Posted by Don MacPherson on October 12th, 2006
Gen13 v.4 #1
“Best of a Bad Lot, Part One: And on the First Day”
Writer: Gail Simone
Pencils: Talent Caldwell
Inks: Matt Banning
Colors: Carrie Strachan
Letters: Pat Brosseau
Cover artists: Caldwell & Banning
Editor: Ben Abernathy
Publisher: DC Comics/Wildstorm Productions
Price: $2.99 US/$4 CAN
I am not a Gen13 fan. Never have been, and I’ve sampled the property at various points in its history, including the initial run. There have been a couple of entertaining stories, but those were the result of talented writers and artists using the title characters as generic super-hero characters. Now, normally I’d pass on a new Gen13 title, but anything with Gail Simone attached as a writer earns a look as far as I’m concerned. Unfortunately, the second issue isn’t going to get a glance. I’m honestly surprised that Simone is the writer on this inaugural issue, given that the script is completely lacking in her trademark wit and style. I’m also at a loss as to why this series is starting things over at the beginning again. I realize they’re after new readers, but the attempt at accessibility falls flat and the story is bound to bore die-hard Gen13 fans.
International Operations is the most powerful intelligence agency on the planet, and it’s gone so far to launch a program to develop its own metahuman soldiers and agents. The division in charge of creating those superhumans is Tabula Rasa, and the corrupt department has found a new revenue stream to further its research and experiments: super-powered sex and violence for sale to the wealthiest, sickest voyeurs. Meanwhile, five teens struggle through humiliating and painful lives, unaware they’re about to be harvested as the latest batch of Tabula Rasa’s guinea pigs.
Talent Caldwell is perhaps best known for imitating the style of Michael Turner, but with this project, he demonstrates that he can ape the style of other artists as well. This has a strong J. Scott Campbell vibe to it, which is appropriate for the title, but I wonder if Caldwell has his own style that’s he’s kept hidden from the industry throughout his career. As was the case with the original Gen13 comics, there’s far too strong a visual emphasis on certain physical attributes of the feminine forms. There’s a wide-eyed, manga influence at play that will appeal to fans of typical Japanese comic art, but I find it’s overdone. Furthermore, that brighter tone flies in the face of the corruption and depravity that’s at play in the plot.
The most frustrating visual problem with the book, though, is to be found on the first page. The IM screens are colors so darkly that it’s difficult to make out what’s printed in those caption boxes. This is the first thing the reader sees when delving into this comic book, and it’s a frustrating distraction.
The emphasis in this issue is on Tabula Rasa, and the notion that it illegally taps its resources to boost its own revenue stream is one that brings credibility to the story. Of course, the agency is so corrupt and sadistic that it’s difficult to accept, so credibility is still a problem. The brief connection between Roxy and her “mom” later in the book works well, but it’s fleeting.
Another problem with that scene — and with all of the scenes featuring the five main characters — is that they’re repetitive. Each faces the same problems, the same pain, and ultimately, each witnesses the same protective change of heart in parents. Furthermore, what we do learn about these characters is superficial. I was especially irked by the fact that Rainmaker seems to be defined only by her sexuality and her race (at least in the eyes of the other characters).
You’d be hard pressed to find a bigger fan of Gail Simone’s work, and despite my reaction to this comic book, I remain a big fan. This comic just doesn’t read like a Simone script, and given the simplicity of the core concept, I don’t see why Wildstorm wanted to start over from scratch. The benefit of telling stories featuring teen characters is that the reader gets to see them grow up, and now any character development that might have transpired before seems to be lost. 2/10