Thursday, November 21, 2013

Dani Moonstar versus Sarah Rainmaker (or How I learned to stop worrying and love Gen13)

Epitomizing 90s fluff, Gen13 was a kind of MTV Real World look at superheroics on one hand, an excuse for near-nudity and fart jokes on the other, and just some guys good-naturedly riffing on their favorite New Mutants and Uncanny X-Men storylines, plus throwing in a Trent Reznor clone as a villain for good measure on the third.  Or one of your feet, if you're not an alien or mutant creature.  Outrageously derivative, cluttered with pointless storylines that go nowhere, at times little more than a vehicle for J. Scott Campbell's "good girl" art-- and also so light and breezy entertainment I couldn't get enough of, so much so I even wrote a fan letter.  That's something I had done only once years before, to the fine folks responsible for making Sgt. Rock

And a lot of other readers felt the same way, at least for a while, because Gen13 inspired Gen13 Bootleg, a spin-off series with stories and art by the likes of Alan Davis, James Robinson, Walt and Louise Simonson, Adam Warren and even a two-issue miniseries by Adam Hughes which I think of as a largely forgotten near classic.  No less than Warren Ellis himself took a hand at writing the team's adventures in one regular series annual and one for Bootleg.  Image/Wildstorm also published DV8 and a number of mini-series.  Then the fun stopped.  Writer Brandon Choi and Campbell decamped and new creative teams came aboard.  They tried to use the comic's powers for good, but its zeitgeist had passed and subsequent attempts at revival in the years since have failed.

But back in those days, most Gen13 readers wanted to read about super-strong, super-smart, super-bodied team leader Caitlin Fairchild and the various ways she would lose her clothes, the "youngest and spunkiest member of the team" Roxy Spaulding and gross-out comedic relief -- with a code name dated even then-- Percival Edmund "Grunge" Chang.  There was also Bobby "Burnout" Lane, who had kind of an emo personality and a soul patch but otherwise made little impression on anybody.

But I, being forever contrary, preferred little-regarded Sarah Rainmaker, who was slightly more popular than Burnout only because, well, the main purpose of Gen13 wasn't beefcake.  I liked her because the creative team didn't seem to, and because she was more than a little similar to my beloved early-teens hero Dani Moonstar.  I mean, besides both being Native Americans. 

Poor Sarah Rainmaker.  The original writers used her mostly as a straw-figure to mock feminism, campus activists and also to do a bit of that MTV-style "amorphous sexuality tease aimed at hetero boys" stuff that later made such a star of Kate Perry.  But written sympathetically by Hughes in Gen13: Ordinary Heroes a more interesting, deeper character comes through and makes me wish they'd tweaked Rainmaker in the monthly to something a bit less... well... insulting.  Sometimes they did.  Often they didn't.  Anyway, maybe what I really I liked all along was this alternate Hughes-inspired version of Sarah Rainmaker I had in my mind.  One more righteous and less of a strident punching bag with a lot of "Take that, Political Correctness!" dudebro-humor wear and tear. 

Still, if you're going to do your own version of The New Mutants, of course you're going to do your own version of that book's most vital character and obvious star.  You know who I'm talking about from the title of this post, so with no further ado, here are some Dani Moonstar moments echoed by Sarah Rainmaker.

1.  Fabulous footwear.  In Marvel Graphic Novel #4 New Mutants (September 1982), Dani makes damn sure Professor X recognizes not just her individuality but her cultural heritage by accessorizing her one-size fits all uniform to something more unique.  The Gen13 kids received their own super suits right from the start, but obviously Rainmaker was paying attention when Dani set a precedent.  Because I'm about as Native American as Vladimir Putin, I have no idea how appropriate Rainmaker's boots are-- Dani is Cheyenne, Sarah is Apache and those are two distinct cultures-- but I do know when things look similar because I watched Sesame Street growing up.


Marvel Graphic Novel #4: Script by Chris Claremont, art by Bob McLeod


Gen13 #8: Script by Brandon Choi, Jim Lee and J. Scott Campbell, art by Campbell and Alex Garner... or Richard Friend!

2. Swimming nude.  Dani makes a point to swim au natural in New Mutants #3 (May 1983) and Rainmaker follows (birthday) suit in Gen13 #1 (March 1995).  Chris Claremont treats this moment seriously and tastefully and it leads to a revealing (personality, not body) moment between Dani and her friend Xi'an Coy Manh where they bond and we get to know both of them better.  When Rainmaker takes a dip, Choi and Campbell play it as a striptease and while we do get to know a little more about the cast from this (Sarah likes to show off, the guys are pantingly hetero-sexist), the characterizations are roughly at the level of a beer commercial.


New Mutants #3: Script by Claremont, art by McLeod and Mike Gustovich


Gen13 #1: Script by Choi and Campbell, art by Campell and Alex Garner... or Sandra Hope!

3.  Jungle adventures with anachronistic cultures that result first in wearing rags and then even more revealing outfits.  In New Mutants #8 (October 1983), the kids travel to the Amazon rainforest, have a lot of misadventures in which Dani first has to wear a swimsuit and then torn clothing.  When she and the rest of her team end up in Nova Roma, a hold out from the days of Imperial Rome, they adopt cultural-appropriate clothing.  Then a sorceress shows up and tries to sacrifice Dani, which requires her to wear a chain-mail bikini outfit stolen from a Red Sonja comic and then a low-cut evil sorceress gown.  When the Gen13 gang takes a similar journey to Africa in issues 3 through 5 of their comic (July-October 1995), they come across an all-female society of supermodel Amazonians who favor skimpy metal swimwear of their own.  Rainmaker quickly goes from ragged prisoner to shiningly metallic masturbatory fantasy warrior before you can say "Psyche-Mirage-Moonstar-Spellbinder-Dark Rider."


New Mutants #10: Script by Claremont, art by Sal Buscema and Tom Mandrake


Gen13 #5: Script by Choi, Lee and Campbell, art by Campbell and Garner, Friend and Scott Williams 

4.  That leadership thing.  Despite being a year or two younger than Sam Guthrie, the more capable Dani quickly takes over the top spot in the New Mutants team after first leader Xi'an Coy Manh goes missing.  In fact, she's already pushing Xi'an out of the top slot as early as New Mutants #4 (June 1983), with her friend standing right beside her!  When leader Caitlin Fairchild temporarily quits, Rainmaker makes an attempt to do the same in Gen13 #12 (August 1996), only to have mentor John Lynch (supposedly this ultra-tough black ops veteran) appoint his own dopey son over the smarter, more mature and combat-skilled Rainmaker in what's obviously a decision based solely on nepotism.  Burnout has shown absolutely zero leadership skills to that point, and kind of a mopey, shrinking-violet personality, while Rainmaker's intelligence is second only to Caitlin's, plus she's much wiser and more self-assured in many ways.  No wonder she reacts unfavorably to Lynch's completely illogical move (although in Lynch's defense, he may be pitting the two against each other in a "survival of the fittest" competition-- although that could also wreck team morale and field effectiveness in the long run as well, so maybe he is an idiot after all).  This also positions Sarah as the Dani-style team rebel.  In the same vein, both characters seem to have an innate talent for combat tactics, as well, with the New Mutants becoming more of a fighting force to be reckoned with under Dani's command, and with Sarah frequently barking out orders of her own during the many confrontations in Gen13.


New Mutants #4: Script by Claremont, art by Bucema and McLeod


Gen13 #12: Script by Choi, Lee and Campbell, art by Michael Lopez and Troy Hubbs (I think) 

5.  Tussles with teammates.  I seem to remember Dani doing this a lot more, but I must be more than a little mixed up and fully conflating her with Sarah at this point.  I'm surprised Dani didn't beat up those two idiots Sam and Bobby two or three times a day with that temper of hers.  Instead, she seemed to take out her aggressions more on inanimate objects.  And despite frequently referencing the martial heritage of her Cheyenne people, she wasn't all that adept at fighting.  Oddly enough, in New Mutants #1 (March 1983), it was Xi'an who first went fisto-a-fisto with Dani-- well, actually, she choked the hell out of Dani and slammer her head against the floor with good reason: Dani had accidentally used her powers to pull images of her Xi'an's violent, tragic past out for all to see.  While the New Mutants had their share of inter-team arguments, it would be more than a year later, in New Mutants #14 (April 1984), before we'd see another instance of Dani-on-friend violence, this time a playful shove into the snow for Roberto DaCosta.  Sarah, on the other hand, goes full on kung fu queen on Bobby Lane after he made a poorly-timed snide remark at her expense during their leadership crisis. It happens in Gen13 #12.


New Mutants #1: Script by Claremont, art by McLeod and Gustovich
New Mutants #14: Script by Claremont, art by Buscema and Mandrake


Gen13 #12: Script by Choi, Lee and Campbell, art by Lopez and Hubbs (I still think)

Okay, now I'm obviously reaching.  But I believe I've made my point-- there are certainly parallels, enough so Sarah Rainmaker became my favorite Gen13er.  What's been fun for me looking for these little moments is contrasting the writing on both series.  While Claremont's dialogue is sometimes stilted and a bit advanced for his characters' ages, his stories and characterizations are nothing if not sincere.  He genuinely cares about his cast and immersing the readers in their world.  Plus he displays the literary chops of a true writer's writer, someone in love with language.  If any of his work here is derivative, it's of real life or novels.  And occasionally movies.

By comparison, the Gen13 characters-- scripted by no less than two writers at a time!-- usually speak casually and naturally (unless there's need for some hard expository dialogue, that is). Actually, their dialogue is almost exclusively made up of then-current catchphrases and youth lingo.  While as individuals they're amusing enough, they're more tongue-in-cheek, broadly-sketched types owing most of their personalities to television shows and other comics (and not just New Mutants).

There are some interesting comic book characters in Gen13, but it would take other writers to flesh them out into real characters, especially under Warren who managed to make the book as smart as it was funny and sexy.  And, oddly enough, that's when the Gen13 finally died.

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