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.

Wildstorm Trade Post: Stormwatch PHD & Gen 13 World’s End

StormWatch PHD: World’s End (Wildstorm/DC)
Written by Ian Edgington, drawn by Leandro Fernandez
Collects Stormwatch PHD #13-19

By now, I assume readers are somewhat familiar with my love of Wildstorm. Not only have I written about many of their trades in many previous Trade Post and Pile reviews, but also did a full post about how much I like the universe. While at Wizard, I became the de facto writer of all things Wildstorm for a while there, but was over at ToyFare by the time World’s End started. If you’re unfamiliar, after a mostly unsuccessful attempt at restarting the universe (flagship titles Wildcats and Authority written by Grant Morrison and drawn by Jim Lee and Gene Ha respectively only produced a total of three issues combined) the powers that be at the ‘Storm decided to take drastic measures: they blew the world up. Not entirely, mind you, that wouldn’t make for very interesting comics. Instead, the kind of threat that the heroes of Marvel and DC always thwart succeeded and an army of deranged, formerly captive and brainwashed heroes went bonkers on the world before literally exploding. The trauma killed millions and even temporarily knocked the earth off its access. Much of this is covered in Wildstorm: Armageddon, Number of the Beast and Wildstorm: After the Fall.

It was bad. But there were survivors, both of the hero variety and normal folks with the former doing their best to look out for the latter. Which brings us to Stormwatch PHD. For two trades, this was a book set very firmly in the Wildstorm U that brought back members of the classic Stormwatch team and put them on more ground-level type missions. With the end of the world, though, the book shifted focus with its heroes up in the orbital Stormwatch satellite trying to keep people safe. Run by Jackson King, he has split up the super powered operatives left at his disposal into two teams and sends them on missions to both save people (they’re keeping as many as they can on the satellite, but are quickly running out of space) and defeated threats to humanity.

What I like most about this book specifically and the World’s End books in general (those that I’ve read) is that they really went for it. The world is screwed and these heroes are doing their best to keep things afloat. Even with all their teleportation and super powers, there’s only so much that you can do. This book also did something that would become a standard of the rest of the Wildstorm U in that it incorporated elements from the history of the company in ways that made sense. In this case, you’ve got Deathblow working for Stormwatch. This is not something that happened before, but it doesn’t really need explaining (though what happened between Deathblow’s last series and this does get explained at some point in a way that was pretty clever). This would become SOP a few issues down the line when the heroes were split between one group staying on Earth and the other going to space. I’ve gotten really annoyed with how bogged down and sometimes boring mainstream superhero comics can be, so it was nice to see a company stick to something as crazy as this.

I might not be the best judge on something like this, but I would even say that it’s pretty new-reader-friendly. That might sound a little crazy, but it seemed to me like enough was explained that an open-minded and curious reader could easily jump right in and follow along. That continuity stuff I mentioned is fun for people like me, but I don’t think the series as a whole is bogged down with it.

Gen 13: World’s End (Wildstorm/DC)
Written by Scott Beatty, drawn by Mike Huddleston & Dan Hipp
Collects Gen 13 #21-26

I think that same can be said for the first Gen 13 installment in World’s End. This team was what actually got me initially excited about Wildstorm. I was a huge fan because it was the it teen comic of the day. For some folks that was Teen Titans or New X-Men, but this was mine. I have been routinely disappointed by pretty much every incarnation that has come since the awful Chris Claremont relaunch years ago. It also didn’t help that they had one of the muddier post-continuity shift histories. Something about being grown as superpowered sex slaves or whatnot? Even after being so confused the first time around, I gave it the good ol’ college try again recently when reading the trade of the second volume, but it just didn’t do it for me.

But, I didn’t feel that way with this collection. Sure, there are references to the new status quo, but it kind of felt like I had just missed one arc of the old series. Beatty does a great job of capturing that old dynamic between Grunge, Fairchild, Freefall, Burnout (now blinded) and Rainmaker.

Unlike Stormwatch or Authority, which have larger, more global goals, the Gen 13 kids are just trying survive and figure out what happened. They were hopping around in time or somesuch and came back in after the big event, so they missed the whole thing. This is a pretty fun and interesting concept that fits in with the characters pretty perfectly. Same goes for the art by Huddleston and Dan Hipp, who has an awesome sketchblog you guys should all check out.

I’ve got a post in the works covering the two Authority books and the second Wildcats one (thought I had the first, but don’t). The bummer about reading through these is that they’re so fun and yet the rest of the issues leading up to the line-wide cancellation of Wildstorm haven’t been collected. I’m not going to hold my breath for them to be either. I think I’ll keep an eye out for cheap copies of what I don’t have (I made a checklist) and see how it ends. If it’s rad, I’ll probably get them bound!

Will TV’s Loss Be Bootleggers’ Gain?

In the last few days word has gotten out that Fox did not pick up the Locke & Key pilot and NBC passed on Wonder Woman. Being a big fan of the first Locke & Key volume written by Joe Hill and produced by IDW and various incarnations of Wonder Woman, I’m bummed, but as someone who used to jones for bootlegs of unavailable comic book movies and shows, I’m kind of excited. When I was younger I got pretty jazzed whenever I heard about a show or movie that was never released. Whether we’re talking about the Roger Corman Fantastic Four movie, the Justice League TV pilot, the animated Gen 13 movie or anything else, I was interested and on the hunt at conventions. As such, I have shitty VHS dupes of all the above as well as the original Buffy pilot and a few other things.

It’s been a while since something like this has happened though. The last one I can remember is the Aquaman/Mercy Reef WB pilot that I got to see when I was at Wizard and even that was released on iTunes, I think. I know these things are more likely to be downloaded now instead of picked up at comic cons for exorbitant prices, but it does give me a tiny thrill knowing that two more shows might be added to the list of “shows you’re not supposed to see.” Of course, it’s possible that these shows will get picked up by another network or legitimately put out on DVD/Blu-ray/Netflix/iTunes. I’m all in favor of that too, I just want to see them, even more so because I’m not supposed to.

Trade Post: Gen 13 Road Trip, Space Usagi & JLA/Avengers

GEN 13 VOLUME 2: ROAD TRIP (WildStorm)
Written by Gail Simone, drawn by Alvin Lee, Carlo Barberi, Sunny Lee and Kevin West
Collects Gen 13 (current series) #7-13
I’ve had a long and tumultuous history with Gen 13. I first read about them in Wizard in the 90s and got very interested. I picked up an issue at the shop which immediately hooked me and I set out to collect every Gen13 appearance from there on out. This might sound odd to some people, but Gen 13 was basically my Teen Titans or New X-Men because they were young, fresh characters who also happened to be super powered beings with what seemed like the whole world against them. What teenager couldn’t relate? Anyway, I read that book through it’s pretty terrible completion and then the completely awful Chris Claremont relaunch. So, when the whole WorldStorm thing happened in the WildStorm universe, I was curious but cautious to see what Simone’s plans were for Gen13. Then the book hit and I was disappointed once again. The kids were some kind of super powered sex proxies. Or something. I read one issue and was out.

But, I’m one for second chances, so when I saw the potential to read this second volume, I figured what the heck. Road Trip jumps around showing the kids still getting to know each other while facing bad guys and what not. Many of the previous plot points are retread like Sarah Rainmaker being a lesbian and Cat being a nerd who now has a hot body. Eventually it’s explained that the Gen13 kids are anomalies in the universe because of Captain Atom Armageddon and WorldStorm. In the end, as a fan, I appreciate that explanation for why they seem so vastly different compared to say the Authority whose history seemed exactly the same before and after, but in the end there wasn’t enough of interest here to keep me really interested. It’s not a bad book if you’re new to Gen 13, but if you’re a fan I would imagine it’s like watching a remake which just keeps reminding you how much you want to go back and rewatch the original. Maybe when I go home in a few weeks, I’ll bring a stack of Gen 13 comics back with me.

SPACE USAGI (Dark Horse)
Written and drawn by Stan Sakai
Collects Space Usagi: Warrior #1-3, Space Usagi: Death And Honor #1-3, Space Usagi: White Star Rising #1-3, Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles #47 and Usagi Yojimbo Color Special #3
I’ve never read an Usagi Yojimbo comic before. Not that I haven’t wanted to, it just seems like a difficult comic to just jump into, even though I’ve heard good things. My biggest exposure to the character was the highly coveted Usagi figure in the Ninja Turtles toy line that I didn’t get my hands on until last summer’s yard sale season kicked off. I figured this far-flung future sci-fi comic would be a pretty easy entry so gave it a shot.

Overall, it’s a pretty good book. The first story follows Usagi as his king is killed and he has to keep the prince safe while fighting all kinds of baddies. The second story is the weakest because it’s got way too many Star Wars references. Now, I know that chunks of Star Wars were taken from the classic hero story, but you’ve got the good guys teaming up with a smuggler in a crummy ship who then infiltrate the bad guy’s headquarters. There’s even a scene with the whole group in a room trying to get information until they’re surprised by relief. The third story was also pretty good and threw a good number of curveballs that I wasn’t expecting. My favorite story is the one which brings the original Usagi to the far future for a few minutes. It’s just a fun little thing that put a smile on my face.

Aside from the Star Wars riffs, I found these stories to be of a pretty great quality that kept my interested throughout. Sakai’s art looks deceptively simple at times, but turns out to be really intricate. He’s go a great mix of cartooning and comic art that makes every panel fun to stare at. Anyone know a good place to start with the regular Usagi book aside from the beginning, of course?

JLA/AVENGERS (DC & Marvel)
Written by Kurt Busiek, drawn by George Perez
Collects JLA/Avengers #1-4
It’s kind of crazy to think about how much DC and Marvel played together throughout the 90s. There was DC vs. Marvel, Amalgam, All Access and then a series of one- and two-shots bringing Captain America and Batman, Green Lantern and Silver Surfer and Darkseid and Galactus together. There’s been a pretty long dry spell lately, but the last great meeting of the two gigantic comic book minds was the long-awaited and highly anticipated JLA/Avengers from 2003 and 2004. But when it hit, I was definitely one of the people with a huge question mark hanging over my head. At the time, I was in college and only read comics whenever I went home which was about every 3 or 4 months. I think this book ended up coming out late which meant that I was reading them even further apart.

But, sitting down and reading it all in a few sittings was a joy. Yes, it’s a complex story. There’s big cosmic people playing games that effect both universes and even combine them for a time. As someone who reads through trades and comics pretty quickly, I felt like this book really gave me my money’s worth both in terms of the epic story and also in Perez’s artwork which is fantastic. I think he’s one of the few (only?) classic artists who keeps getting better. I loved his stuff in Legion Of Three Worlds last year.

Anyway, Busiek’s able to combine huge, sweeping and well choreographed fight scenes with smaller geek out moments like The Thing showing up in the Batcave or the Captain Marvels fighting alongside each other. If you’ve got a favorite Avenger or Leaguer they most likely show up in the book either throughout or during the crazy time warping battle at the end (what up Guy Gardner Warrior?!). While reading through that last issue I was struck by how complicated the script must have been and how easy Perez made it seem. I don’t remember a single time when I couldn’t keep up with what was happening on the page (at least visually, like I said, the story gets pretty dense). There’s also some fun stuff in the third issue in which the two teams seem to have been having a JLA/JSA Earth-1/Earth-2 relationship with the Avengers since the beginning. Of course, something’s not right. JLA/Avengers isn’t just for diehard fans of either series, but I wouldn’t recommend if for a complete newbie. Getting some of the history under your belt might be a good idea before diving into this bad boy, which makes sense considering how long it took to get from the page to the fans’ hands.