An issue featuring a Grunge backup story by John Arcudi and Doug Mahnke! The deadlier new breed of Keepers' uncanny ability to sniff out Gen-actives has led them to former team leader John Lynch... or has it? Meanwhile, back at I.O., Ivana discovers something about her ally, the Reaper, and her beloved Keepers that freaks even her out (so you know it's gotta be something pretty weird)! And to top it all off, the creepy, crawly Keepers finally find the GEN13 kids down in the Keys! It's action up the ying-yang! And if that isn't enough, the great Doug Mahnke graces our fair periodical with his presence in the form of a 4-page Grunge solo story. Bitchin', or what?
Getting Better, Even Worse
In Uganda, Lynch talks to himself and is attacked by the new Keepers. A mysterious man covered in mud fends off the Keepers. Lynch wipes off the mud to discover his mysterious rescuer is Sigma.
Back in Florida, Alex scolds Sarah for lack of situational awareness and warns her that Coda assassins could attack at any moment. The others have prepared a dinner party for Alex. After a successful dinner, the team heads back to their bungalows for the night. Alex's earlier warning to Sarah turns out to have been prescient, as Sarah is held by Coda assassins at knifepoint.
Ivana admires the effectiveness of the new Keepers. Surprised by their new animal-like form factor which seems too restrictive for a full-sized man, she orders a teardown of a Keeper. She is shocked to find inside a eyeless head and a limbless torso.
Note about the Promotional Copy
Although the issue's promotional copy (reproduced above in italics) promises that the Keepers track down Gen 13 in Florida, this does not, in fact, happen in this issue. The Keepers do track down Lynch in Uganda, and another set of adversaries find the Gen 13 kids in the Keys: the Coda assassins.
Perhaps this was an intentional misdirect on the part of the editorial staff to preserve some suspense for Gen 13 fans.
The Roar of the Greasepaint
Grunge encounters a clown at the county fair.
Although billed as a backup story and lasting only four pages, “The Roar of the Greasepaint” offers insight into Grunge’s character not usually seen in the series.
The story takes place on a carnival midway. The first panel establishes that it is daytime - gray and overcast, not sunny and bright as a trip to something as typically wholesome and fun as the carnival would usually be depicted. Already a feeling of unease has been established.
No explanation is given as to why Grunge is at the carnival alone. Going to a carnival is typically a group activity and Grunge’s presence here without his friends is odd and slightly disconcerting.
Grunge bends down to tie his shoelaces. While he is in a crouched position, a clown stands over him. The much-documented “Scary Clown” phenomenon coupled with the sudden appearance of this clown with his intent gaze is certainly a bit of a shock.
While anyone would be understandably startled, Grunge’s reaction goes far beyond a mere fright. He runs away screaming “GAAAAAAAA!” Clearly he is terrified, as his cry of “GAAAAAAA!” breaks out of his speech balloon, signalling the profound depth of his emotion. Another sign that all is not well at this carnival: none of the bystanders comes to Grunge's aid or even reacts to his screams of terror.
Grunge thinks to himself, “Oh, man!! Gotta get Bobby, or Caitlin. They’ll help.” It is interesting to note the comma between “Bobby, or Caitlin” as if Caitlin were an afterthought. As leader of the team and commonly acknowledged to be the smartest member, Caitlin would logically be the first he would think of for help, or at very least, on an equal footing with Bobby. This may be indicative of unacknowledged bias on Grunge’s part downplaying the abilities of females. Furthermore, he never even considers turning to female friends/teammates Sarah or Roxy (his significant other).
Grunge then dismisses seeking assistance, thinking to himself, “Naw, naw. They find out about this, I’ll never live it down.” Clearly Grunge values his pride and his standing among his teammates more than he does his own safety and well-being.
Grunge’s terror continues as the clown honks a bicycle horn at Grunge. Again, Grunge screams out in a breakout balloon “YEEEEOW!!!!” and takes off running down the midway with the clown in pursuit.
Grunge attempts to escape by running over the cars of a roller coaster while the roller coaster is in operation. For a normal human being, this would most likely be a deadly maneuver, but Grunge is a super powered Gen-active with heightened reflexes and training as a superhero, so it is within the realm of possibility that he would be capable of doing this. However, whereas Grunge appears to struggle with maneuvering over the roller coaster cars, the clown effortlessly runs between the cars while spraying Grunge with seltzer water. This is the first sign that Grunge may not be overreacting and that the clown may be more than he seems.
Next the clown is seen pursuing Grunge on a Ferris wheel while holding a dead chicken by the neck. Notice the coloration on the chicken. A rubber chicken is a standard prop for comedians and performers such as clowns. Rubber chickens are almost always yellow. The chicken that the clown is holding is white, suggesting that this is not a prop, but an actual chicken that the clown has killed or is in the process of killing.
Then the clown is shown firing a gag gun at Grunge on a carousel. Whereas the standard gag gun releases a flag with the word “BANG!” written on it, the clown has fired a flag with “KILL!” written on it. By now the clown’s malicious intent and capability to cause harm are undeniable.
Grunge’s decision to flee over moving roller coaster cars would appear quite dangerous and ill-advised, but perhaps understandable given the stress of the situation. However his choice to get on a Ferris wheel and then a carousel are mind-boggling, as they move in circles and offer no escape. He does not even seem to be making an effort to escape from the clown. Instead, he sits and cowers as the clown mocks him. He makes repeated errors in judgement that call into question his fitness as a superhero.
Grunge attempts to escape into a funhouse, but is knocked down by children (“runts” as he refers to them later) exiting the funhouse. In his panic, he seems to have lost all control of any super strength or super reflexes he has.
At his lowest moment both literally and metaphorically, he sees the clown entertaining the children, making balloons for them. He rationalizes that he has overreacted and that the clown is just a man in make-up. This is an odd conclusion to draw, given all that Grunge has just seen and experienced: the clown’s superhuman abilities and aggressive, threatening chase. Grunge walks away, leaving the clown with the children. This is a complete failure in judgement and an unconscionable abdication of responsibility by someone claiming to be a superhero.
The story closes with an extreme closeup of the clown’s face, again with eyes wide open and pupils constricted (suggesting that the clown is either in the throes of deep anger or under the influence of mind-altering drugs). The clown has a rictus smile, revealing for the first time, his animal-like, sharpened teeth.
The last panel contains the only expository panel in the story, a sardonic “Oh, yeah. That’s the end”, suggesting that this is not the end.
That there never will be an end.
"The Roar of the Greasepaint" is collected in the anthology Gen 13: Carny Folk.