Comics, Comics, Comics, Comics: Gen 13 By John Arcudi & Gary Frank

Gen 13 26 On several different occasions (including this one) I’ve talked about how much I dug Gen 13 in the 90s. Every ten years or so there’s a teen superhero comic that kids of that era really gravitate to. For me it was Gen 13. I started reading the book somewhere in the teens and made it my mission to track down all of the accompanying issues, crossovers, spinoffs, one-shots and first appearances. I actually did a pretty good job and have close to a complete set from their first appearance up to Claremont’ run.

It’s been a long time since I’ve read OG Gen 13 comics though. When it comes to youthful favorites I often wonder if my adult self will enjoy the material as much as my younger self did. In this case I’m not so sure how things will hold up, but there was one run I decided to try again when we went to my parents’ house for Christmas: Gen 13 #25-41 written by John Arcudi and drawn by Gary Frank, two of my favorite creators these days.

The Arcudi/Frank stuff really starts in a back-up story in #25 so that’s where I began re-reading. The gang — superstrong Caitlin Fairchild, weather manipulator Sarah Rainmaker, firestarter Bobby “Burnout” Lane, gravity controller Roxy and  molecular bonder Grunge — are supposed to be lying low in NYC especially after their leader Mr. Lynch has been framed as a terrorist by the media and I/O leader Ivana. While I’m not 100% on what all went on in the 24 issues leading up to #25, it had something to do with part of the team going to space and Caitlin meeting a deranged version of their mentor and team leader John Lynch. Coming back, she can’t completely trust him because the crazy version didn’t seem all that different than the man she knows. After running into a fellow Gen Active who has a history with Lynch and fighting a mad scientist power-sucker named Tindalos, they head to the Florida Keys to lie even lower for a while.

Gen 13 33In the Keys their adventures seem a bit more mundane but still include local conspiracy theorists, the return of Caitlin’s dad Alex, half the team running into another mad scientist who turned into a giant baby (see: right) and a quick trip back to New York by Roxy and Sarah so the former could meet with her step mom and the latter can try and find a woman she briefly met and became smitten with. All of this leads to a pretty bonkers confrontation with Tindalos and an attack that not everyone survives.

I vaguely remember this arc when it was happening and thinking it was kind of weird and slow. That’s an opinion that was shared by some of my fellow readers who wrote letters to that effect. But, like many of them, I found this arc to be incredibly engaging this time around. Sure, it lacks the on-the-run, constantly-in-danger antics of the previous 25 or so issues, but there is just so much going on here on a character level. Caitlin has to deal with her feelings about Lynch, Lynch needs some time away, Alex comes in and starts leading the team, Roxy discovers that her step mom is actually her birth mother AND that Alex is her dad. To a lesser extent, Sarah tries to combat her loneliness and find a lost potential-love. Grunge and Bobby don’t go through as much, but that’s alright. If everyone was having some kind of crisis, it would be exhausting.

Plus, Arcudi really made this whole thing feel like an arc. Characters learn things about themselves and each other, they deal with those revelations and by the end, most of them are different, especially Caitlin. And, while the wrap-up seemed to come a bit faster than originally intended (those last three issues cut back and forth a lot to the point where I’m still not exactly sure what happened), I still think as a whole these issues tell a complete larger story that feels satisfying at the end of it.

Did I mention how much I love Gary Frank’s art? Because I loooooooove Gary Frank’s art. I first saw his work on Midnight Nation and then a few other books that have all been a visual treat including his awesome run on Action Comics with Geoff Johns. He has such a clear, crisp style that mixes the big time superhero stuff we all know and love with the facial expressions of a Kevin Maguire or Steve Dillon. Heck, Cassidy from Preacher even shows up in a panel at one point!

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After reading this run again, I’m actually pretty excited to go back and read the rest of the books in my Gen 13 collection. I remember some really fun arcs, runs and one-shots in there that should be a treat to go back to. While I don’t think all of them will be as good or solid as this run, I think there will definitely be some fun nostalgia moments.

I also realized that this run will be a good candidate for binding. At 17 issues, it’s pretty much the perfect size. But, the real question becomes whether I want to bind my entire collection. If that is the case, I might have to take a closer look and figure out the best way to do so. Before this arc you’ve got 24 issues, plus the various first appearances and the original Gen 13 miniseries, so I’m just not sure how it will all shake out until I get my collection back together in one place. Maybe I’ll pick a mini or a few one-shots from this era to round things out.

Comics Comics Comics Comics: Predator Versus Magnus Robot Fighter #1

I realize that reviewing one comic out of a series might seem kind of silly, but I like to take a look at these things that are meant to be larger stories and see how one of the pieces holds up when taken somewhat out of context. Is there enough material there to grab me as a brand new reader? Does the writer lay down enough in one issue to fill me in on what’s going on, either through outright telling or clues left for inference? Plus, I just like to talk about comics.

Predator Versus Magnus Robot Fighter was a two issue mini series back in late 1992 that brought Dark Horse and Valiant together to tell a story. I’m not sure if this was the first of many or one in a series of DH/Valiant crossovers, but I think it’s kind of interesting that, today, Dark Horse holds the rights to both licenses and could reprint or recreate this comic today.

My vote would be for recreating because overall, this issue plotted by Jim Shooter, dialogued by John Ostrander and drawn by Lee Weeks falls short of really filling in a new reader as to what these two franchises are all about. I’m a pretty huge fan of the Predator franchise, but know nearly nothing about Magnus. The details I get in this book don’t really do much to tell me about the character or his motivations, though I know his red tunic disperses energy (but why he doesn’t have matching pants goes unanswered), he’s dating the president’s daughter and he likes to kick robot ass, though only certain robots. As far as the Predators go, you see one get taken out pretty easily in the beginning (though not really), learn they like to hunt and that they’re dangerous. I guess that’s pretty much all we really know about Predators anyway, now that I think about it. So, what does the issue spend it’s time with? Well, some stuff that isn’t super interesting, to be completely honest. Magnus runs into a group of people hunting robots for sport, much like Predators do, on a future version of Earth. They’ve got an X-O helmet as a trophy which I can only assume is related to another Valiant comic I never read called X-O Manowar. The helmet belonged to the Predator who now finds himself on Earth trying to get his trophy which is currently in Magnus’ girlfriend’s house. There’s a bit of a fight at the end, but most of this issue seems wasted on characters I don’t know doing things that aren’t all that interesting. If I were to write this comic, I’d focus more on the Predator trying to navigate Earth. He wouldn’t just crash land in the middle of a bunch of people but do his best to come in covertly. As we see in the beginning of this issue, robots have no trouble picking up on a Pred even when they’re using their cloaking technology. I’d use that to put the Predator more on the defensive. But hey, what do I know? If anyone at Dark Horse is reading this, though, I’m available for consultation or an outright pitch if you’re looking to bring two of your big properties together.

The real question, of course, after reading one issue is whether I’d read the second? The answer is “sure.” I wouldn’t go out of my way to find the issue or pay more than some pocket change for it, but I’d be curious to see how it ended. I’d be even more interested if I got a solid answer as to whether there’s a full-on fight between the two characters as promised by the title. If not, what’s the point?

Comics Comics Comics Comics: Starman #43

Not a lot goes on in my mind when I’m going through cheap comics at shows. If something looks even remotely interesting and has a low low price, it’s pretty much a sure thing I’ll buy it. This issue of Starman struck my fancy for three reasons: it’s a Mike Mignola cover, Lobo’s in it and I’ve wanted to check this series out ever since I read James Robinson’s Starman series. This issue–which was written by Len Strazewski and drawn by Vince Giarrano in 1992–is actually the second part of the four part story “Star Shadows.” As if needs saying, I haven’t read the previous or following issues, but I didn’t have any trouble following the story.

We start off with Lobo drunk in a space bar (what better way to start the story?). A text box tells us that this action takes place earlier in time from whatever happened at the end of the previous issue. Lobo’s drunk and board, so when a space turtle offers him a bunch of money to killed Eclipso on Earth, he very quickly accepts the job and bails.

But, this is no ordinary space turtle, it’s actually a Lord of Chaos masquerading as a space turtle. See, the Lords of Chaos are angry at Eclipso because he failed to destroy Earth, which should have been a small task. We get a little recap about a Phantom Stranger mini that these events take place in, a mini I didn’t even know existed. Soon enough, things are picking up where the previous issue apparently left off with Starman trying to get to Bruce Gordon in what looks like a fighter jet in space. Lobo’s peeved because Starman wrecked his space motorcycle, so they start fighting.

As it turns out–and it came as no surprise even though I’m not very familiar with this version of Starman or his powers–Starman isn’t much of a match for Lobo, even when he’s really pouring on his light power. While they tussle, Bruce Gordon digs out the ol’ purple gloves, black gem and becomes Eclipso once more. According to Eclipso’s thought boxes, this Starman was created as a way to feed Eclipso. I’ve never heard that before, but it makes a strange kind of comic book sense. Just as Lobo’s about to beat the living tar out of Starmna, Eclipso blasts them with some dark light and the issue ends.

Overall this was a pretty interesting issue and, for the most part, I wasn’t too lost even though I’m not super familiar with Eclipso or Lobo and I’m hardly at all familiar with this version of Starman. When I got to the page revealing that Lobo was going after Eclipso, I actually thought this was going to tie into Superman Annual I read a few weeks ago, but it’s a few years too early for that. I wonder if Lobo’s past with Eclipso (presumably shown in this story) was referenced at all during The Darkness Within. I’m still very curious about this Starman series as a whole and hope to pick up some more issues on the cheap in the coming shows.

Comics Comics Comics Comics: What If… (Vol. II) #57

Sometimes a comic just calls to you. 1994’s What If… #57 was one of those comics. I saw it while flipping through long boxes this year and just had to have it. See, the idea is that, in this version of Marvel history, the Punisher became a member of S.H.I.E.L.D. which makes all kinds of sense. It helps that I’ve been a fan of Punisher for a while, love S.H.I.E.L.D. and that my favorite issue of What If… is #44 in which Venom attaches itself to Punisher and things work out surprisingly well. The thing I love about What If issues is that many of them are really asking “What if we didn’t have to worry about continuity and could really treat these characters in fun ways, what would happen then?”It’s fun to see those questions answered in the course of one single issue. Nuts to decompression!

That’s exactly what happens this time around thanks to Chuck Dixon and Mike Harris as Punisher finds himself jammed up, knocked out and presented with the option of either working for S.H.I.E.L.D. or being thrown in jail by Nick Fury himself. It should come as no surprise that Frank Castle not only loves taking on bigger criminals instead of low-level hoods on the street, but also gets into trouble with Fury for going overboard. Hey Fury, what did you expect?

Punisher’s got his own squad, each of whom wears the Punisher symbol on their berets (in my head, they’re called the Punishers or something rad like that), but after not following Fury’s dictates one more time he gets saddled with a crappy detail following Dum Dum Dugan into the jungle where a bunch of Hydra agents kill most of them (including Dugan). Punisher gets some coordinates from his old pal Microchip, makes his way to a S.H.I.E.L.D. facility, steals some gear and sets his sites on Hydra’s main headquarters: Hydra Island.

The mix of traditional S.H.I.E.L.D. elements like the glider suit and mid-air battles fit so well with the Punisher’s mentality, that I could easily find myself enthralled by a comic set in this world, though it seems that after FrankenCastle, people aren’t very interested in new takes on Punisher. I’ve always thought an alternate universe where S.H.I.E.L.D. recruits superheros as they develop and really trains them would be fun, but with more of a James Bond/Steranko vibe to it than what the similarly themed Ultimate universe turned into. Harris has kind of a Howard Chaykin style going on which is interesting, but this issue would have been a lot more fun for me personally if a more detailed artist had the gig.

The book ends SPOILER with Punisher succeeding in rigging Hydra Island to explode with him still on it and taking fire. I assume from the dialogue box on the last page that he actually dies before the bomb goes off. I’ve seen Punisher die a few times in various alternate realities, most notably Punisher: The End, but I think this is one of my favorites because it actually seems like Frank Castle’s crazy mission to punish the evil actually had some kind of real effect aside from cleaning up a few blocks of turf in Hell’s Kitchen.

I’ve read my fair share of What If issues here and there over the years including both the first and second volumes and many of the one-shots that have come out in the past few years and not all of them have been great. It’s no small task to not only set up how this universe is different than the regular 616, but to also give it some dramatic moments, good dialogue and make things fun for everyone involved.

Comics Comics Comics Comics: Adventures Of Superman Annual #4

I’ve picked up a lot of comics over the year. Some of them fit into larger collections I’m working on while others just strike my fancy at the time. Comics Comics Comics Comics will be a look at some of the more random books I’ve picked up here and there with a few scans/pics of favorite or funny moments from the issues. The first entry will be Adventures of Superman Annual #4 from 1992. It’s written by Robert Loren Fleming and drawn by Bob McLeod and seems to be the penultimate issue in the “Eclipso: The Darkness Within” event that was running through the annuals that year.

I have next to no experience with this Eclipso storyline, but as far as I can tell, the idea is that supervillain Eclipso has been possessing superheroes and villains (which he can only do when it’s dark) including Superman. Our big bad will apparently gain the powers of those he’s possessed once the impending lunar eclipse is complete making him pretty damn powerful.

This issue is mostly concerned with members of the Justice League, L.E.G.I.O.N. and a few Teen Titans (or were they just Titans then?) tracking the possessed Superman down and trying to un-possess Big Blue. I was actually a little surprised that there wasn’t a recap page, but I was able to follow things with context clues. However, I’m not sure why so many pages were spent showing various heroes trying to find Superman even after our heroes already figured it out. Maybe they were capping off elements from previous issues, who knows?

Booster Gold of all people figures out that EclipSupes is hiding out in a volcano during the day. The heroes show up only to be surprised by a newly minted Guy Gardner who recently quit the Green Lantern Corps, got his hands on a Sinestro ring and started running around in a “G” jacket, cowboy boots and jeans. I’m a big fan of Beau Smith’s run on Guy Gardner, but I’m not a fan of how Guy’s written in this issue, read: xenophobic and sexist. Guy’s not an easy character to get right, balancing the arrogance with the good heart, but Guy comes out pretty good in the end. Making him a complete ass is too easy and something a lot of writers tend to do with the character.

As the Joe Quesada/Jimmy Palmiotti cover boasted (and the reason I bought this issue) both Lobo and Guy take their turns fighting Superman and then getting smacked down by him. The plan is to explode the volcano and let the sunlight in thus curing Superman, but the volcano erupts which puts the villagers in danger. Also, it’s night, so the plan was an all-over failure. Earlier in the issue Vril Dox suggests that Guy go get some sun and bring it back, which he says no to, but then goes and does so, which winds up saving the day. With no fear for his personal safety, Guy douses Supes and then launches them both into the volcano. A no-longer-possessed Superman rises out holding Guy whose new ring apparently protects him even when he’s unconscious.

The end of the issues features a big part of Eclipso’s plan. He’s got the Will Payton Starman under his control, but made it look like Starman was being attacked by the other possessed heroes and villains. Taking the bait like super powered fish, the non-possessed heroes swoop in, save Starman and he tells them to go to the dark side of the moon, which they do. Before that, though, Superman asks Nightwing to help him find Dr. Bruce Gordon who is the Eclipso expert and used to share a body with him (or will share a body with him, like I said, I’m no Eclipso expert).

I’ve always loved the Superman/Dick Grayson dynamic, so seeing these two running around trying to solve a mystery for a few pages was very cool for me. Superman’s respect for Nightwing and Nightwing’s level of comfort with the hero everyone reveres is great. They’re checking out the labs of super geniuses like Will Magnus, Lex Luthor the Second, Emil Hamilton, Blue Beetle and more when Hawkman comes in to tell them about the moon. Nightwing goes off with him to help save the (apparently) possessed Titans and Superman gets drawn into a door of light.

Overall, I had a surprising amount of fun with this issue, it even made me want to check out a few more issues of “The Darkness Within,” at least Eclipso: The Darkness Within #2 which I believe ended the story. This issue would probably be hard for a reader unfamiliar with 90s DC comics to jump right into. Though I would start reading comics later in 1992, I still have no idea why Hawkman is wearing that red costume or what Black Canary was doing during this era (I assume she was still kicking around Green Arrow and don’t really remember her being in any of the Justice League books of the time), but if you’re at all familiar with comics, you know that random things like this change without having a lot of baring on the overall story. I’ve read Marvel books where Thor has a beard and Hulk’s wearing a tank top, but it doesn’t really effect how I read the story. I just use Wiki to find out what the deal was (I know why Thor had a beard and Hulk had a tank top, by the way, it was just an example). Putting this story into context with the upcoming Death of Superman story is interesting, especially seeing as how so many heroes–really powerful ones at that–had trouble taking Superman down. Makes Doomsday seem all the more powerful.