Sholly Fisch, with Matt Haley,
Gen13: Version 2.0
(Ace, 2002)

There have been successful comic book novels. The Elfquest adaptations have generally pleased fans. Hellboy has had two quite good fantasy novels spun from it. A heavy amount of fantasy fiction might be thought of as superheroic in nature, and the capes and tights crowd have inspired at least one really good anthology, John Varley's Superheroes, as well as the rather successful Wild Cards series. Gen 13: Version 2.0 can't join the list.

Gen 13, for those who missed its original incarnation, is a comic book about a five-person team of superteens, granted powers beyond standard humans by a genetic quirk. These powers manifest randomly, and have made the teens both famous and hunted throughout the world, usually represented by California or New York. It may sound familiar, as it's been done roughly 5,000 times before. But Gen 13 was lucky enough to attract writers like Warren Ellis, who managed to push it beyond the usual weaknesses of the superteen genre, and Adam Warren, who heightened the inherent goofiness of the premise to its manic best, as well as a slew of excellent artists. Not that there weren't plenty of low points, but the highs gave it a much longer life than most of the similar books that spring up and die every year without comment.

None of it's on display here. Reading Version 2.0 is too much like reading a comic author's script and notes. Characters are described with heavy detail that would be great for a character designer, but serves to stop the narrative dead. Emotional states are never left to interpretation, as characters have their psyches spelled out with the best pop psychology can offer. Worse than the exorbitant descriptions is the uncertain narrative voice. People seem to be angry; situation may be out of control; some one may have emotional issues; perhaps the world is in danger. A horrid number of statements come with such qualifiers, making the narrator sound like an eyewitness uncertain of his or her memories. It's also an awkwardly chummy narrator, as the tone alternates between neutral and far too conversational. Throwing a sudden "You know?" into a narrative does not put the reader at ease.

It's not that Version 2.0 is really a bad story. There are plenty of action sequences and a goodish amount of character development, and the dialogue, when it occurs, is believable. Sholly Fisch is a comic book writer, and Version 2.0 would make a fine comic book. But jam-packed into a 230-page novel, a comic book script is a sad and skimpy thing. If you really want to enjoy a Gen 13 story, pick up one of the graphic novels.

[ by Sarah Meador ]
Rambles: 28 September 2002

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