Image At 25: How ‘Gen13′ Reinvented The Teen Superhero
The year is 1995. I'm sitting in my 7th grade English class, turned around in my chair to talk to my friend Eddie. We'd become friends partially because both of us were reading comics, but to be honest, I was way more into them than he was. I mean, he didn't even read Wizard to get all the hottest news, which was probably why I was having such a hard time explaining my new favorite comic to him.
"It's called Gen13," I said. "And it's totally awesome."
I'd seen it in the magazine in glowing reviews that were accompanied by panels of J. Scott Campbell's big-eyed, red-haired Caitlin Fairchild, whose costume always seemed to be in various stages of disrepair, ranging from "scant" to "shredded." As a kid who was about to enter my own 13th year over that summer, I'll cop to being more than a little intrigued for all the obvious reasons, but believe it or not, my interest actually went slightly deeper than that.
See, at the time, none of my favorite superheroes felt like they were all that accessible to a kid who could only occasionally get over to a hole-in-the-wall comic book store that --- despite having the mandatory off-model mural of the Punisher and Batman on the front window --- devoted most of their floor space to a considerable selection of used romance novels. Getting my hands on anything there was a crap shoot, and following the interconnected sagas that Marvel and DC were putting out just wasn't possible.
These were the years that gave us the seemingly endless aftermath of Knightfall --- which, despite a lifelong love of the Caped Crusader, felt like the opposite of the slick, stylish character that I was obsessing over on Batman: The Animated Series --- and the Clone Saga in the Spider-Man books hitting a fever pitch of intensity with Kaine showing up. Even the X-Men titles, which I'd been intrigued with because of how complicated they were, were all getting cancelled and replaced with weird new titles set in a completely different universe! It was just too much.
But Gen13, on the other hand, was something that felt fresh.
Don't get me wrong, it was still ludicrously complicated. I'd completely missed the origin story miniseries, and within the first twelve issues of the ongoing, it crosses over with the rest of Jim Lee's WildStorm universe twice. On top of that, that same first year tells us that of the book's seven main characters --- Grunge, Burnout, Freefall, Rainmaker, and Fairchild, plus their mentor, John Lynch, and their maid, Anna -- three of them have secret dads, and one's a robot.
But at the same time, they felt like teens -- or at least the way I thought teens would be, right as I was about to become one. They wanted to hang out and play video games, and rather than going on missions, they tended to stumble into superheroic problems while they were goofing off, running into supervillains on the beach, or being accidentally lured into an evil carnival.
The best, though, was when they wound up shipwrecked on an island that was host to a bizarre war between sexy Amazons, straight-up pirates, and one guy who was just clearly Bruce Campbell. For better or worse, that's still one of the most influential stories on my upbringing as a comics reader.
I mean, it's even the first comic I remember reading that dealt pretty explicitly --- albeit clumsily --- with LGBT characters, though their treatment of the material may have left a little bit to be desired.
Okay, so it's deeply flawed . I think their hearts were in the right place, though. Mostly. Sort of.
But back in Ms. Wilson's class, I was having a hard time trying to communicate the ways in which this book took themes and ideas that I was already familiar with from the world of superheroes and made them feel new and fun again. But I did my best.
"They're these kids, right? And they're on the run from the government, who wanted to experiment on them, and they've got these gen-factor super-powers, and ---"
"So they're mutants," Eddie said, interrupting me with a look of intense skepticism on his face.
"No, they're... they're gen-active. It's different!"
To be honest, I never was able to sell him on it. But I still like that pirate story way more than I probably should.