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Gen13 was a massive bombshell when it struck in 1994, a comic about college-aged kids that actually looked and felt like it was about real college-aged kids because it was being drawn by one while also revealing a ton of backstory and connective tissue about the two-year-old WildStorm Universe.
And you know what? It’s still every bit as great today – even moreso after spending the past two weeks reading all of the comics that lead up to it.
The cast of Gen13 were some of Jim Lee’s final creations in the early years of WildStorm. In an interview in Gen13 #1/2, he discusses being motivated to move away from the gear-laden extreme look (and the violence that accompanies it) that many classic characters at Marvel and DC were moving towards. (The irony of the entire team wielding guns on the cover from Lee is not lost on me). He also intentionally created Caitlin Fairchild as a literal strong female who was also super-smart – an obvious choice to lead the team.
It’s Lee’s focus on creating a different book rather than an imitation of something familiar that makes Gen13 so memorable. Caitlin Fairchild may not yet be a Tony Stark level genius, but her hairpin turn from ingénue to terrorist and leader never seems rushed given the breadth of her intellect and depth of her drive. It’s the same way almost all of Marvel’s original generation of male heroes are depicted as super-brains of some sort to explain their mastery of all things. Marvel has scant women who fit the same mold (at the time, just Mockingbird and Kitty Pryde), and none who also lead a team.
(Lee also included a buff, masculine, hyper-sexual Asian male with Grunge (a rarity even today) and an indigenous woman with Rainmaker who… well, we’ll get to that later.)
If we’re going to talk about the unique touches that make this book stand out, we have to discuss artist J. Scott Campbell. Campbell was discovered at age 19 in the talent search advertised in WildC.A.T.s #2! Prior to Gen13, his only published comics work was portions of Stormwatch #0, Deathmate Black, and pin-ups.
To go from obscurity to co-creating one of the most popular mini-series of the 90s is unbelievable. His achievement is made more incredible by the fact that he’s not specifically aping any single Image founder. Campbell draws distended, hyper-tall figures like Liefeld, he details muscles and clothes like Lee, and he has the fussy sketch lines of Silvestri. Campbell’s characters are all visually distinct and exciting as regular people wearing clothes, and his backgrounds and buildings are bristling with detail.
To have a 19-year-old designing 19-year-olds is part of the kinetic magic of Gen13. In fact, Lee reveals that Campbell designed Roxy AKA Freefall, who is by far the most visually distinct of all the Gen13 kids. Yes, Campbell errs on the side of some egregious T&A at points, but he’s seemingly just as eager to show nearly-nude men as he is women – he’s a kid who just wants to draw hot kids being hot. Also, the present-day fashion aspect of his pencils is powerful – Roxy the club kid, Caitlin’s mousy Princeton get-up, Bliss’s S&M dresses, Grunge’s early-90s flannels.
Yet, great art alone does not make for a good Image title – or else I’d be head over heels in love with WildCATs instead of constantly dissing it. The script here is wonderful. Brandon Choi was great on Stormwatch, but he was never better on early Image than on this initial run of Gen13 collaborating with Campbell (who picks up a story credit by the third issue). Characters all have distinct voices, details make sense, and each issue has its own rising and falling action. Caitlin Fairchild as our point-of-view character is so analytical that it makes perfect sense for her to issue a recap via narration at the beginning of each issue.
It’s not just the Gen13 kids who make this story interesting, but I.O director John Lynch finally being fleshed out into a dynamic character instead of just a conniving government villain. If you’ve read any WildStorm up to this point, he hasn’t exactly been a sympathetic character (except for maybe in WildCATs #2 when he doesn’t arrest the team). That’s especially true coming from reading Kindred, where he seemed as hugely unsympathetic as ever!
Here we see another side of him. It’s not a sudden turn, but a transformation that makes sense for his character. For all of his heartless decisions over the years, he does have regrets – chief amongst them the raw deal many of his Team 7 teammates got if they didn’t go underground or let I.O. control their lives. That guilt means he cannot in good conscience support a renewed Genesis program – especially one that preys on the children of his teammates!
As I re-read this mini-series, I repeatedly asked myself: Are you seeing this through rose-colored glasses? Is this the joy of nostalgia talking?
I’ll admit a little buzz of returning to these characters, but given the sheer volume of comics I read, I don’t think my delight in Gen13 can be purely attributed to huffing the fumes of the 90s.
This is a good comic book that’s a perfect artifact of the times – even the gratuitous mid-mini-series guest appearance by Pitt.
Want the play-by-play? Keep reading for an extensive summary of this book, a major influence on me and an early inspiration to my 8th Grade version of Krisis. Here’s the schedule for the rest of this month’s WildStorm re-read. Tomorrow we’ll finally make it back around to Deathblow, now with Tim Sale in control of art duties. Will I like it better this time around?
Need the issues? Gen13 was such a massive, game-changing hit that it’s the rare WildStorm book that’s been through several reprints. Here are the three you should focus on:
- The 1998 Gen13 Archives (ISBN 978-1887279918) is a great, comprehensive collection that includes all of these issues and pushes through #13 of their ongoing series and isn’t too hard to track down all these years later (Amazon / eBay).
- Gen13: Who They Are and How They Came to Be (978-1401211493) is a 1996 collection of just this mini-series (not including #1/2) (Amazon / eBay). If you go that route, also pick up Gen13 Backlist (ISBN 1-887279-41-5), which includes #1/2 and some other one-shots (Amazon / eBay).
- A Gen13: Complete Collection is due in spring of 2017 that covers through #7 of the ongoing, but includes the special Gen13: Rave issue not in Archives (Amazon pre-order).
Alternately, you can purchase single issues – try eBay (#1-5 & 1/2, AKA #-1) or Amazon (#1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 1/2 AKA #-1 and alternative search #1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 1/2 AKA #-1) – and note that Amazon offers these issues digitally(!) through Comixology.
Keep in mind that as a key issue #1 can be pricey on its own but there were plenty of these printed, so you’ll probably be better served buying a lot of the entire mini-series. Since several future Gen13 series hit these same issue numbers, be sure to match your purchase to the images in this post (note that #5 has two different covers). The Gen13 #1 with 13 different covers is not this #1 – it’s the first issue of their subsequent ongoing.
Gen13 #1 opens in 1979 just outside Deadwood, Oregon in the midst of a torrential downpour. A mother and father and their two children – The Callahans, are running desperately for the trees but the mother is falling behind.
Scared they’ll lose their quarry, a team of Black Razors in a hovercraft gun down the woman, even as her daughter tugs her forward by the hand. The father’s eyes glow pink in grief and rage. Suddenly, the hover ship explodes, sending bodies flying in all directions. He urges the children, Matthew and Nicole, to run for the trees while he delays the Razors.
The last image they see of him is his body riddled with bullets.
In the present day, the mousy Caitlin Fairchild walks across the Princeton campus on a beautiful day, but the only thing on her mind is computer science internships. Anything to avoid another summer at home with her aunt and uncle!
Imagine her surprise, delight, but also confusion when she wakes to a knock at her dormitory door in the middle of the night. It’s three men in black from the National Security Committee. They’re there to tell her she got the job in the Gen-13 Program, but she needs to leave immediately.
Meanwhile, in Washington, D.C., Director John Lynch (fresh from his abduction in The Kindred) pays the statuesque Director Ivana Baiul a visit in the offices of International Operations (IO) Sci-Tech bureau. She’s been requisitioning Black Razor teams, and he’d like to know why. She’s happy to tell him – the Genesis project has been reactivated.
Lynch’s response is swift and negative. The Genesis project failed both Team 7 and Gen-12, and almost took down all of IO with it. Why re-start now? Actually, it’s been underway for two months now, Ivana reveals. As for why – because Craven (who Lynch increasingly finds himself at odds with) said so (and is a bit jealous of Youngblood). The subjects are all the children of Gen-12, who are being selectively kickstarted with “the catalytic activator.” One has already activated.
And here we finally learn something personal about John Lynch – and why he’s so callous to using and disposing of his Team 7 compatriots: they hid his own son somewhere outside of his power and access.
Lynch demands to meet the activated subject, Threshold. We cut to him laying waste to a trio of trainers in Sci-Tech’s Death Valley compound. When one of them gets in a lucky shot and laughs about it, Threshold replies by making his head explode.
His sister taunts him from across the gym, where she is splayed provocatively across the bench of a weights machine in a one-piece bathing suit that is practically a bikini. She is flanked by guards who look more like male strippers. Wouldn’t he like to tangle with someone with abilities like his?
These are the Callahan siblings – Matthew and Nicole.
Caitlin Fairchild arrives at Death Valley the next morning, eager to start her internship. Her orientation feels more like an army reserves camp than a programming job, but her oversized guide Helga Kleinman assures her it’s a very “prestigious” opportunity.
Elsewhere in the compound, Threshold takes a meeting with Lynch. Lynch is almost sweet in asking Threshold to monitor the Gen-13 population for his son, but his rejection is swift. Needless to say, Lynch isn’t happy about that.
The next morning Caitlin is characteristically excited to rush to the cafeteria before classes before she’s mowed down by Grunge, who looks every part of his name aside from being dressed in a green hospital gown. His too-cool friend Roxy looks on while taking a drag from a cigarette along with Bobby, a stoic red-head.
Together, the four of them are Pod 7, and Caitlin wasn’t too far off when she felt they were in an ROTC program. Despite being three miscreants and a book worm, we see in a montage that they’re excelling in every measure (including weights training, standardized testing, and some manner of MRI) while other Pods drop out (or, more-likely, are kicked out for being unlikely to develop powers).
Behind the scenes, the Callahans are enthusiastic about Roxy and Bobby’s prospects, but are ready to ditch the other two. Via video conference, Ivana is uncaring – they can max the dosages of Caitlin and Grunge’s activator drugs for a day and then “dispose of them.”
Up late that night studying, Caitlin is overcome by nausea. She wanders out of her room to try to find the infirmary, not realizing that she is forcing open locked doors along the way. She wanders into a room housing a supercomputer to find it curiously displaying the name of her father, Alex Fairchild.
Before she can investigate any further, she’s surprised by Grunge and Roxy, who apparently like to hang out inside the supercomputer (I’ve never quite been able to figure that out) because there aren’t any cameras there. They’re interrupted by a fully armed Black Razor, who seems none too pleased to find them all there.
Grunge tries to stand up for the two girls and gets swatted away. Caitlin tries reasoning with the soldier and he brutally backhands her, sending her glasses flying. “Play it smart girl,” he warns, “just stay down!” But something is happening to Caitlin… she swats him away with one hand as her body distends, bursting through her clothing.
“Wha… what’s going on here?!” Caitlin stammers. “What’s happening to me?!”
Gen13 #2 definitely doesn’t pick up where we left off.
Caitlin Fairchild and five other young Gen13 subjects are racing through the desert, chased by Black Razors – Roxy Spaulding, “Grunge” Chang, Sarah Rainmaker (who you’ll recall from Stormwatch #8), Bobby Lane, and a new addition – Tom Hallahan. Tom looks older than the rest of them, and he tears at the minds of a trio of Black Razor’s in one hovercraft, causing it to spiral into a crash.
Given that Tom’s powers (and fetish for violence) are identical to Threshold’s and Hallahan rhymes with Callahan, I think we as the reader might know a little bit more about what’s going on at this moment than Caitlin and the rest of the gang.
Bobby Lane is egged on by Tom’s violent display and decides to flame on and take to the sky. His mastery of his powers suggests he’s had them for some time, as he’s easily able to maneuver and throws up a heat shield to melt incoming bullets before going on the offense with heat vision to take out a craft.
His chosen code name? Burnout.
Caitlin might not have his control, but she’s now ridiculously strong. She wields a massive bolder and (likely with the help of her background in physics) uses it to knock another hover craft out of the sky.
That leaves one more hovercraft, and its Black Razor team corners Roxy, Grunge, and Rainmaker. They shoot some manner of tangler grenade at Roxy, which wraps her in constricting tendrils. Rainmaker casually conjures a twister in the still desert air to bury their pursuers in a sandstorm. She misses one female Black Razor, who gets the drop on Rainmaker with gun drawn.
Suddenly, the woman’s gun floats up into midair, followed by the rest of her body. Rainmaker swears she’s not causing it … it’s Roxy, manifesting her power to send any object into a Freefall.
The six Gen-13-ers finally lose their tail of Black Razors (save for one they take captive) and settle into a cave for the night. While Grunge and Roxy complain about just about every detail of their environment, Tom accuses Fairchild of being the reason they’re on the run, leading her to recap the story so far. After we left off last issue she, Roxy, and Grunge were pursued by a team of Razors lead by Threshold’s sister. Fairchild ripped them a way out, but it was too high above the ground to be of any use. At that moment, Tom, Burnout, and Rainmaker blew their way into the fray and everyone flew away.
(Of the Issue #1 details, she mentions her aunt and uncle live in Oregon … the same place the Callahan’s were shot down. Hmm… is there a chance that’s she is Tom’s sister and the other woman is a plant of some kind? Or is Oregon significant for some other reason?)
Tom fills in the rest – how all of them are children of members of Gen-12, and then he executes their prisoner. The rest of the team is okay with Tom’s take-no-prisoners approach, but Fairchild wants out. Tom and the other four leave her behind.
Tom’s group returns to the compound for some reason, much to the glee of Nicole and a visiting Ivana watching psychically and on monitors, respectively. Tom transforms into Threshold and lays waste to the team, to Nicole’s perversely sexual delight.
Fairchild awakens in the desert the next day, bruised and battered. She’s about to head off on her own when she receives a psychic flash from Roxy – she’s in trouble! But, was the flash genuine or a trick played by Nicole?!
Gen13 #3 opens with Fairchild surveilling the Death Valley compound through gear she scavenged from the defeated Black Razors. She watches as what looks like an armored garbage truck rolls up to the compound, presumably to deliver another “volunteer” to the program. She questions her resolve to charge back in rather than run for the hills, but it’s about more than saving her friends. “It’s also because I’m sick of scientists, stormtroopers, and other government creeps playing games with my lie.”
(Possible continuity goof: Fairchild refers to “Ivana and her keeper goons,” but has she ever met or heard of Ivana? Perhaps from “Tom”?)
On the ground, it turns out the truck does not carry a new recruit, nor was it expected. Ivana is roused in the middle of the night to greet it. It contains a tritanium cage that holds some manner of monster, and it was brought to Death Valley by none other than Director John Lynch.
Ooooo, yeah! Lynch caught himself an unidentified super-powered being (SPB) (note that Image says this a lot because Marvel and DC hold a copyright on “superhero”), and IO regulations dictate he must sure any such captive overnight at the nearest possible facility. Of course, we all know that means Lynch probably lured this SPB into the desert, including Ivana. While he’s there, he’s got some opinions about how hard she, Nicole, and Threshold are pushing the Gen-13 kids. Ivana thinks he’s just gone soft.
Fairchild tries sneaking into the base. It doesn’t go as well as she hoped, but with her newfound super-strength and physical she dispenses of both a Keeper and a Black Razor in a split second. She snatches the suit from the Black Razor to make the next step of her infiltration easier.
The rest of of her friends are nude in Threshold’s lab, suspended from various wires, sensors and power dampers (save for Burnout, who is in a sensory deprivation chamber). Threshold is torturing Grunge to try to elicit some semblance of power while Freefall and Rainmaker look on in horror, unable to use their powers.
When Threshold plunges the sizzling energy around his hand into Grunge’s head, Freefall screams that she’ll kill him, causing him to turn his attention (and powers) on her. That’s all the impetus Grunge needed to activate his powers, some form of material absorption, which allows him to deck Threshold with a massive metallic first.
Elsewhere in the complex, Fairchild stumbles upon the room of a small child named Timmy. Despite having more creature comforts than the rooms we saw the others living in in issue #1, he is sobbing to himself in fear. He, too, was taken from his typical surroundings to the Genesis project.
Nicole, who we learn is codenamed Bliss, is using telekinesis to taunt the monster Lynch escorted with the keys to his cage. The monster is Pitt, Dale Keown’s creator-owned Image creation. Pitt has two different internal monologues – his own animalistic one that wants to tear out Bliss’s throat, and a calmer one named Chakran who senses “the boy” close by.
You get one guess at who that might be. Fairchild is cradling Timmy close as she makes a break for Pitt’s prison, but Bliss catches her from the corner of her eye as she’s leaving and blasts both her and Timmy with a wave of physical and psychic pain.
Pitt is none to pleased with this development, and in his anger he shreds his chains and the wall between him and Timmy. Bliss plays at apology to the monster until she’s safely behind some containment doors, and then slams them shut. Fairchild makes the logical if unfair assumption that Pitt is trying to hurt or devour Timmy, and launches into an attack.
Fairchild is outmatched by Pitt, though Chakran’s calmn voice tries to convince him they aren’t enemies. Fairchild manages to briefly slip from his grasp and bodyslam Pitt to the ground, but that just starts them crashing through sub-level after sub-level in their tussle. Eventually, the plummet into Ivana’s control room, where she is accompanied by Lynch.
Fairchild finally realizes Pitt might be an ally, which Chakran finally convinces Pitt as well. Unfortunately, the realization comes along with John Lynch’s team of Black Razor’s surrounding them with guns drawn.
Gen13 #4 finds Ivana and Lynch at odds over what to do with their two prisoners – execute them on sight or send them back a pair of cells. Fairchild and Pitt get to know each other via a whispered conversation while the confrontation plays out in front of them.
Ivana grows so enraged with the Lynch’s inaction that she grabs a weapon from a keeper and executes his Black Razor’s so that they cannot stop her from doing the same to her quarry. Fairchild uses the moment of distraction to sweep Ivana’s legs from beneath her, leading Ivana to scream, “You’re as deluded as your father was, Fairchild” as she summons a heavy weapons squad to the room.
Far above, Freefall, Grunge, Rainmaker, and Burnout find Timmy and the massive hold in the floor caused by Fairchild and Pitt. They manage to piece together what happened, though it involves Grunge and Rainmaker butting heads a bit. Rainmaker and Burnout send a massive plasma bomb down the hole to soften up any potential foes and then follow it down themselves.
It looks like Fairchild and Pitt were holding their own already, so the addition of the other four team members (Timmy was left behind) seriously turns the tide of the battle. Freefall gets to cut loose with her anti-gravity powers, and Grunge goes totally kung-fu on some Keepers. Unfortunately, he misses on and gets hit by at least three bullets. Freefall rushes to his side as he begins to bleed to death, but something strange begins to happen … his wounds are bleeding out metal rather than blood! Then, in a flash, they’re gone, and he burps up a bullet.
Above, again, Timmy is briefly cornered by a Keeper, which causes Pitt to break away from the battle to climb up to defend him. Timmy is super-excited to have his monster buddy back! Pitt busts out through a wall of the high rise portion of the complex and leaps out into the night air with Timmy in hand. The boy is worried about Fairchild and her friends, but Pitt assures him “they’re good warriors.”
Back in the heat of the battle, Lynch is considering his options. Will he really allow Ivana to kill or experiment upon these kids, who don’t even have the military training he and his Team 7 compatriots had during Gen12? Lynch has some questionable ethics, but his conscience won’t allow him to leave the Gen13 kids behind. He summons his Black Hammer team, a trio of two-person mechs that can easily hold back the remaining Keepers.
Lynch pulls Fairchild out of the line of fire. Understandably, after Tom and the whole Gen13 experience, she doesn’t trust him when he says he came to stop the experiments. In the most genuine moment Lynch has had to date, his pleads with her, his one functional eye open wide, “I was a friend of your father’s … a long time ago. You’ve got to trust me!”
As the team flees with Lynch, he exposits about his history with Team 7. One new tidbit we learn is that IO was a government-run America-centric, peace-keeping force before they were experimented on to become Gen-12 (due to jealousy of the Youngblood program).
It’s a little suspect that he assumes all of their fathers were in Team 7. If so, who were in all those other pods? Surely there was more to Gen 12 than just handful of them?! In any even, many of the Gen-12 families made it into hiding, though some – like the Callahans – did not.
His explanations end as they reach a trash chute. He wants the kids to escape while he swings back to take care of Ivana.
Hasn’t this guy ever seen Star Wars? The trash chute is not always a good idea!
Gen13 #5 opens with the kids in a heap on top of a dumpster, and it takes a moment for them to just be kids – obnoxious, flirty, sexual kids. Burnout and Rainmaker agitate to return to face Ivana, but as Fairchild tries to talk them out of it the point becomes moot – because Threshold has arrived!
Threshold would prefer not to fight – here’s there to recruit! That doesn’t stop Burnout and Grunge, who he disposes of handily. Fairchild gets a bit farther, but she realizes Threshold can read her thoughts.
Far above on the roof, Ivana is loading cryo tubes of all the remaining gen-actives into a helicopter to flee to parts unknown when she is interrupted by John Lynch. She reasons with him, but he steps forward to execute her at point blank range … only to have the bullet ricochet of of her hand, because Ivana Baiul is a cyborg!
Ivana extends her fingers out to be long metallic tentacles that she whips at Lynch, trying to shred him to pieces. He retaliates by using the powers we glimpsed in Kindred to wrap her in her own fingers, but he’s weakened in the process. As Ivana’s assistants usher her onto her helicopter, she initiates a self-destruct sequence for the entire complex, assuming Lynch will be too feeble to escape.
Back on the ground, Threshold is using a combination of his telekinetic and psychic powers to force Fairchild and Grunge to fall prostrate before him. His allegiance to Ivana is flexible – what he really wants is to be the leader of all Gen-13 actives. Close by, Bliss finds the unconscious Burnout and delights in straddling him to begin her torture session when she’s brutally shocked by Rainmaker – who wants to use her as collateral against Threshold.
With Ivana on the run, Lynch on the scene with the Black Hammers (who rescued him from the roof), and Bliss caught by Rainmaker, Threshold is in checkmate. Lynch further crushes Threshold with the news that it was I.O. Sci-Tech was killed his parents, despite Ivana’s brainwashing to the contrary. Threshold gathers himself (and his sister, still flirting with Burnout) and flies off into the night.
The book ends on a shocker of all shockers – Lynch dismisses his Black Hammer team and effectives quits working for I.O.! Given his tenure, he surely could have explained away his tussle with Ivana, but it seems he wants to begin to walk a different path. He sees himself and his dead friends in this scrappy young team, and he wants to help them survive.
(We’ll have to see what that means for Backlash’s Daemonite hunt, Grifter’s relationship with Alicia, Deathblow’s AWOL status, and a host of other I.O. implications now that Craven is left unchecked as its ruler.)
Gen13 #1/2 (later reprinted as #-1)was a special issue available exclusively from Wizard magazine, featuring a story with dialogue by the mysterious H.K. Proger and pencils by Ryan Benjamin. The issue opens with an interview with creator Jim Lee, penciller J. Scott Campbel [sic], and inker Alex Garner (Brandon Choi is nowhere to be seen!).
The kids (seemingly without Rainmaker) are driving in a van somewhere in Oregon (where, you’ll recall, both the Callahan’s an Fairchild hail from), which is a long ways from where we saw them last in Death Valley. They’re aimed at Milwaukie, Oregon, but Burnout is dismayed to learn from a gas station attendant that they’re still three hours away.
(Holy crap, remember when you could get that lost in the days before cell phones? No? Shh, be quiet, your elders are talking.)
Suddenly, a woman in a high-tech suit of armor ports into the station in a burst of sizzling energy. She wastes no time in shooting laser beams in every which direction, and Burnout mobilizes to protect the innocent bystander from debris.
He assumes that she’s an I.O. agent there to capture them, but she’s really chasing someone named “Langston.” Burnout, Grunge, and Fairchild all takes shots at her and are quickly rebuffed. Freefall tries to stay out of the fray, but still winds up with a care slung in her direction, which she floats away to safety.
After more pitched battle (including Grunge and Freefall blowing up a tanker truck!), Fairchild eventually wises up and simply pulls the power cables off of the woman’s armor. She ties her up with a stop sign and leaves her for law enforcement to take care of.
When they arrive, she is desperate to free herself, screaming, “Langston will destroy the entire timestream if I don’t stop him!”
Hmm, where did we just see some recklessness with the timestream… perhaps in Stormwatch #9?