Thursday, 15 September 2016

AFB's Top 10 Gen 13 Stories!*

I’ve had this half-finished since just after I posted up that Gen 13 Trading Card Theatre post but my attention span is sometimes short.

Gen 13 was Jim Lee’s surprise success for his Image Comics imprint Wildstorm Entertainment. Originally it was advertised as Gen X but Marvel got involved, this was around the time Marvel was going to debut their own Generation X so that could have been a factor. After the team debuted in the much maligned Deathmate the series launched with a mini-series drawn by Wildstorm’s new sensation J. Scott Campbell (Danger Girl) and then had its own ongoing shortly thereafter, again drawn by Campbell until he went off to form another Image Comics imprint – Cliffhanger. Eventually the book was relaunched and all but one of the team members was killed (spoilers) to make way for Chris Claremont to write the third volume, this wasn’t a very well received idea. Gen13 had A LOT of mini-series and 1-shots as well as a second ongoing called Gen 13: Bootleg which did the same job as the mini’s and specials and allowed other creators to work on the characters – and apparently they were queuing up to do so.

So who are Gen 13? Well they’re a group of Gen-Active teens who were rescued from a secret government operation called I.O. by a former I.O. employee and fellow Gen-Active John Lynch. Gen-Actives are just Wildstorm’s version of Marvel’s Mutants. After escaping and hiding out in L.A. Jolla (where the company that published them also just so happened to be' based) they get themselves a dimension hopping teleporting green rat-monkey called Queelocke who is so adorable, and Anna, a robot housekeeper who kicks so much arse. The team soon learn that most of them are the decedents of Team 7, a government team that linked the Wildstorm universe and included Lynch, Grifter, Backlash and Deathblow. The rescued kids are: Fairchild, a dorky redhead who became a super strong and indestructible amazon; Freefall – Caitlin’s spunky and rebellious half-sister (as it turns out) who control’s gravity and is Queelocke’s ‘owner’; her boyfriend Grunge who’s a well-meaning idiot who can take on the properties of whatever material he touches (rock, sand, water, bubblegum, lint onetime if I recall); Native American lesbian Rainmaker who’s very pro-social justice and is just Storm in terms of powers and Burnout, Lynch’s son who’s a guitarist with a crush on Rainmaker and is just the Human Torch in terms of powers. Fairchild was kind-of the main character, at one point Wildstorm bragged that more dorm rooms had their life-size Fairchild poster on their doors than Pamela Anderson’s; I doubt this is true but I kind of hope it was.
Anyway I’ve been fond of Gen13 since I was about 13 so I’ve decided to tell you my top 10 Gen 13 stories in the hope that you will read at least one and like it more than you thought you would, so are you sitting comfortably? Then I’ll begin:

10. Trance
Gen 13 Volume 2 issues 8-9
Brandon Choi, J. Scott Campbell, Humberto Ramos, Alex Garner
Wha’appen? Freefall’s nightmares turn out to be reality as a group of superpowered carnies lead by the mind-controlling Trance take control of Fairchild and pick them off one by one, luckily they have back-up… their pet alien Queelocke and their housekeeper Anna?  
Why? This is my ‘personal’ pick, unbiased I don’t doubt that there are better stories but I personally like this story and want it on the list, I’ve been considerate and put it at number 10 because I am a saint. It has its flaws - the story swaps from the sleek, visually pleasing Campbell to the chunky, awkward Ramos (who has some… difficulties with faces) and there’s a couple of groan worthy lines (but then it IS a comic featuring Grunge) buuut it’s set in a creepy carnival, it does non-linear storytelling very well, it does the ‘characters picked off by creepy assailants’ trope very well , the villains are genuinely creepy and well designed (well I think so, but then I have some very... particular aesthetic preferences sometimes, aesthetic preferences informed by a section of record collection that I’m sure HMV would call ‘Goth/Metal’) and it has a very fun resolution with the true star of this series – Anna. Honestly the worst thing about this story (other than some of Humberto Ramos’ faces) is that it leads directly into Fire From Heaven.

9. Queelocke’s Really Big New York Adventure
Gen 13/Fantastic Four
Kevin Maguire, Karl Story
Wha’appen? Queelocke is growing larger and becoming more savage, this naturally leads to a cross-over with the Fantastic Four and a cameo by Spider-Man because the Gen13 kids are in New York and when you’re got giant monsters in New York, who you gonna call but the Fantastic Four?
Why? This is just great fun from start to finish, I can’t say I’ve ever read something else written by Kevin Maguire but he brings the feeling and sensibilities of Giffen & DeMattis’ Justice League International run (which makes sense, Maguire drew some of that run) which is a wonderful fit for the banter loving Genners and the bickering Fantastic Four and for that matter a scene with Spider-Man and the Human Torch playing off of each other. His art is also gorgeous throughout, I tend to think most people focus on Maguire’s talent for facial expressions but the man’s just great all-around, women, men, monsters, layouts, the man can do it and his giant Queelocke is brilliant (helped by Maguire’s talent for drawing hair) and much like his writing style (well, the writing style of two men he used to work with) his art is perfect for Gen13, with three very sexy girls and two very goofy guys and in this case a big hairy  monster. It’s not deep and insightful but I thoroughly recommend this whole heartedly.

8. Death and Broken Promises
Gen 13 Volume 2 issues 33-41
John Arcudi, Gary Frank, Jeffery Moy plus inkers
Wha’appen? Ivanna and I.O. are coming for Gen-Actives and Gen13 with a very BIG new member, The Coda Warriors are also coming for Gen13 and this really isn’t a good time: Freefall has learnt that Alex Child is her father (making her half-sisters with Fairchild) at the same time Lynch has left Alex, his old teammate in Team 7, in charge of the team. There’s also a giant baby in one issue.
Why? Encompassing pretty much all of the Arcudi/Frank run on the book, Death and Broken Promises is technically only issues 39-41 but you really do need to read all the issues preceding it. I’m not sure how I feel about the Arcudi/Frank run in terms of Gen 13 Volume 2 as a whole, it was a very big departure tone wise, becoming very serious after the book had spent the first 20-something issues being light-hearted but occasionally heart-warming, and Frank’s art was a big jump from the likes of J. Scott Campbell and Al Rio, especially from Campbell who draws such pretty faces. BUT regardless this is a good story with a good steady escalation and then a big, satisfying pay off and one of my favourite death and funeral issues (yes I have these), some of the character stuff is lovely and having a chunk of the story happening while the Gen13 are oblivious lets us just hang out with the characters and spend some time with them as they re-bond after the I Am Your Father revelations early on, things aren’t so light-hearted but they are occasionally heart-warming, or heart wrenching.

7. A-B-C
Gen 13 issues 13A, 13B and 13C
Brandon Choi, J. Scott Campbell, Jim Lee plus inkers
Wha’appen? After selling his soul for a chromium cover comic book (really), Grunge passes out at the mall and wakes up in the Land of Sequential Art (really) where he goes on a Wizard of Oz like journey to find the Wizard of S.A. and face the Frenzy Beast via meeting every guest star Jim Lee could get.
Note: this was an ‘anniversary’ celebration, a book with 13 in its title reaching its 13th issue, so they split the 13th issue into three smaller issues. 
Why? What happens when you try to be fun AND get your meta on and make comments about the comic book industry? You get this. Choi does a good job of taking the Wizard of Oz/Alice in Wonderland style of ‘moving from meeting to another’ which gives the book the feeling that it needed (and that Choi was going for) and J. Scott Campbell shows how good an artist he is by being able to draw dozens of characters he’s never drawn before (professionally) perfectly but it’s odd and sometimes a little hypocritical with its comments, especially in hindsight: there’s a comment about how the TMNT were turned into a merchandising machine when Gen13 would be licenced for cartoons and tie-in toys not much later; there’s a jab at Rob Liefeld (who had jumped before he was pushed because he was embezzling money from Image) and Marc Silvestri (who was then split from Image due to grievances with Rob Liefeld) when today these two are still with Image and Jim lee and Wildstorm are now owned by DC Comics, oh and a jab at ‘Bad Girl’ comics (always deserved) via a parody of Lady Death in a comic book that would later be drawn by Al Rio and Ed Benes, who would’ve sexualized Queelocke if they’d been able to get away with it. But the comments, including the outdated ones, actually help make the book feel more like the Alice or Oz books. What is the overall message? Well I think the Frenzy Beast is supposed to represent the vicious circle that is the exploitative relationship between fans and mainstream comic books – that so long as fans lap up the bullshit they’re served the companies serving them will continue to serve them it, as long as they remain blind zombies, as long as they buy into the chromium cover-like ploys, Marvel, DC (and even Image) will continue to produce them. I agree with a lot of what’s being said and the meta stuff improves the story for me but you can of course ignore some of this and just read it as a fun crossover extravaganza – and it is an extravaganza, characters from over a dozen different owners from big companies like Archie and Marvel Comics to self-publishers like Larry Marder and Terry Moore (both of these cameos are delights by the way, watch Grunge try to eat the stars of Beanworld) it’s very impressive and great to see if you’re a fan of non-Marvel & DC books (like I am). It’s hard to ignore some of the messages but it’s not hard to enjoy the book regardless of them is what I’m getting at, I think.

6. Superman/Gen 13
Superman/Gen 13 issues 1-3
Adam Hughes, Lee Bermejo, John Nyberg
Wha’appen? While visiting Metropolis (because Fairchild is a Superman fan) Fairchild gets amnesia and thinks she’s Supergirl, so goes around town ‘helping’. The rest of the Gen13 kids enlist Daily Planet reporters Lois Lane and Clark Kent to help find her and in the process find out that the old fuddy duddy Superman is pretty damn cool. Meanwhile the real Supergirl has found to someone’s impersonating her – she’s not very happy about it.    
Why? Adam Hughes – fittingly given his love of cheesecake – is no less subtle than Brandom Choi at getting his meta on and over, but unlike Choi his message is pretty timeless, which is also fitting, because the message is simple: Superman – and by extension classic superheroes – have their own merits and are just as good as edgy shades of grey modern heroes like Gen13’s peers at Image were then and like Marvel and DC spend years turning their characters into of late – TO FUCKING RIGHT! I used caps and everything, that’s how much I agree with that. I generally don’t like amnesia story-lines so it must say something for the quality of this one that I enjoy it so much - the clichés are done well and with affection, Hughes is a fun writer, he should do it more often, oh wait he is, on a regular basis, on Betty & Veronica, and he’s doing the art too, and it’s great. Yeah Hughes doesn’t do the art on this, Bermejo does, Bermejo is a fucking great artist though, halfway between realistic and cartoony and I am in love with his Freefall; she looks so cool (actually she looks like Jay from Jay & Miles X-Plain the X-Men which is probably why I like it). Yes, a good fun arc with a good message and some great scenes to get that message across (Burnout and Superman in the burning building is great, it may actually be on my list of favourite Superman moments), it’s A-B-C done better with less cameos and A-B-C was already good so I guess you can draw your own conclusions.

5. A Savage Breast
Gen 13 Volume 2 issues 43-44
Adam Warren, Lee Bermejo, John Nyberg
Wha’apppen? Fairchild’s annoyance over the new hit ‘Happy2BHappy’ by Candy Bentar drives her to uncover that Bentar is in fact a self-aware living musical meme, and heads off to confront her – only she has ensnared Mr Majestic in her meme, a WildC.A.T. who’s roughly the same power level as Superman.
Why? Oh look, Lee Bermejo’s back, that’s cos he’s awesome, and Adam Warren’ll be back too, because he’s awesome, but creator-wise this feels like a very Warren Ellis story, a mad plot with all these complicated high concept bullshit like ‘Localized Node of Sentience for a Musically-Encoded Memetic Entity’ which is what Bentar says she is, but it’s really just science sounding crap to make ‘she’s a living attack song’ sound more legitimate, it works. While, as someone who is generally irritated by popular music, have always associated with the story I returned to it when ‘Happy’ by Pharrell Williams was everywhere and this story was being mimicked in real life scarily closely (well I never fought a Superman expy only to find out that Williams was a living meme and I actually had a lot in common with him). I fucking hate that song (how the hell does anyone know what a room without a roof feels like for as start) I’m a fucking Depressive, I can’t just be happy and know full well that being happy does not solve everything and I don’t want some prick who apparently can just be happy and thinks that ‘happiness is the truth’ hammered into my head every time I use an electrical device, I swear my fucking toaster played that song. Happiness is not the truth, it’s an all too fleeting state of mind that is can be good for you but I, and many others, have great difficult achieving due to medical complaint or just because of something that’s going on in our lives and your song makes me feel bad about that and pressured to be happy and it overlooks the importance of being sad and the benefits of crying - that’s the fucking truth you falsetto prick. What was I going on about? Oh yeah this is a good comic book story, it’s very well balanced, action, comedy, drama, character moments and there’s enough of that action thing so that the final confrontation with Bentar not being a fight to the death doesn’t feel unsatisfying.   

4. Lost in Paradise
Gen 13 Volume 2 issues 3-5
Brandon Choi, J. Scott Campbell, Alex Garner
Wha’appen? While trying to find her father Alex, Fairchild ends up stranding the whole team on or around the island of the Coda Warriors (Zealot’s race of Wonder Woman knock-offs). Fairchild turns in Sheena, Queen of the Jungle, Grunge and Rainmaker are caught by the Coda and Freefall and Burnout end up with pirates.
Why? This is the pinnacle of J. Scott Campbell’s time on the series, it’s sexy, it’s fun, it’s occasionally sweet, there’s at least one moment that Tumblr wouldn’t approve of (not unreasonably, though it is in character for Grunge to feel an overweight older woman, he is kind of presented as being right to do so, even if it is a comical moment) Campbell’s art is superb and Joe Chido’s colours are great fit for the art, environment and mood. Even though it was comparatively short, less than 20 issues not including the mini-series it’s this era – I tend to think of this era of the book, with Campbell on art and Choi on writing that I think of as ‘the proper Gen13’, I wish I didn’t think like that about things. Anyway this just a fun romp, I’ve used the word fun a lot this post but it keeps being the word that best sums up the Gen 13, it’s not for deep thinking, it’s rarely dark and broody though it has darker and emotional moments, it’s just an enjoyable way to spend some time – it’s fun.    

3. Linquist’s Fault
Gen 13: Bootleg 1-2
Mark Farmer, Alan Davies
Wha’appen? Karl Linquist, an old friend of Lynch, brings Gen 13 in to retrieve his own superteam, Team Alpha, from what he calls ‘Linquist’s Fault’ which I basically an interdimensional portal for an alien invasion (oops). However once in the fault they wake up in strange worlds that seem to reflect their greatest desire- Cat is the leader of a super-team of younger heroes, Rainmaker is a natural paradise and Burnout is alone with her, Roxy is… roleplaying in a horror scenario where Grunge just wants to bang her seven ways to Sunday and Grunge is…floating in a void (I assume because he’s content outside of the fault). But then all but Grunge’s scenarios turn from dreams to nightmares and Lynch is the villain in them all, happily Grunge tries to use his powers the void and copying its properties, getting god-like powers. 
Why? This is the weaker of the two arcs Mark Farmer is involved in (I actually thought he did the script for the toher, he didn’t he just inked it) but it’s still damned good. Farmer’s usually an inker but he does a fine job on script here (there’s a few examples comic booky ‘telling you what you’re seeing’ but overall it’s very nice) and he’s paired with the consistently high quality Alan Davies to make a storyt aht’s fantastic if not, well crushingly depressing in places. I don’t quite get Freefall’s ‘dream’ but I certainly get all the others and when things go scary for all of them it is genuinely creepy, which bring us back to the wholesale slaughter of Kat’s Cadets and the depressingly sad, yeah don’t read this or my number 1 pick if you want to feel happy, which is a shame because as we know happiness is the truth (I’m not letting this go, no).  

2. Magical Drama Queen Roxy
Gen 13: Magical Drama Queen Roxy issues 1-3
Adam Warren
Wha’appen? Freefall feels inferior, she thinks her teammates are all better than her and wish she was someone else and her boyfriend is often an insensitive twat. So she works through these problems via a three-issue fairy tale dream sequence as she tries to find her way out of a giant mall aided by a wisecracking talking version of Queelocke and her idealized version of Grunge who has been split into a ultra-PC fop and a caveman. 
Why? Adam Warren is fucking great, Empowered is one of my favourite series of all time and I greatly enjoyed Dirty Pair and I love this mini-series. So the set-up might sound very similar to A-B-C and it does work off the same premise, but that story was focussed on commenting on the industry and guest starring everyone and that was some of its strengths but this is just focused on character and Adam Warren having a really good time cramming in ever Anime/Japanese… thing that he can and that is this comic’s strengths. Warren’s ability to inject pathos and great character moments into what at first seems like a silly fun story with some cheesecake makes Empowered the brilliant book that it is and that is happening all over Magical Drama Queen Roxy, in fact you could kind of see it as a proto-Empowered (only with even more Anime tropes). Fuck it I’m going to say it: if you like Empowered you’ll like this mini-series, Warren even draws some of it in the same style (when a battle breaks reality down to script format), the ending is also so, so, SO good, both Freefall’s outburst and then her waking up, Freefall’s my favourite Gen 13 character, this will learn you why. Also there is a Tuxedo Mask parody in this book called Tuxedo Camel and he is exactly what you think he is, so good.

1. Ordinary Heroes
Gen 13: Ordinary Heroes issues 1-2 
Adam Hughes, Mark Farmer
Wha’appen? Fairchild is suddenly picked up by Lynch and Gen13 and told to suit up but nothing else, not how he has a brand new high tech helicopter or what they’re to do in New York and things go to hell before he can explain – if he ever intended to, Fairchild questioning her devotion to Lynch being central to the story. In New York there is a thing, a creature that kills with a touch and I.O. are there and the creature is a leftover from Lynch’s time in charge of I.O., a very dangerous skeleton in his closet – it’s also a baby.
Why? This book is sooo bloody good, I’ve never made a ‘Top Mini-Series’ countdown but if I did this would be on it. The pacing is fantastic, the writing is fantastic, the art is stunning, everything I like to praise in a comic is great in here and to make it even better it’s filed with tragedy, horror tropes, questioning authority and standing on your own (and bras), things that I am completely mad for in stories. But even leaving my taste in things aside this is a very good comic, let’s praise Adam Hughes art some more shall we as we praised his story-writing earlier (though the ‘fun’ part of his writing is toned down for the tragedy and questioning your beliefs part of the story, still there’s some fun at the start), I think it’s generally accepted he draws the most attractive women of anyone working in comics but allow me to get more specific and say that he draws the best Rainmaker and Fairchild of anyone working in comics, he gives Fairchild the body she should have and Rainmaker the face she should have, he also lays out pages like a motherfucker, he is so skilled at that, so, so skilled and it’s a testament to his ability to draw monsters that he makes something big and pink scary. Is there anything Hughes can’t do? Is he a champion water skier and qualified brain surgeon and award winning composer as well? I bet he is, the prick. Anyway, read this, just fucking read it.

With that demand I shall take my leave, I think Gen 13 is very much underrated so it’s nice to spend a little time telling people about the good in a series that gets dismissed too much as being the same old crap from Image Comics’ co-founders and I thank you for reading it. Actually some more demands: once you’ve done educating yourself by reading these – because of course you’re going to run off and read these AREN’T YOU? – go check out Gen 13: Wired, Gen 13 Volume 2 issues 18-25, Gen 13 Annual 1, Gen 13: Carny Folk, Gen13/Monkeyman and O’Brien 1-2 and Gen 13 Volume 2 60-77 (Adam Warren’s run as writer), Team 7: Dead Reckoning 1-3 and DV8 ½ & 1-7. DV8 was a Gen 13 spin-off and the first issues were written by Warren fucking Ellis, I didn’t include them in this list because they’re not really Gen 13 books per-say but Ellis’ issues were good, in fact just read all of DV8 – it was a decent series with some good characters, and when you’ve done that come back to me, there will be a quiz. 

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