Pipeline: In Which Wildstorm's Classic Teen Team Title Goes Goth

Tue, March 1st, 2016 at 2:58pm PST

Comic Books
Augie De Blieck Jr., Columnist
2

GEN13 EPIC RE-READ: "GEN13" #8-#9

gen13 8 cover

I've said before that the influence of Chris Claremont's "Uncanny X-Men" run is heavily felt in the style of Brandon Choi. This two-parter is another good example of that.

This story features a brainwashed Caitlin turned rogue/goth and set loose upon the rest of her teammates in a battle that brawn won't win for them. The team has been divided and must fight one on once against a team of bad guys who line up against them in a man-to-man offense. It's a combination of delightful X-Men tropes that go back nearly 40 years now, and a good 15-20 when this was published.

Let's take a step back. Remember that skinny weird guy Freefall ran into at the dance club back in issue #1? We saw him again in a cameo appearance a few issues back. He's back again, and this time he's the A-plot of the storyline. (That's him on the covers, wearing the extremely skinny pants.) He has a small gang of like-minded individuals who I guess would qualify as a goth villains league, complete with weird powers, warped personalities and pale complexions.

These issues came out in 1996, still a few years ahead of Chris Claremont writing The Neo characters, otherwise I'd guess they were an homage. It's almost like someone who enjoyed "Sandman" decided to create a gang of villains for a superhero book. Reverse Caitlin even gets the white font on black word balloons look. I'm not saying they're that literary or smart or anything like that. I just remember back in those days what the Sandman fandom looked like and how that might influence a superhero comic. They have names like Trance, Phobia, Albino and Nymph.

In true Claremontian tradition, the subplots continue to pile up, advancing one small page at a time. Ivana finally puts together her DV8 team with the explicit purpose to hunt down and take out the Gen13 squad. We find Caitlin's father in the "shocking" cliffhanger of issue #8. Issue #9 ends with one subplot that seems completely irrelevant, though I guess it's setting something up. There's one other tangent that is probably tied into the crossover event that's coming next issue.

gen13 9 cover

There's also a lot of the WildStorm Universe playing into this, with Lynch referencing a "Deathblow" story the Gen13 team had recently been guest stars in. The nation of Gamorra (and its obvious shades of X-Men's Gamorra) and its leader are mentioned. Team 7 gets a nod. Etc. etc.

To be honest, this all feels distracting. Setting up subplots for the company's crossover event is never a winning storytelling formula. Not once, not ever. "Gen13" stands best on its own doing its own thing and not being sucked into the general WildStorm universe. Subplots that directly relate to the next storyline can fit in well in the long term, though they can sometimes try so hard to maintain their mystery that it feels like nothing of important ever happened.

The best example of this is the entire first issue, where they try to hide Caitlin's identity until the end, even though it's obviously her who we see in semi-silhouette throughout. I think everyone reading this book -- even when it originally came out -- just smacked their heads at the end of the issue and said, "Duh," out loud.

Choi (and Campbell and Jim Lee, who are credited with story, as well) jump back and forth in time for this story. I like the structure, going one by one and showing the trouble each of the Gen13 kids is in followed by where they were before this fight started. Slowly, the full story unravels in a nonlinear way and you can piece together the full thing.

I have to wonder if "Pulp Fiction" was an influence on this story, for that reason. It had come out a year or two earlier, and the movie poster was in every college dorm floor at the time. This attempt at that form of storytelling wasn't as magical, but it's interesting to see young talent discovering their way and trying different techniques.

J. Scott Campbell drew the first part of the story, but Humberto Ramos filled in for the second part. Given their early styles at that point, the two blend together well. The differences are still dramatic, though. Ramos is even cartoonier than Campbell, stretch and pulling on characters to a greater extreme. Long limbs and large extremities ("big foot style") are married to heads that look, at times, like Tex Avery laid them out with Art Adams inking. I'm not sure if it was Ramos' style at the time or if he was trying to blend in with Campbell's style, but there's definitely an Art Adams influence in Ramos' fill-in, particularly in the fine thin lines in the hair and some of the compact posing.

Story continues below

Some of the overall mysteries of the series carry through in these two issues. Trance gets cut off before he can say the word, but the obvious connection between Roxy and Caitlin being that they're sisters is so obvious that the eventual revelation will feel anti-climactic.

This is also the issue where we learn that the team's housekeeper, Anna, is actually an android ("Anna the Android"!) when she breaks into the action and has her arm ripped off. The team's reaction to this unveiling is hilarious -- just one silent panel with a bunch of dropped jaws. Actually, Ramos draws the ultimate jaw drop in one panel that looks like the snake eating the mouse (or rabbit) who has to unhinge his lower jawbone to open wide enough.

gen13 9 anna android

In the end, Caitlin breaks free of the spell, and the team is ready to celebrate until Lynch gets a phone call to propel them into the crossover that starts next issue. Ugh.

Back Matter:

The letters column for issue #8 begins with this disclaimer:

MIAMI BEACH, FL. - Bringing you the best of bestesest letters is pal Sarah Becker who is currently on the East Coast filming a documentary...

Yes, "bestesest" is the word used in the letters column. I did not typo that.

That "documentary" was The Real World: Miami, which debuted in July 1996. If you want to feel old: That was 20 years ago. Everyone in that season is now in their early- to mid-40s.

The Internet was a growing thing in 1996. I can remember those days when you had the major players like CompuServe and AOL, plus dozens of local ISP providers that had local phone numbers you could dial into. And, yes, part of the fun of shopping for an Internet provider in the mid-1990s was making sure they had a local phone number. You didn't want to run up your phone bill.

The first grabs an image from an earlier issue of Gen13 to illustrate a competitive deal for Internet access:

gen13 wildstorm web

You can call them up to get a free disk to install the software to go online. I think that means an actual floppy disk, too, and not a CD. That software, by the way, requires four megabytes of RAM and at least Windows 3.1. And they're very generously getting you started with forty hours!

And it's WinSock compliant! What a deal!

Sorry, I'm having an old man moment. Let's look at the ad for WildStorm's own website:

gen13 wildstorm web 2

Yes! This is what the early days of the commercial web was like. Those buttons with rich textured backgrounds! A default Mac font with lots of gradients! A super-imposed image of the earth over the words "World Wildstorm Web"!

It all darn near brings a tear to my eye.

As you might have suspected, www.wildstorm.com redirects to DC's home page now.

Finally, here's the back cover ad:

gen13 dragon figs

I still have those Dragon action figures. I think I picked them up on eBay a few years later, though. I did not get the Jim Lee designed Turtles. I'm something of a purist when it comes to the Turtles. They don't need all the extra parts and costumes there.

I like the ad copy's description of the figures as a whole being "super buff." Yeah, that's a good '90s description right there.

THE GEN13 EPIC RE-READ RE-CAP (REALLY)

We've made it now through 15 issues of the "Epic Gen13 Re-Read," so this would be a good time to look back at how we got here:

As a reminder, the goal of this project is to cover all of the J. Scott Campbell run on the book, but I do have plans for a couple of cool diversions along the way. Stay tuned for those! We have plenty more material to cover here.

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