Christopher Golden & Jeff Mariotte, Gen 13: Netherwar
(Ace Books/Byron Preiss Multimedia, 1999)

It's generally pretty easy to tell if the authors of a tie-in novel are having fun. If they are, the book moves, the banter crackles, and there's a sense of fun to the proceedings. If they aren't, then gloom prevails, the pace drags, and it feels like the author's making the reader suffer for the sins of the franchise.

Netherwar definitely falls into the former category. Based on the hormone-drenched Wildstorm comic, it follows the adventures of a pack of teenaged superheroes as they travel to Las Vegas at the behest of a creepy old man in order to save the world. To be fair, the old man in question is creepy because he's several hundred years old and can do magic, but it's still odd. And what's odder is that he has in his possession the legendary Horn that can unmake the world, which demons and rogue secret agents alike are willing to kill to get their hands on. Throw in the fact that there's already a gate to Hell open in the basement of a horror-themed casino, and, well, things could get very messy, very quickly.

Fortunately, Golden and Mariotte handle this the right way, which is to say they don't take it seriously. Rather than trying to impart some existential angst to what's really a tongue-in-cheek concept, they have fun with it. Horror fans will notice all sorts of gleeful namechecking in the casino, and the critters the heroes fight -- when they're not angsting over their respective love lives and unrequited crushes -- are suitably freaky and disgusting. Throw in a couple of comic relief evil mooks, over-the-top evil from the scantily clad Agent Baiul, and a Valuable Lesson About Teamwork, and you have a fun, light read.

Does it make a hell of a lot of sense? Not particularly. But a novel about superpowered teens punching out zombie casino guests and ogling each other as they fight evil doesn't need to be Dostoyevsky. It just needs to be fun, and fast, and faithful to its source material to be an enjoyable read. Whatever the flaws of the comic its based on might be -- and they are many -- Netherwar succeeds on all counts, and thus can be counted a fun read.

[Richard Dansky]