Right Artist, Wrong Genre, and "Gen13" Brings the Rain(maker)




There are two major parts of this issue to talk about. First, it's a line-wide crossover issue. I think they may have set a land speed record here for the quickness of a new series getting hijacked by a crossover event (this is chapter 4 of "WildStorm Rising"). On the bright side, it's fairly tangential to the main crossover story. The big bad of that event sends another scary looking guy over to take out John Lynch and the kids. The kids win. That's the gist of it.

The story is paper thin, but it's not all together a waste of an issue, nor is it one of those crossover stories where all the other characters in the universe take over, relegating the titular characters to cameo appearances. Most of the issue is composed of the Gen13 kids being in southern California, at the skate park and at the pool comparing bathing suits.

Teenagers do that kind of thing. Summer pool parties (in geographically sane regions) are normal. Outdoor activities -- especially in a coastal town like La Jolla -- might consist of skate parks or surfing or just hanging out at the beach. It's so easy to make fun of this stuff, but the creators of the series were barely out of their teenage years themselves when they were making this book. They knew what happened, and a big part of the Gen13 mandate was to show "youth culture." Here it is.

Plus, it sells well to hormonal teenage boys who read comics to have lots of powerful women in bikinis fighting it out, even if it's so obviously a thing that the villain makes a crack about it in the story.

But that's the thing with "Gen13": It's not meant to be a plot-driven book, but more a character-driven one. They'll get involved in crazy circumstances only because it will theoretically give the characters a chance to be themselves and show us who they are.

The initial miniseries was very plot-driven just to kick things off and establish their universe. The on-going series seems ready to run with the kids first, and the villains second. Even when the villains come in, it's with a lighter tone. They're practically parodies of other characters set up just to have an excuse for action in the issue and maybe a couple good punchlines. They don't even have to be that dangerous.

The greatest weakness of the book, thus far, is that the characters haven't acted too strongly in their character yet. There's a lot of talk and some painful dialogue, but seeing is believing. Defining character through their actions is the best way to go, and Gen13 has barely gotten there yet.

Oh, remember how I said the villains didn't need to be strong? The villain in this issue is defeated when Bobby rocks his guitar at high volume to disrupt his armor.

Remember, folks, comic book superheroes are male power fantasies. On the other hand, Brandon Choi and J. Scott Campbell beat "Scott Pilgrim" to this kind of plot point by almost a decade.

Remember when I said there were two major things to talk about? Here comes the second:

Most memorably, this is the issue where Rainmaker announced her sexuality. While rubbing sunscreen onto Freefall's thonged bottom and ogling Caitlin in her white bikini (of course), she mentions how she can understand Grunge's attraction to Caitlin, causing this enlightened reaction from Freefall:

20 years makes a big difference, doesn't it?

The letters column in issue #3 was devoted to the scene, beginning with a lengthy letter signed by the whole creative team and Jim Lee.

"We tried to represent that more common viewpoint in Freefall's reaction," they wrote. I can see that. Her reaction is in character, as much as we knew of it at this point.

But the way the revelation is revealed and then so quickly dropped makes that next panel above look worse. Rainmaker is surprised that her teammates didn't know this about her. We haven't seen enough of them yet to know whether her teammates are clueless or she's too presumptuous. And so she unwittingly comes out to her teammate while coming onto her and lusting after another. It's a double dose of ham-fisted plotting. If Brandon Choi and J. Scott Campbell had started hinting at this for a few issues before revealing it, it -- well, given the time, it likely still wouldn't have been well-received, but it would have felt more natural and less out of left field.

It does become a small plot point later on when Rainmaker touches Freefall during the big fight and it distracts Freefall more than it otherwise might have, giving the villain the upper hand.

So while the revelation of the issue came out of the blue and without any foreshadowing or lead up, there is immediate fall out of a sort.

Their letter ends, "So if you feel that you can not stomach finding out more about some of your favorite characters: fine, stop buying the comic and stick to all those safe books that clutter the shelves. We're striving to produce a different kind of comic; one that deals with the kids' emerging identities as well as their powers without getting preachy or didactic."

Granted, you can't really imagine such a scene happening in an X-book at the time, but the letter does end on a slightly self-congratulatory note there. It fits within the Image ethos at the time, that the company was formed to allow the creators to make books that The Big Two wouldn't. Even when they're mostly superheroic, they all have elements that wouldn't have past the editorial dictates of Marvel or DC. This might just have been "Gen13's." Well, this and all the double entendres the series is laced with.

Times have changed dramatically in the last 20 years since this book was published. What seems clunky and needlessly obtuse, or even shocking, at the time feels commonplace and cliched today. Progress marches on.

The love triangles are the real story of the issue, though they're talking points and nothing really comes of them. Freefall is jealous of Fairchild, who Grunge has his eye on. Burnout has his eye on Rainmaker, who thinks Caitlin is a catch even though she doesn't seem to have any serious interest in her. I hope these set-ups pay off as the issues go on, and it's not just idle chatter in lieu of actions that show actual story.

Campbell's art looks different here. I can't tell if he's experimenting with his style in this issue, or if Alex Garner's inks are different. Things feel a little less cartoony, with less splashy crosshatching and noodling. There's more connected, flowing lines and solid black areas. It feels like more of his restrained studiomates' art styles than his own, though certain tendencies are still definitely there.

Campbell was a new artist, though. He was still gathering influences and experimenting (consciously or not) with his style. I can very easily picture him trying out different things from issue to issue to see how they feel, then returning to more of his own style with a little of that experiment woven back in, whether it be with a specific weight of line or an anatomical realization for his drawings. It's just the way you learn, and Campbell was learning in public on a pretty high profile work.

Two last visual notes about this issue. First, the major bad guy for this crossover was named -- hold onto your seats -- "Defile."

Yup, that looks like a "Defile."

Finally, the issue also comes with one of the best Editor's Notes gags of the time period:

Coming up next: A new multi-issue story arc, complete with back-up stories that are sure to annoy fans because they're not drawn by Campbell, even after he still draws 21 pages in an issue!

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