Mar 3, 2016

Bullet Points: Arcudi and Frank's Gen13

Welcome back to the Comics Cube, and to Bullet Points, where I take a series and call out one thing per issue. Today's series is Gen13 by John Arcudi and Gary Frank (and sometimes Jeff Moy), which ran from the 25th issue of the first volume to the 41st. Let's get started.

Issue #25: Gen13 made its name as a fun, tongue-in-cheek book with a lot of cheesecake, and was drawn by one of the greatest cheesecake artists of the modern era, J. Scott Campbell. That's what sold the book and they were always aware of it, poking fun at it whenever they could. There's nothing wrong with that — it was what it was, and it sold to whom it sold (including me. I don't consider it a guilty pleasure. It was fun to read.).

So of course the first thing Arcudi and Frank do is put them in wintertime New York and bundle them up.

That's pretty ballsy. That right there says "We know what made this book sell, and we're going to show you that what we're bringing to the table is going to be just as good as those things." We're seeing it more and more in recent years as more and more superheroines who have previously been dressed in more revealing costumes have been covered up (something I personally think should be executed and judged on a case-by-case basis; I get it for Spider-Woman and Carol Danvers, I do not like it for Wonder Woman or Power Girl. We can discuss this elsewhere, like in the comments or on our Facebook page.), but here's Gen13, doing it back in 1997 near the end of the Bad Girl era.

Y'gotta admire it — and of course it wouldn't work if Gary Frank weren't a good artist. I've always liked Gary Frank, and I like both the clean style he displays here in a different way than I like his current, more sketchy style, but I like them in different ways.

That one shot up there really captures the personality of the entire team. Grunge is playful with Roxy, his girlfriend, who lets him be playful. Bobby (aka Burnout) likes Sarah, and cares, but he knows she doesn't swing that way so he keeps his distance. Sarah in general is the ice queen of the group anyway, and here she's freezing. And leading them is Caitlin Fairchild, tall, confident, and walking with purpose.

Issue #26: Saying they were going to cut down on the cheesecake didn't mean it was going away entirely. Sarah Rainmaker, a Native American who just so happened to be one of the first lesbians in mainstream superhero comics, had made a pass at Roxy Spaulding, also known as Freefall, in the second issue of the series, and it freaked Roxy out. They wouldn't really get along after that.

Roxy's homophobia, such as it were, to me dates the series, and that's a good thing. She and Sarah would eventually become close, and well, freaking out over things you don't understand is a part of the process of acceptance, both as individuals and as a society.

Issue #27: This issue features the only appearance of Terese, who shows up in two pages as someone Sarah instantly falls for. Why does she never show back up again? I wonder if there were plans to have her come back that maybe got vetoed. In any case, Sarah's crush on her is something she and Roxy eventually bond over.

Issue #28: Doing my bullet points for this, I realize now my favorite characters are definitely Roxy and Sarah, since those are the characters that stick out to me each issue. In this issue Roxy finds her stepmom. Searching for their parents is a big thing for the Gen13 crowd. At this point in the story, Bobby's found his dad — or rather, he learned that their mentor, John Lynch, was his father all along — and Caitlin's found her dad.

Later on, someone in the letters pages would ask why Roxy and her stepmom looked so alike, and the editors would respond with "Coincidence?" But of course it wasn't, since this was done on purpose and Gloria Spaulding was Freefall's actual biological mom. So you know, if you ask people working on a book to give up a plot point, don't be mad if they lie to you.

Issue #29: For all the quiet moments I've shown so far, Gary Frank could really lower the boom if he needed to. Needing to infiltrate a building that's protected against just about every weapon on Earth, Gen13 sends in their weapon: Caitlin Fairchild.

In a nice contrast, here's Freefall demonstrating her powers.

Issue #30: The team moves to the Florida Keys and the cheesecake comes back. Frank isn't as crowd-pleasing as Campbell, but the humor is still intact.

This is also the first appearance of John, the conspiracy theorist who just so happens to see everything weird Gen13 is doing. Take a look at his really 90s conspiracy list.

Issue #31: This is a fun story where Roxy goes gambling by making lizards race, and gets Sarah to loosen up. Their bonding issue, almost 30 issues overdue.

Issue #32: Lots happen in this issue, specifically a typhoon happening concurrently with a fight that Lynch has with Alex Fairchild, but the thing that sticks out to me is the framing of this panel, which made it, on reading, just a bit more powerful than it probably should have been.

Issue #33: This was a very fun filler issue where Caitlin, Bobby, and Grunge run into a scientist who, in an effort to stop the aging process, ended up reversing it, turning him into a giant baby. We need these crazy ideas in the world.

Issue #34: Roxy runs back to her mom, and it's in this issue that we pretty much see that she's Caitlin's half-sister. Alex is also her dad.

I've always liked Roxy's general look, even though I'd have to search my brain hard to remember what her costume actually is. But that was part of the fun of her character. Even without a costume, she was visually distinct with the pink highlights and, quite frankly, just being the most animated of them all.

Issue #35: Gary Frank used to draw Supergirl (in fact, I think that was his assignment directly prior to this), so we get a quick Easter egg.

Issue #36: John the conspiracy theorist is one of those characters you can't think too hard about. He's fun, but a character like that pokes al sorts of holes in the story if you let it. Lynch and Alex Fairchild are supposed to be experts at hiding, and here John is, able to spy on them all the time and from far away. It's fun. You just can't think too hard about it.

Issue #37: Missiles get thrown at Gen13, about to hit the Fairchilds. When the dust clears, this is what we see.

And Caitlin, the most pacifistic of the Gen13ers, gets pissed.

That's intense.

Issue #38: It's the start of the last storyline, "Death and the Broken Promise," and it starts off innocently enough, with the team surprising Alex Fairchild with dinner. It's a cute moment, and stands in stark contrast to the attacks they're about to endure afterward and everything that's about to happen.

Issue #39: Sarah Rainmaker: Badass.

Issue #40: These are the first and last pages of this issue. The last page is a resonant callback to the first. And somehow, some way, when I got to the end, I realized I wanted Alex Fairchild to live. Arcudi and Frank somehow took these characters from what had previously just been a fun popcorn book and made me care about them. I'm not sure when it happened. But it did, in there, somewhere.

Issue #41: First of all, this is a beautiful cover.

The last page of this book is Fairchild remembering the last moments of the dinner — and it's not even how it really happened. She's remembering it as she chooses to remember it. She chooses to remember her dad this way despite not having had much time with him at all.

Very powerful stuff by Arcudi and Frank.

Good night, Cubers.

Want a series covered for Bullet Points? Let us know at comicscube(at)gmail(dot)com.

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