Jab’s Image Comics Deep Dive: Deathblow, Gen 13

Yes, DEATHBLOW. I’m less surprised by the name and more surprised they didn’t come up with it elsewhere- it’s possibly the most “Iron Age” name in a line that includes Warblade, Ripclaw, and Ballistic. The comic itself is an attempt by Jim Lee to ape Frank Miller, and it’s curious and bold on that attempt- as Lee is about 100 times as skilled as most “Style Clone” artists, he pulls it off a tad- using blotchy black shadows over his trademark lineart so you can’t tell it’s him as much.

Deathblow is a man who joined the Navy to avenge the deaths of his parents at the hands of terrorists, joining first the Navy SEALs, then the elite “Team Seven” (a part of Wildstorm’s backstory). He was exposed to the “Gen-Factor” like the other members, gaining super-powers as a result, but they didn’t manifest for years. He served I/O continuously, even after most of his team went underground. When his wife was killed by a teammate, and he was diagnosed with a brain tumor, he retired, wanting to atone for the innocents he killed during his missions. His “cancer” turned out to be his powers awakening, and he soon began helping people against demonic entities and the like, becoming a professional bodyguard in a series that reads mostly like “A dude has a fight, then another fight, then gets ambushed for another fight”, with a lot of religious overtones since one of his allies is a sexy Murder-Nun and various people have angel themes. He got three issues written by Alan Moore. The character was eventually killed off while finishing Damocles, a villain from the Fire From Heaven crossover.

Deathblow returned, like many/most Wildstorm properties, in the DC Universe, starring in his own book for a while, written by Brian Azzarello, then again in the New DCU.

Shockingly, this book became known for the fanservice.

GEN¹³ :
Oddly, the Image comic that proved by far the most notable and memorable to almost anyone I’ve ever met ended up being one of Jim Lee’s last new ideas (coming in late ’93 and 1994) for his WildStorm property- the Teen T&A Dramedy, Gen¹³ ! The reason? Non-stop, uncompromising, raw FANSERVICE. While Image was known for T&A books and violence, nothing reveled in skin-baring shenanigans as shamelessly as Gen¹³ did, to the point where it’s all the book is really known for.

The funny thing is… the first story-arc is AWFUL. I mean, it’s pure shit. Brandon Choi may be the worst author in the history of comic books- the dialogue is almost a parody of what a dorky adult thinks cool young teens act and talk like. When Grunge seems to be fatally shot, he suddenly recovers and spits out a molten bunch of lead. This, he finds “GNARLY!”, and his sorta-girlfriend Freefall goes “Grunge, baby, that’s jsut so mondo rad!” SOMEONE WAS PAID ACTUAL MONEY TO WRITE THIS!

The first story is based around dorky lil’ Caitlin Fairchild recruited for a government “internship” that is actually meant to transform her and her classmates into “Gen-Active” teens, since they’re descended from the infamous “Team 7” (part of the backstory for Jim’s side of the Image universe), most of whom died when the government tried to give them powers. So through drug treatments, experimentation and torture, the evil government forces these kids to be come superhuman, and a five-teen squad fights back against them and two loyal “Gen-Active” agents, Threshold & Bliss.

The dialogue, as stated, is abysmal. The story itself is drek, too- of the most importance, there are five kids on this super-team, and yet TWO of them never even get any characterization at all! While Fairchild is obviously the main character of focus, and subject to the most full-body Fanservice shots (pictures of her long legs, and shots of her ass in a thong), and Grunge & Freefall are total bickering sidekicks… Burnout & Rainmaker could not possibly have been focused on less. Rainmaker just grouches at Grunge for forgetting her name (a “running gag” that takes place over two pages and is then dropped), and Burnout is just “some guy” for the entire duration. I mean, this isn’t WildC.A.T.s , which shoves 47 characters into your hands in three issues- this was a book with a five-person roster of new characters to introduce, a mentor figure, and 3-4 villains. And there’s NOTHING for Burnout & Rainmaker to do!

This lack of focus comes into play when Fairchild makes a break for it after discovering the conspiracy- Freefall & Grunge, introduced earlier as a bickering “maybe couple” (they never kiss), join her, but there’s also three other people we’ve literally never met before. It creates a lot of narrative confusion and actually had me re-reading pages to see if I’d missed them. And one of them turns out to be the evil Threshold, who turns out to be a kid seen in the prelude, and he and his sister (who clearly wants to bone him) are villains who work for the government. And then randomly John Lynch from Jim Lee’s other books shows up and frees the kids, convincing them after 2-3 pages of narration and flashbacks to trust him. And there’s the mandatory “2nd or 3rd Issue Crossover”, as Pitt for some reason gets locked up there, and gets into a misunderstanding with Fairchild- he throws her around, but she kicks him in the balls and then they ally against their captors.

The book was clearly inspired by the X-Men, but not as much as many other Image titles. Rainmaker having weather powers and Roxy/Freefall being pretty much in the “Jubilee” style was most of what we got. They were more Totally Radical Teens than anything.

The book is most famous for introducing J. Scott Campbell to the world. A T&A artist like many guys for the time, he became so famous for it that it’s now his ONLY schtick- at least Jim Lee & others are hired to draw MEN sometimes. You can see flashes of his abilities here- Fairchild’s loonnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnng legs being the key source of fanservice. The breasts are relatively tiny by Image Comics standards, but are at least perky, and there’s TONS of ass shots- Fairchild’s suit is largely a thong, and there’s a lot of “battle damage” afflicting the women. At one point, the kids are captured, and in a scene I remember reading all the way back when the comic first came out, are stripped of all their clothing- Grunge & Burnout are seen nude from the waist up, while Freefall & Rainmaker are inexplicably bolted to a wall by… a single hand each, allowing them to cover their breasts with their free hands. WHO TRUSSES PEOPLE UP THIS WAY!!!

But for the most part, his art is EXTREMELY hit or miss. A good face here or there will be interrupted by a grotesque smiling jack-o’lantern visage, a woman whose mouth is FAR too large for her head, and eyes that shift in size from panel to panel. Freefall’s “cocky grins”, which are probably supposed to be sexy, are instead rather horrific, as if Campbell wants to “exaggerate faces” because of an inherently cartoonish style, but hasn’t learned the fundamentals of art yet, so he sucks at it and characters look inhuman and badly stretched-out. Grunge is the biggest source of Nightmare Fuel, though, as Campbell struggles REALLY hard with the notion of drawing an Asian male. This is something I’ve heard a lot of great artists admit, and I share the struggle, but Grunge at points has his eyes drawn on different sides of his head, far too distant from his nose, and often far too small- he legitimately looks either horribly mutated to like he has Down’s Syndrome in several pictures! And then randomly you’ll see a really GOOD face here or there! Campbell is just so hit or miss- doing the “Jim Lee Style” with shading and proportions, but lacking a lot of the basic structure.

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