Reading the Fantastic Four comics from the start. It’s inter-company crossover time as the FF teams up with the teen favorites from Jim Lee’s Wildstorm Comics. We’re talking Gen 13/Fantastic Four. (Why do the newbies get their name first?)
Who is Gen 13? They are the long-lost children of former superheroes known as Team 7. The kids are “gen-active,” meaning they inherited superpowers from their folks. As orphans, though, they knew none of this until they were abducted and experimented on by the mad scientists of I.O. (short for International Operations). They were rescued by a spy named Lynch, and then relocated to a beach house in La Jolla, California where they got into all kinds of teen-superhero hijinks.
Meet Gen 13:
- Fairchild, the team leader, who has superhuman strength and is a budding scientist.
- Freefall, the youngest, a bubbly teen with gravity-defying powers.
- Grunge, the perpetually horny party animal, who can absorb the properties of anything he touches.
- Rainmaker, an overly serious socially conscious type who can control the weather.
- Burnout, the quiet one, a wannabe musician with fire powers. Burnout is of particular interest to Fantastic Four readers because in another alternate timeline in vol. 2 #15, he was made an official fifth member of the FF.
Also of note is Queelocke, Freefall’s alien pet. It’s a monkey-like creature from another dimension Gen 13 picked up on one of their early adventures. The comic pretty much forgets about Queelocke after the first few issues, but the creators of Gen 13/Fantastic Four remembered him.
First things first: This comic isn’t bothered one bit with continuity. It’s set in an alt-universe where the FF and Gen 13 have always co-existed. This is the same mentality as the old-school Superman/Spider-Man team up, where we get right to the action without having to bother with the characters finding portals to other universes, etc.
This issue begins with the Gen 13 gang visiting New York, apparently just for a vacation. (They lived in Manhattan for a while in their comic, but by this time they had relocated back to La Jolla.) They dress up for a night on the town, leaving Queelocke in their hotel room. Along, Queelocke starts going crazy and trashing the room, spooking the hotel staff.
At the new Baxter Building, Reed discovers a spatial displacement out in the ocean. He and Sue take off in a Fantasticar to investigate. In the ocean, we see a Queelocke-like monster emerge from a portal deep underwater. The monster looks menacing, but the caption tells us it’s only two feet tall.
Gen 13 return to their, where they learn Queelocke has escaped the building and is running loose in NYC. They split up to search for the little guy. Nearby, Johnny and Spider-Man are out on patrol together, bantering about whether it’s better to be a solo hero or part of a team. They encounter Queelocke, who has gone feral. There’s a brief fight, ending with Spidey wrapping up Queelocke in webs. Johnny makes Spidey carry the alien to the Baxter Building by himself to get back at him for saying solo heroes are better than team heroes.
On the way back to the Baxter Building, Johnny meets Freefall on a rooftop. She thinks he’s Burnout at first, but quickly realizes he’s the famous Human Torch. They flirt for a few seconds and then Johnny flies back to HQ. Johnny, Ben, and Spider-Man lock Queelocke up in a containment cell, but they note that Queelocke is rapidly getting bigger and bigger. Spider-Man takes off, leaving the alien in the hands of the FF.
Johnny returns to Gen 13’s hotel looking for Freefall. Fairchild spies on him, learning that Queelocke is at the Baxter Building. She gets her team together and they come up with a plan to take on the FF. Freefall confidently says, “I can get us in.” She shows up at the Baxter Building asking for Johnny, asking him out on a date. The fact that she can defy gravity outside the building is only fleetingly mentioned. When Freefall learns Queelocke is growing like crazy, she drops the act and flies through the building to rescue her pet.
A fight breaks out, with Fairchild and Grunge holding their own against Ben, and Burnout and Johnny having a fire-off. Burnout actually wins the fight with an enormous blast of heat at Johnny. Johnny absorbs the blast, but it’s so much heat that it knocks him out for a bit. Gen 13 try to open the containment unit to free Queelocke, but accidentally open the Negative Zone portal instead. The young heroes are almost sucked into the Negative Zone, but they’re rescued by Reed and Sue retuning to the Baxter Building.
Out in NYC, the monster rises from the ocean, now having grown to Godzilla-size. Similarly, Queelocke grows so large that he bursts out of the building. Reed demands answers, but Fairchild says there’s no time, insisting the two super-teams work together to protect the people of New York. Reed suspects that the monster is a rival of Queelocke’s and if it and Queelocke battle, they might destroy the city.
The FF and Gen 13 work together to stop Queelocke, who has also grown to Godzilla size. No matter what they do, they can’t stop Queelocke from marching forward. Queelocke and the monster confront each other in Central Park. Instead of battling to the death, they start, as Rainmaker puts it, “loving.” Everyone’s reactions to this are really funny, and worth the cost of the comic.
After the two aliens are done “completing the process,” as Reed puts it, the monster disappears and Queelocke is back to normal. Reed tries to hold the kids responsible for the damage to the Baxter Building, but Fairchild says the “scenario” would have taken place out in the ocean without endangering the city of the FF had never abducted Queelocke. Nearby, Johnny and Burnout shake hands, each admitting they are a “hothead.” Freefall shoots Johnny down with a simple “It’s a shame I have to leave.” As the two teams go their separate ways, Grunge wants to celebrate, saying they got out of trouble pretty easily. Rainmaker says that’s only as long as their mentor Lynch never learns of this. The final panel is Lynch seeing a news report about the incident on TV.
Unstable molecule: As both leader and scientist, Fairchild talks to Reed on his level twice in this issue, putting him in his place. Reed concedes to her rather than continue to argue.
Fade out: Sue’s prepares a nighttime snack of coffee and potato soup for her and Reed’s Fantasticar flight. Coffee and potato soup doesn’t strike me as “nighttime snack” material.
Clobberin’ time: Unlike Marvel’s Absorbing Man, Grunge can absorb more than just rock and metal. He can turn into water or go paper-thin. And in this issue, when he touches Ben, Grunge absorbs Ben’s rocky skin.
Flame on: We’ve never seen Johnny knocked out from absorbing too much heat, but then we have to remember that this whole story is an alternate universe.
Fantastic fifth wheel: As the quiet one, Burnout doesn’t have as much character development as the rest of Gen 13. During the original series’ run, most of Burnout’s drama was him learning that Lynch is his long-lost father. He dislikes this at first, but when the team is separated from Lynch for a while, Burnout is driven to find Lynch so they can be reunited. Another Burnout-centric storyline had him reuniting with and later rescuing a childhood friend, who is now a lingerie model. (Wha-hey!)
Also H.E.R.B.I.E. the robot has a cameo, helping out in the FF’s lab. Freakin’ H.E.R.B.I.E. the robot.
Commercial break: Marvel and Wildstorm used this drawing to promote the comic at the time. Sharp-eyed readers will recognize this as a parody of a famous Justice League cover.
Trivia time: For what its worth, this month’s issue of Gen 13 has the evil Ivana coming after Fairchild, saying Fairchild owes her a favor. Fairchild goes on a mission and captures an enemy of Ivana’s to clear the debt. Then it’s revealed that Fairchild has done a bunch of these missions for Ivana, with Ivana erasing her memory after each one. Not cool.
This is not the first time Gen 13 ran into Marvel heroes. In Spider-Man/Gen 13, Spidey and the kids worked together to take down the antihero Glider. In Gen 13/Generation X, the Gen-actives met the young mutants. They battled each other at first, and then teamed up to fight Trance and Emplate. Much later, Gen 13 would become a permanent part of the DC Universe with DC’s New 52 event. Fairchild in particular was a main character in Superboy for a while.
Fantastic or frightful? I suspect this is a Gen 13 comic guest-starring the Fantastic Four, because Gen 13 outsmarts and outfights the FF throughout. It seems designed to sell readers on how cool and edgy Gen 13 is. The ending remains really funny, however.
Next: Country living.
Want more? Check out my book, CINE HIGH, now available for the Kindle and the free Kindle app. Coming soon: MOM, I’M BULLETPROOF.