Perhaps no other character is as iconic for JUST fanservice than Caitlin Fairchild. J. Scott Campbell went all-out in his fetish for gigantic legs by turning the super-strong amazonian member of Gen¹³ into not a muscualr broad like She-Hulk was, but a scrawny nymphette with sky-high legs of preposterous length. Fairchild was SO LEGGY that her legs were actually taller than her entire torso, plus her head, plus ANOTHER head high! Keep in mind that normal human women have legs about as long as their torsos (minus the head) and you’ll get an idea of just how insane Fairchild’s proportions were.
Fairchild was the signature character of Gen¹³, being a mousy, nerdy college girl given genetic boosts to her innate powers, transforming her into a 6’4″ powerhouse- the narrator of the first arc, she interacted with the others, usually acting as the “Sane One”, and had to come to the rescue of the other kids when their “savior” turned out to be the villain Threshold. Putting on some bandoliers and an Extreme ‘90s Gun, she invaded the bad guys’ base… and promptly tossed the gun away after a couple pages and just started fighting normally, because that gun thing was just to sell the next issue, ya know? Along the way, she fights Pitt after thinking they’re on opposite sides (he overpowers her, but she kicks him in the balls in an iconic scene), and then helps save her teammates, taking a “Field Leader” kind of position. She would later meet her long-lost father Alex, and discover that she & Roxy were half-sisters.
The surest sign that Gen¹³ was just gonna be a “T&A” book was, ironically, the appearance of Burnout, a male character. See, because the book was SO DEVOTED to ass shots that one of the main five characters… never even got any characterization! J. Scott Campbell can’t even draw him the same way from panel to panel! His hair shifts in length like goddamn Rob Liefeld is drawing him, and he never so much as gets a line or two to humanize him. He’s like one of the male members of S Club 7- just there so they can pretend it’s not just a titty book.
So Burnout appears in the first story arc as “the guy who doesn’t say anything” in the first issue, then runs off with Caitlin & the gang when they realize their bosses are bad guys. Along the way, he manifests his pyrokinetic abilities (a generic ’90s powerset) but manages to do nothing that involves the plot. His only real “thing” later is that when the team fight Threshold & Bliss, he is taken down by Bliss, who does a psychic whammy on him and makes him lust for her. He just kinda ends up on the team from that point, with the least character traits of the five. A later issue would reveal that he was actually the son of John Lynch, changing their relationship. He had a one-sided crush on Rainmaker, then another Gen-Active girl, but after that came all the reboots.
The most dated aspect of Gen¹³ by far is the existence of a character literally NAMED “Grunge”. Note to future comic book creators: Don’t name your characters after musical movements that are fading away even then. At least “Disco Dazzler” shortened her name and kind of escaped it a little. Grunge here is at least distinctive in that he’s a muscular, diminutive “dudebro” moron who happens to be Asian- a bit of a different take on the usual stereotypes of Asians in comics. Since two of his three creators are Asian (Lee & Choi), that probably explains it. Though you’d think they’d have created MORE of them- it’s kind of a thing for minority creators to work a little bit at adding characters of their own ethnicity to books.
Grunge is, honestly, a COMPLETE imbecile in the first arc of the book. He acts like a total slacker, goes around shirtless all the time, freaks out when their government handlers try to give them shots, repeatedly gets Rainmaker’s name wrong (which would be a funny gag if Choi hadn’t put every single instance in the same two pages), and makes constant remarks about how hot his teammate Fairchild is. He’s kind of equal parts stand-in for the fans (the fanboy lust) and a total joke. He’s the final member of the team to have his powers manifest, sort of doing an “Absorbing Man” kind of thing. And though he looks sorta-normal sometimes (J. Scott Campbell was mimicking the “Jim Lee Style” a little bit, and Jim’s men always look at least a little bit Asian, particularly in the eyes), there are moments when Campbell REALLY suffers with the notion of drawing an Asian male- frequently, Grunge looks straight-up deformed, with his eyes too far apart, too low, or too small, and his face can even end up very warped.
Grunge recurs in the regular Gen¹³ series as the same dudebro jerk, but has a thing with Freefall (they argue constantly, but we’re told they’re just kind of “together”, despite him hitting on Fairchild all the time and commenting on her butt), and even gets mass-laid by amazons one time. His open poon-houndery has led to his split with Roxy more than once. During one of the reboots, he was stated to be a genius who hid his intelligence, but most of the time he’s just a regular moron.
The Gen¹³ girl me I and everyone I know considered the least attractive was Freefall (typically just called “Roxy”), probably for the horrid crime of having short hair in an industry where long was preferred. She was a standard “Telekinetic”, but at least didn’t tie Telepathy into it, and came off as a sarcastic, snide “bad girl” at points, probably due to her smoking, and sassing on Grunge (“Easy, big guy- there’s not enough room in here for you AND your libido”). She’s a bit of a “Valley Girl”, and might also be a lapsed Catholic, but generally, she just came off like the writers had seen Clueless and wanted “a character like that” without bothering with authenticity or a real origin story.
Rainmaker has such a bizarre debut in Gen¹³- the rest of the team show up earlier on, with three in particular getting some real focus, but when they escape the base, the second issue suddenly has Rainmaker and Threshold with them. Threshold turns out to be a villain, while Rainmaker… is just there. Seriously, her only role from this point is to get mad at stuff- Grunge forgets her name repeatedly, she’s at the bottom of the dogpile when they fall out of a garbage chute, and more- she just yells. That’s her entire point here. It gets worse later on, as the creators make a go out of the team, but Rainmaker is now a lesbian. Except instead of pursuing the realities of being an LGBT youth in the ’90s, having her face prejudice, or showing her dealing with her true nature… it’s basically “HOLY SHIT THIS BROAD EATS CLAM, ISN’T THAT HOT YOU GUYS?!?” It’s a porno movie’s idea of a lesbian, essentially.
Things get even more “Teen Jab Wrote This” when she inexplicably decides to go swimming nude, leading to an issue full of “Rainmaker standing behind a plant or with a towel over her nipples”, as she saunters about the Gen¹³ HQ completely starkers, to the excitement of Grunge & Burnout. Granted, I was the exact age for this kind of thing at the time, so I wasn’t arguing THEN, but it kind of paints most of Image like that, y’know?
One thought on “Jab’s Image Deep Dive: Gen13 Characters!”
Okay, it’s circa 1999 and I’m corresponding with Joe Pruett, one of my favorite indy comic book writers and editor of the great anthology title Negative Burn published by Caliber Comics, via email. One of the things I asked Joe was what upcoming work he had in the pipeline. And he responded that he and artist Andrew Robinson, with whom he’d created the really great Western heroine Dusty Star, were going to be doing… Gen 13.
I think my jaw must have hit the floor. I probably wrote a reply that contained the sentence “But that’s a T&A book!” Joe replied again, and said, yes, he and Andrew were doing a Gen 13 one-shot entitled “Going West” and that he hoped I’d give it a try. So I did… and it was actually a good story with quality artwork.
I think Adam Warren also did some great work with Gen 13 in the late 1990s (I enjoyed the “evil mind control bubblegum pop” story that ran in #43-44 which used Fairchild really well) and I also liked the Superman / Gen 13 crossover.
But, yeah, you’re absolutely correct, for the first several years Gen 13 was completely shameless fanservice with one-dimensional characterization and paper-thin plotting.
LikeLiked by 1 person