Gen 13
by Jim Lee, Brandon
Choi, J. Scott Campbell
(WildStorm, 1996)

The idea behind Gen 13 was never very original.

The team of young superheroes in training bears a striking similarity to Marvel Comics' New Mutants. Team leader Caitlin Fairchild is rather like She-Hulk, although instead of turning green, she wears it. Grunge is modeled on the villainous Absorbing Man, while Rainmaker is a Native American clone of the X-Men's Storm and Burnout is the Human Torch with peach fuzz on his chin. As for Freefall, she's somewhere between the Invisible Girl and any hero who can fly.

But that didn't stop Gen 13 from having a successful run, including numerous graphic novels and crossovers with other companies. And it all started here, with the 1996 miniseries by Jim Lee, Brandon Choi and J. Scott Campbell in which Caitlin bursts out of her clothing for the very first time.

The appeal of Gen 13 is based on several key factors. The characters are interesting and they interact amusingly, often with romantic and/or sexual overtones. The stories are typically lighthearted and fun. The female characters are all beautiful -- long, lean, perky and immodest -- and they show a lot of skin -- either intentionally as a fashion choice or accidentally as a consequence of battle. And the art is very good; after all, cheesecake requires good presentation.

In this introductory tale, the protagonists are all youngsters (late teens/early 20s) who are recruited for a government internship and submit to various experiments and training. The government facade masks a secret program dedicated to the development of super-powered soldiers, and all of these candidates begin manifesting their abilities under surprising circumstances. (Caitlin, for instance, transforms from being a shy, bookish college student to a stacked and powerful amazon at the perfect opportunity to shred her nightgown and flash Grunge, who's a bit of a pervert, and intimidate Freefall, who's rather insecure about her own, more petite form.) They battle the bad guys -- apparently evil government agents run amuck, with heavily weaponed strike teams and a few superpowered baddies already on their side -- and escape with the aid of former program leader John Lynch, who suffers guilt for his earlier misdeeds and vows to help protect these children from his former allies.

There's even a crossover with Pitt, a grey-skinned cross between Marvel's Hulk and DC's Lobo. As usually occurs in comic-book crossovers, the characters meet, fight, reconcile and finally work together to beat their mutual enemies.

OK, so Gen 13 isn't terribly innovative. But it's fun to read and fun to look at, and that's the first level of success in the genre. This miniseries -- collected in one convenient volume -- is a good kick-off to loads of youthful hijinks, innuendo and adventure.

by Tom Knapp
10 December 2005

A note from comics section editor Sarah Meador: "You missed one of Gen 13's finest points: equal exploitation! Every bloody superhero comic in existence has women flashing skin and bursting out of their clothing; dang few have male characters, especially heroes, who run around in a constant state of half-nekkidity. Cheesecake may be sweet, but beefcake is good for you!"

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