Land of the Lost: Chapter Three
The Case of the Missing Gen13/Batman
I remember being ecstatic upon seeing J. Scott Campbell’s terrific pin-up promoting a two-part “Batman/Gen13” crossover back in 1996. It seemed like such an odd pairing that I was really intrigued to see how this was going to be pulled off, because Batman had basically been portrayed as an obnoxious conservative tightwad since Miller’s “Dark Knight” in 1986. Meanwhile, the Gen13 characters were a free-spirited bunch of Generation-Xers who were hip, breezy and sexy with Campbell’s gorgeous and infectious artwork at the helm. The release date came and went, and this crossover was never realized nor was any explanation given whatsoever. It became obvious that this project was dead. After 1996 (with the passing of the grunge lifestyle), the Gen13 characters have basically, more or less, faded from the spotlight while J. Scott Campbell invested his time and talents into his successful “Danger Girl” series. Being the champion of lost causes, I caught up with the extremely busy Mr. Campbell and conducted a short interview regarding this lost tale in 2003.
|The one piece of promotional art drawn for the aborted "Gen13/Batman" pin-up is this J. Scott Campbell/Alex Garner full-pager.|
Well, as I remember it, Jim Lee approached me and casually mentioned that he had been speaking regularly to some of the “higher-ups” at DC and mentioned that there seemed to be a lot of possibilities for Wildstorm/DC crossovers. Remember, this was at least a couple of years before Jim ended up selling to DC, so the idea of our characters being allowed to crossover with the DC universe was really a pretty impressive notion for us. I believe that it was in this initial conversation that Jim probed my interest in a possible “Gen13/Batman” crossover. I immediately jumped at the idea. Now, I don’t recall if Jim was aware of my tremendous affection for Batman before this suggestion, but it was definitely apparent to him after this conversation. I also remember how funny both the comic book media and even the other talent around our own studio reacted to the idea. I guess some people thought that Gen13 and Batman were just way too different to ever have a successful crossover. I couldn’t have disagreed more! On the contrary, I’ve never much seen the point in pairing up characters in crossovers that are too much alike. Take for instance the “Batman/Spawn” thing. Sure, the two of them look cool standing together on a poster or on the cover of Wizard, but I don’t think that there is a lot of chemistry between the two. They’re moody, dark and brooding and they don’t react to each other in an interesting way. However, if you put Grunge and Roxy into the Batmobile with Batman driving, you know interesting things are going to happen. Put Fairchild in the Batcave, people were going to say, “Oh, I have to see this!” That’s my opinion, anyway!
Why was it going to be two issues?
Because we knew that would be the minimum amount of issues needed to tell an interesting story. It might have even been planned to have two 48-pagers as I recall. I suppose that we really wanted to take advantage of the opportunity. And we didn’t want to cram the thing with 12-panel pages. We wanted to have, as they say in the biz, “Some BIG SHOTS.”
What did the story that writer Brandon Choi and yourself involve? How would you describe it?
This might be harder to recall. I remember that it started out with us catching Batman at the end of a previous adventure, you know, kind of a “James Bond/Indiana Jones” movie device, to get you into the action right away. He was going to be fighting Mr. Freeze (by request, since he is one of my favorite Bat villains). Immediately following the end of that sequence, we were to cut to Fairchild winning some kind of science fair which would allow her to advance to the state championships to be held in… you guessed it… Gotham City. Now, the main villain of the two issues was to be the Joker, of course. We came up with some kind of mystical device that he was going to steal from somewhere that he would threaten all of Gotham City with. I was at the same time as this, developing “Danger Girl,” so the idea of incorporating mystic objects really appealed to me. However, the fact that I can’t even remember the artifact’s gimmick, probably gives you an indication of how senseless it probably was. At the time though, it didn’t seem to matter, because it was just a “MacGuffin,” a pointless device to move the story along. After all, we just wanted to see these characters interact to each other, right? Anyways, the idea was to have the Gen13 team and Batman, bump into each other and eventually work together to stop the Joker, “When fun and wacky high-jinx ensue!” (In my best “wacky announcer” voice!).
|"Gen13" #0 - With the characters from "Gen13," Campbell brought a much-needed degree of humor, sexiness and hipness during the grim and gritty era at the start of Image Comics; the artist's influence was felt immediately by his peers and fans.|
Well, besides of course, Batman, The Joker and Mr. Freeze, and I think Oracle. I was also trying to work in Harley Quinn, because I was a pretty huge fan of the Bruce Timm “Batman” cartoon at the time. However, this was before Harley was worked into the DC universe, so I was told that this wasn’t possible. I suggested the idea of adding a Harley-ish type sidekick for the Joker, as seen in my sketches, because I really felt that the Joker needed somebody to bounce off of, and, I liked to draw cute looking girls in tight outfits [laugs]. But this was an even bigger “no-no” in DC’s eyes I think because I was inventing a new DC character and that’s an entirely different and much more complicated can of worms.
You’ve handled a lot of comedic strips, how were you going to handle a character with the deep overtones of Batman? What version of the Dark Knight did you base your look on? What was your attraction to the character?
I had planned to play Batman very straight. It certainly wasn’t going to be my intent to somehow turn him into the more comedic “Adam West” Batman or something because of “Gen13’s” level of humor. Instead, I thought that there could still be occasion for funny moments between the Gen kids and Batman because a serious Batman loosing his cool exterior because Grunge is randomly pushing “Awesome” looking buttons in the Batmobile and causing rockets and other gadgets to fire off is funny without having to re-invent the individual characteristics of these very different people. I suppose I was imagining a kind of “Dennis the Menace/Mr. Wilson” vibe to the whole thing in which Batman would play the sort of grumpy parental father figure and the Gen13 the bratty next-door-neighbor kids, with the both of them eventually giving the other respect by the end of the story.
I’ve always loved Batman, as most kids do, from when I was very little. It’s very hard for me to pin down the exact reason for the attraction. I suppose at the end of the day he’s just “cool!” But even more than Batman himself, I love everything else that goes with him. I love his gadgets, the Batmobile, the Batcave. I love Gotham City. But probably most of all, I love his rogues’ gallery of villains! Batman has to have the all-time best villains, hands down! The concept is just awesome all around. And even better than that, Batman is timeless. He’s a legend.
I’m not quite sure exactly where my version of Batman would have gone. As much as I love the Dark Knight, I’m pretty sure that I wasn’t going to take it that direction. I envisioned a leaner looking Batman, not quite so bulky. Perhaps a bit more along the lines of Neal’s, since that was the version I most remember growing up with. And maybe a bit more stylized and cartoony, without making him look silly or goofy. Not surprisingly, I really liked Art Adams’ take on Batman in both “Batman” #400 and in his Superman/ Batman team-up in “Action Comics Annual” #1. And as I mentioned, I was a big fan of the “Batman Animated Adventures.” When I look at the one or two drawings of Batman I did do around that time, I really don’t care for them. My Batman wasn’t there yet in those. It hadn’t had a chance to emerge yet.
|"Gen13" #1 (The Limited Series) - At WildStorm, Campbell started slowly by doing spot illustrations, trading cards and pin-ups until finally pencilling and co-developing "Gen13" with Jim Lee and Brandon Choi.|
Well, these sketches and the finished promo piece are all that I ever ended up drawing. We went back and forth with DC about the story for I think a year or something. And over that period of time a lot of things in the story were changed. Several of my favorite scenes in the books were eventually removed entirely, such as a really great scene in which Fairchild was in the Batcave and that really funny car chase scene I mentioned earlier in which Grunge and Roxy ride along with Batman in the Batmobile. We kept being told the “Batman wouldn’t do that” or “No, they can’t be there.” It became more and more difficult to put Batman and the Gen13 in the same places at all. I remember joking that I wasn’t going to do a crossover but instead two totally separate stories in the same book.
There was also this whole issue of Batman’s comic book continuity. I’ll be honest, at the time I wasn’t up on the activities of the “comic book” Batman. And when I was presented with his current comic book look �" I’ll be honest with you �" I wanted to barf! At the time they had him looking more like the “Movie Batman” I guess, where he was dressed all in shinny black rubber or leather. He wasn’t wearing his classic briefs anymore either. I had always envisioned drawing the classic grey Batman with the leathery briefs and cowl only! I hated this new one. I really fought them about this. I also really hated his stupid looking Batmobile that they had. I wanted to do my own. I guess I just couldn’t see why this couldn’t just be like an Elseworlds kind of a thing, as in the Dark Knight or another favorite of mine, the Simon Bisley “Batman/Judge Dread” crossover. After all, those guys had been allowed the opportunity to really put their stamp on Batman.
When I finally looked over the approved script, I just wasn’t excited about it anymore. I told them that I’d much rather get on with my new “Danger Girl” series. That was now where my heart was. I fully expected them to go on with the story with somebody else drawing it, but that never happened. In the end, I can’t help but wonder if Wildstorm also thought that the resulting plot was just too uninteresting to pursue.
Looking back, do you miss drawing Gen13? Do you still have a lot of affection for them?
I haven’t really looked back at it until this conversation [in 2003]. I suppose, thinking about it now, I am a bit sad that it didn’t happen. And “Gen13” certainly isn’t what it once was, so it’s not like I can do it now. I kind of now compare “Gen13” to some kind of huge ’80s band like Duran Duran or Def Leppard, both huge in their day but lacking the ability to age well. Like fashion. In the end, “Gen13’s” trendiness was probably also its downfall. I’ll always have a warm spot in my heart for Gen13. It was kind of like my professional childhood. I have very fond memories about it, but at the same time, I really don’t want to return to it. As far as Batman is concerned, he continues to live on regardless of us individual artists. I imagine that I’ll get another chance to work on a really great story with him someday - something that I can really leave my mark on. Looking back, I just don’t think that I was really ready for Batman back in ’96.
[NOTE: This installment originally appeared in the pages of “Comic Book Artist Magazine” Vol. 2, #1.]