Tuesday, April 1, 2008

Rising Stars

J. Michael Straczynski is famous for writing a lot of different things such as Babylon 5 (never watched it), One More Day (never read it), and Supreme Power (never read it). I'm not really familiar with his work other than through rabid fanboy postings on the interwebs. I know people either hate him or love him. But regardless, I picked up the hardcover omnibus of Rising Stars, Straczynski's creator-owned maxiseries from Top Cow, and read it in a few days.

An asteroid of some sorts passes over Smalltown, USA, and 113 children of the town begin to manifest strange superpowers. These 113 are called Specials and the series charts their entire lives, from conception (in one case) to the manifestation of powers, to the final moments of their lives. It's an examination of how society would react to a group of superpowers and how the superpower themselves react psychologically and sociologically speaking.

The main thrust of the plot follows about seven or eight of the Specials, but takes its time looking at some of the lesser Specials. Someone has been murdering the Specials, and it's obviously somebody with intimate knowledge of their strengths and weaknesses. Once the Specials figure it out, their lives change forever.

The "main" character is John Simon, whose conception we're privy to, a poet, and probably the most powerful Special. He has that mid-nineties comic book guy look that everybody did back then: long black hair, grimace, black clothes, lotsa muscles. He's kind of a cipher as he's not fully developed as a character. It's been left to the various other main characters to fill in the blanks for us.

The other main characters are somewhat Batman and Superman analogous, but not perfectly parallel. There's Matthew Bright, the only Special with a police badge, who believes first and foremost in the power of the law. There's Randy, the Batman stand-in, but without any of the angst. As the Superman stand in, there's Jason, a corporate shill dressed up as the American flag.

All these characters change and develop based on the plot and the other characters. That's probably the best praise I can come up with. Throughout the entire series, the characters do develop. However, the art on this series is so bland and sometimes terrible, that it was a breath of fresh air that Stuart Immonen was on for even one issue.

As I said earlier, the whole series, 24 issues plus one-shots, is about the sociological and psychological impact of co-existing with people who are superpowered. In that regard, the series is successful in showing the different reactions. I wouldn't go so far as to say this is deconstruction of the superhero. The idea of secret identity, costume, persona and mask isn't really examined in too harsh a light. Straczynski wisely stays away from any Alan Moore territory here, but he touches upon the general superhero ideas. No, instead, it's more of society and political thing. How does the government deal with such a thing? How do the people of the world deal with such powers so near to them?

It's all very fascinating and the plot still moves at a pretty good clip. There's even some grand widescreen action in the middle section, the second act. But, as I already mentioned, the art is inconsistent and uneven. It's a symptom of the mid-nineties' influence, also the fact that Top Cow has some pretty uneven artists.

I'd definitely recommend this to fans of the superhero genre who want something rip-roaring, but not mind-numbingly simplistic like Superman beating on Doomsday for 200 pages. I don't dare dismiss Straczynski now that I've read this.

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