christmas comics cavalcade: gen13 – a christmas caper

Today we’re looking at Gen 13: A Christmas Caper, Written and drawn by Tom McWeeney and Richard Friend. Published by DC Comics/Wildstorm, the original cover price was an eye-popping $5.95.

I must confess, I know next to nothing about Gen 13. Whereas most of the Christmas comics I write about here also contain some form of nostalgia for me… this time, no nostalgia is attached to the book or the characters for me. From what I gather, the comic was a minor variation on the X-Men- a couple of superpowered teenagers on the run from the government. In fact, one my earliest memories of the series was the uproar over its’ title. Originally called Gen X (very 1990’s), Marvel Comics’ threatening a lawsuit over the use of the letter “X” and Wildstorm had to change it. The resulting controversy likely did nothing to hurt and everything to help the comic.

Gen 13 distinguished itself in the mid 1990’s with a more light-hearted approach to the superhero genre. At a time when most comics were going the grim-and-gritty route, Gen 13 was full of frothy fun, from the endless sexual innuendo to the poppy, detailed artwork from J. Scott Campbell.

Here, the artwork and story are not provided by Campbell, who had left the book at this point. Instead, art and story com from Tom McWeeney, an artist more popularly known in the 1990’s for his work inking others. McWeeney has a bubbly, cartoony style which suits the narrative. Told in a kind of flashback, the story centers on the five members of Gen 13 (Fairchild, Freefall, Grunge, Rainmaker, and Burnout) as children.

This is a weirdly common trope in comics, taking grown-up heroes and de-aging them for the sake of cuteness. It was a very popular move in the 1980’s, originating with the Muppet Babies and spreading to any number of characters and properties. A lot of comic books got in on the action at that time- to reference the X-Men once again, Chris Claremont and Art Adams did something similar to what’s going on in A Christmas Caper with The X-Babies.

I see a lot of Art Adams’ influence here, for good or ill. I found McWeeney’s artwork to be uneven. It’s quite fun in some places, like here when some of the Gen 13 characters are getting in a fight with a bad guy. I like the individual characters’ overwrought facial expressions.

This scene where baddie The Baron is deciding to save Christmas is cute, while infringing on several comic book companies’ fictional companies and countries. Very Jack Kirby-esque.

(I like this panel a lot.)

…unfortunately, the story is a ridiculous mess. In a nutshell, The Baron hates Christmas because Santa always gives him coal

so he captures Santa and unleashes a blue Frankenstein’s monster to stop the kid superhero characters from saving him.

The entire comic is crazily overwritten and hard to read. I have my Masters in English Education and I puzzled over this comic for hours. I also cannot comprehend the target audience for this book. It’s sort of a light humor/kids comic… but Gen 13, from what I remember, was wall to wall T&A jokes. I can’t imagine the group of people interested in jokes about lesbians making out and kiddie hijinx cross over all that often.

A Christmas Caper looks to have been released toward the end of Gen 13’s popularity, a prestige format, square bound, 64 page special edition celebrating the Christmas time of year. The art and story are not by the original Gen 13 team, all of whom at this point had moved on to presumably greener pastures. There are some nice bits here and there. The coloring from Jeromey Cox is good. Todd Klein provides lettering in the book and he is peerless in his work. Despite those nice touches, I cannot fathom someone paying $6 bucks for this.

Ok, next week? A truly awesome Christmas comic.

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