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Gen 13: September Song

I went through a phase where I very much liked Gen 13. It had all the elements of X-Men (kids with powers, oppressive government, soap opera plotting), but it had busty girls drawn wearing negligees, too (in almost every issue).

Looking back, I can chalk up most of my "like" to the fact that I was young, foolish, and somehow believed J. Scott Campbell had talent in drawing anything other than breasts and hips that somehow flare out from a 3 inch waist. The book was awful: awfully written (want a story where the team travels to the future? Okay, just let me grab my sack of science fiction clichés) and awfully drawn. I was not entirely sad to see it go, and I wish someone would stop giving Campbell work. He's a triple threat: bad writer, bad artist, bad…well that's only two, but it sounds better than "double threat."

Suffice it to say, I said goodbye to Gen 13 and the rest of Wildstorm's product was soon to follow.

Last year the title was re-launched with a new creative team. I deftly ignored it, figuring that Gen 13 had been played out. A year later, this trade comes out…

I hate being wrong.

The book has been taken in a very different direction (as if the first series had a direction), largely in part to the spectacular writing of Chris Claremont and the art of Ale Garza, with inks by Sandra Pope.

Ethan's dad died in the World Trade Center while evacuating those trapped inside. He and his twin brother Dylan have been dealing with the death of their father for over a year, as well as helping to keep their family up and running. Then one night, Ethan has a dream where his brother is being attacked, and quickly tackles whatever it is that's doing the attacking. He wakes up with his eyes glowing with silvery flames.

Herod, a being who seems to float around the city giving out powers to whomever, has visited Ethan and left him with this message: "At the appointed time, at the appointed place, you will be judged." Neither Ethan or Dylan seem all that phased by this new development. In fact, in a nice change of pace, Claremont makes the characters excited about getting powers, instead of all guilt-ridden and depressed; take that Uncle Ben. The brothers start to notice a few others who have been "touched" by Herod. Gosh, that sounds dirty.

What follows is a great story of the beginnings of a team, and what's best about it is that Claremont never cheats the reader throughout the whole book. For once, someone wrote a story that takes its time. Not a lot of writers today take the time to slowly work their way into a story arc. They'll take their first issue (the one that more people are likely to pick up) and jam pack the thing with almost every character that will appear in the arc. They'll give the briefest introduction to each, and maybe devote a couple extra pages to the main character. And then they slow it down and get to the story in the second issue.

Claremont begins with characterization in each issue; the first four chapters introduce us to each character and identify their major problems and concerns. While he's doing this, he weaves the plot into the background, moving it along and building it up as we meet each new character. It's incredibly effective in the way it creates suspense.

When we meet Ethan, the groundwork is laid for the story of how the "genies" are created and how Herod operates, and we get briefly introduced to one of the other main characters. When we meet Gwen, she meets Ethan, and the main plot as well as the subplot involving the Chinese gangs and Gwen's father are moved along and introduced, respectively. And similar things happen with Jan'elle and Hamza when they're introduced.

I was really surprised with the amount of layers the story had, mostly because I didn't expect much from Claremont. As much as the man has given to the medium in his spectacular runs on books like Uncanny X-Men, I haven't read anything great from him in years. (Who remembers Sovereign 7? Now, who remembers it fondly?) Color me freaking wrong.

Claremont puts together a solid story, but the small touches that he adds to the narrative really pull things together. I've never read a comic book that captured the feeling of a real city. While James Robinson made his fictional Opal City a character by itself in Starman, Claremont really creates the feeling of being in New York City in this book.

And he manages to handle the post 9-11 NYC with a reality that many of the 9-11 tribute books failed to attain: that it happened and it was horrible, but the city kept going. We get a scene explaining the dip and then resurgence of the night life in New York in Gwen's story; we see Ethan and Dylan continue to cope with the loss of their dad and see their mother keep things together as best as she can. Claremont handles Hamza, a Muslim in New York, very well and shows the prejudice that he has to face after September 11th.

Maybe this is the reason the kids seem to roll with the punches so well when it comes to their powers, but it works damn well as a theme thanks to Claremont's expert handling.

Ale Garza (Ninja Boy) does some great pencil work and Sandra Hope's inks make the visuals distinct and interesting. Garza also handles the character designs well. He draws them on the younger side of fifteen, so no one has the look of "teenager by way of Muscle Beach," except where appropriate. And the fact that the kids don't really have costumes is a plus in my book, as we get to see them wearing different clothes each day. You know, like real people. Garza also depicts the unique powers of the kids very well: Ethan's flame abilities (which are less about burning things and more about the raw power of creation) are beautiful energy effects. Gwen's dragon is as animate as any of the characters. All the powers are well rendered, and well colored, thanks to the folks at Udon studios and Studio F.

If anything bad can be said about his art, it's that Garza has penchant for drawing breasts much in the Campbell-esque (i.e. pretty large) fashion, but it's only mildly distracting, and oddly appropriate in one or two scenes.

September Song is a much-needed departure from the old Gen13 (though old school fans will recognize one familiar red-headed face from the old series) and Claremont creates a unique story about teenagers getting and dealing with fantastic powers. He also gives us some great mysteries and subplots that beg for more explanation, making us want the next volume to come out soon.

While Wildstorm/DC is making the getting of said book a little difficult by charging $19.95 for it, you are getting issues #0-6 of the series, plus a sketch gallery that shows Garza's evolving vision of each character. You get a decent amount for what you pay, that's for sure. Pick it up. It's just that good.

Robert Sparling

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