Talent Caldwell and Matt Banning
Wildstorm introduced a fourth volume of Gen 13 in 2006 as part of its WorldStorm event. This time, however, the team would start over from scratch with what appears to be a new continuity.
Caitlin Fairchild is back to being the bookish girl with glasses who is picked on at school by the cool kids and the sporties. However, Gail Simone makes sure to introduce all five members of the team and not just one point-of-view character. Bobby is another high school student getting beat up by bullies. Eddie plays hooky while riding his skateboard. Roxy is a teenage delinquent, in trouble with the law and with a mother who seems to hate her. Sarah flirts with a coffee barista while getting away from the reservation.
Then, Simone and Cantwell play with our heads. The characters continue to go through their day-to-day lives. Except, suddenly, they’re wearing their superhero costumes. They don’t notice. Other characters in the scene don’t notice either. And we’re left to wonder if what we’re reading is real or if they’re only dreaming. Super SWAT teams break in on every unhappy family. They brutally kill foster parents and abduct the kids. The kids then wake up together in a prison cell. They don’t know each other. And we’re once again wondering what’s real and what’s not.
On the one hand, it’s a very effective comic. Simone does a masterful job of playing with our expectations. We don’t know if this is a new continuity or if these are the same old characters with their minds re-written. We don’t know if they were dreaming of normal lives or if the sudden appearances of the costumes were all in their heads. We don’t know what’s going on. And neither do the characters. It’s a step up from the very first issue of Gen 13 when the reader was immediately let in on the mystery while the characters were left to figure it out. This time, the mystery is even greater for the reader than it is for the characters.
So what’s the problem? I guess my biggest problem has to do with the opening scene, before we meet the members of Gen 13. We spend several pages watching along with several internet voyeurs watch a snuff film. It’s supposed to show us the villains. And it does contain a twist, as the supposed rape victim turns out to be a Gen active who kills her attacker. But the constant text message boxes really slow the scene down. And I felt a little dirty after reading the scene, as if I wasn’t simply watching the villains but I was participating in their villainy. It’s entirely possible that Simone was trying to make a profound point about our infatuation with violence with that scene but it left a bad feeling that the rest of the issue had a hard time overcoming.
Still, when I look at this issue again, I can’t help but be impressed by its strong structure, concise characterization and many mysteries.