Rising Stars

Books: Graphic Novel | Super Hero

Born in Fire (2001) Power (2002) Fire and Ash (2005), Visitations (2002), Voices of the Dead / Bright (2006)


  • This is the story of
  • how we came to be.
  • Of what happened to us,
  • and to those we knew,
  • and loved, and fought.
  • Where it went right…
  • and where it went wrong.
  • Sixty years.
  • One-hundred and thirteen people,
  • born with the power.
  • The story of the
  • world we touched.
  • And all places where
  • the world touched us.
  • And the terror
  • and the beauty
  • and the death
  • that happened in
  • the spaces in-between.


When I asked for comic recommendations, Tom gave me several suggestions. The one I found locally was Rising Stars. Initially I only picked up the first volume, however I saw that all three volumes were there, so I figure that I should go ahead and pick all three up while I had the chance. After all, the introduction to Born in Fire was written by Neil Gaiman.

I'm glad I did. As soon as I finished Volume I, Born in Fire, I immediately grabbed Power and started reading.

It's been awhile since I was so completely sucked into a story, and this is the first time it's happened with a comic. There is something about a story that won't let me put it down, that won't let me go.

Rising Stars totally blew me away.

The books tell the story of a group of children who turn out different–special. There was a flash in the sky above Penderson, something new, and all those children who were in utero were affected by it. They developed powers and became superheroes.

The story is told by the Poet, John Simon, the last of the specials.

Born in Fire, Power, and Fire and Ash tell the story from beginning to end. They introduce us to these children, and watch them develop into superheroes and villains and those who end up in the middle. It's a complete mythology in a couple hundred pages.

But there isn't any one thing that made me like this story so much. It was more like everything. The world he build, the story, and the characters–especially the characters.

John, the main character, was my favorite. Although some of the characters–Matthew, Jason–looked and acted like traditional superheroes, John and Randy did not. They're dark, with long ponytails, and they wear dark clothes–my kind of people actually.

There is also a strong theme of redemption in the series, something that I particularly like. I believe that we have free will and the choice to take actions that are good or evil, but I do not believe that someone who has taken an evil action cannot be eventually redeemed. Of course he did make it easy for some of the characters to redeem themselves, but that's okay, because redemption and forgiveness are a hard things. They may not be as easy in real life as they are in the story, but that's okay. I'm more than willing to let it slide.

I'm actually having a hard time writing this, because every time I pick up one of the books to check something, I end up reading on until I can force myself to put the story back down. I already want to go back and Reread them from start to finish, picking up the things I missed the first time, picking up on the bits of foreshadowing that didn't necessarily make sense the first time.

Now I need to get Michael to read it, so that I can not just rave about how much I liked it, but also rave about specific things I liked, to see if the bits that I particularly liked were also the bits that he really liked.

If this is how J. Michael Straczynski typically writes, I am definitely going to have to search out other things he's written, because this series was absolutely wonderful. But now I have to go. There was one other thing I wanted to Reread…

Published by Top Cow

September 2005 | Rating: 10/10

ADDENDUM the First:

Michael just finished and his comment was, "Wow. That's really cool. Wow."

Born In Fire (2001) J. Michael Straczynski, Jason Gorder, Keu Cha, Christian Zanier

This is the start of the story. Of the Penderson Event and the children who were born in the nine months following that event.

We meet the children who are The Specials, and get the first glimpses of who and what they will become, all seen through the eyes of John, the Poet.

We see not how we wish the world would react to the arrival of children with special powers, but how people–governments–would be likely to react.

We also see the weaknesses that would come with these powers, and how those weaknesses could be exploited. (Such as, how do you kill someone who is invulnerable?)

I really really love this comic.

Enough so that this is the first time I've actually stopped between volumes to review the first separately (usually I just plow right through without stopping).

A strange energy source explodes over Pederson, and several years after the event it is learned that the children of Pederson who were in utero at the time of the event seem to have special powers: super strength, invulnerability, flying, and many unknown.

The first volume begins with the various issues that society and government would have with children (and eventually adults) who have powers beyond normal men.

The Supreme Court case I thought was perfect, in that is how things would work out if something like that happened in real life. People are afraid of those who are different, who are strange, who are more powerful.

That is, for me, what makes the story so powerful. Looking out how we perceive and treat those who are different–and how that treatment affects and changes in return.

For example, it's clear that Joshua has been manipulated by his father, and that weakness allows him to fall prey to Jason's plans. We also see how abuse twists even the specials as it would any child.

To be clear, this is volume one of three, and ends on a cliff-hanger. But since all the volumes have been out for awhile, you can easily pick up the next volume.

Published by TOP COW

Power (2002) by J. Michael Straczynski, Ken Lashley, Christian Zanier, Stuart Immonen, Brent Anderson, John Livesay, Brett Evans, Dan Kemp

The story continues where Volume One, Born in Fire, left off, with a synopsis of what has happened in the decade since.

It's also where we see that evil is a construct, a name we give people who are reacting in fear to what they do not understand, what they cannot control.

It also ends on a much better note than the first volume, a sense of resolution and peace, of a sort. Even if things aren't truly at peace, as we see in volume III.

If, perhaps, you thought the first volume was a little confusing, this volume begins with a synopsis: "Mediaweek: Ten Years After" which gets you up to speed on what happened before, as well as looking at how the world would have responded to the 113 Specials of Pederson.

What has mostly happened is that those who escaped went into hiding, to try and live as best they can with the new normal: Chicago taken over by Stephanie/Critical Maas, the government viewing them as fugitives, and a sudden influx of power–the surge.

John (Poet) believes that the situation getting out of control was his fault, that it was his responsibility to keep everyone safe and to protect the general population from any Specials that went rogue.

What I like best of this story is that the "bad guys" aren't unfathomable monsters. Once you learn the why, you can see how things happened, and that the cause was the every-day evil found currently in the world: child abuse.

It's a reminder that there are so few instances of true evil in the world. Sometimes its a failure of empathy, sometimes its the result of abuse. But it's all comprehensible if we are willing to try.

The second half of the story is of redemption, and how people try to atone for their wrongs as best they can.

It's a complex story, and there are a lot of characters. I'd really like to see J. Michael Straczynski's list of the specials, their names, and their powers–and how he kept track of all those minor characters. I'm sure there was a list, but as a reader it is sometimes difficult to keep track, and sometimes I wish there was a little more about those background characters. But then that would have made this series and huge and overwhelming, so it's just an idle wish.

Published by TOP COW

Fire And Ash (2005) J. Michael Straczynski, Keu Cha, Ken Lashley, Christian Zanier, Jason Gorder, John Livesay, Edwin Rosell, David Wohl, Dennis Heisler, Dreamer Design, Robin Spehar, Liquid!, Matt Nelson, John Starr, Tyson Wengler

And then the conclusion to the story, and the answer to how and why the Specials came into existence, and also of how jealousy and blind fear can twist even something good in the eyes of the jealous and the fearful.

It's a terrible and marvelous conclusion, with redemption. There are also a few errors in continuity and fact, but in the grand scheme of things, it's truly not a big deal.All in all, it's an amazing story.

And the story ends.

We see the culmination of the paranoia and fear that those in power have of the Specials, but also the damage that the specials have suffered over the course of time. Jason's story is perhaps the hardest, since he had so little time when he wasn't being controlled, his ending is all the sadder. Not that any of the endings here are happy. Not really.

That's not to say there isn't a happy ending, because there is, it's just not your traditional happy ending.

But this story remains one I love, despite everything, because even as we see the damage that might come from the discovery of special powers, there is still a great deal of hope for humanity here.

And that's something that's badly needed anymore.

Published by TOP COW

Visitations (2002) J. Michael Straczynski

Published between Power and Fire and Ash, Visitations gives some background stories. The first story, Rising Starts, is a quick history of what caused the specials, an excerpt of Dr Wells' diary, and the Supreme Court opinion on how the specials were to be treated as children. Plus some lovely artwork.

"Initiations" is a brief look into the tour that the children receive the first day they are sent to their new school. It's creepy and disturbing--why a clown?

"Special" is a sad tale, of a boy who wanted to be special, not knowing, truly, what it meant. But within that story you also see the start of the conflict between Jerry and Jason.

And the best story--the one that makes the collection worth getting, is "Visitations" which further details the conflict between Jerry and Jason. It's a wonderful story for many reasons. First and foremost, because it shows the trust and care between the Specials and Doctor Wills in a way that wasn't quite as clear in the other stories. I very much liked that.

It also shows the start of how things were patched up between Jerry and Jason, which was one of the shakier parts of Born in Fire.

Additionally, the artwork for "Visitations" is really wonderful. Absolutely fantastic. The reds and oranges and yellows of Jerry when he's on fire are gorgeous--I can't help but stare at them. Plus the story of course. The idea of how Jerry ended up the "bad guy" of the group. Something else that was missing from the stories.

So, I particularly liked the first and the last stories--they made were wonderful and make this collection of four stories well worth having.

Voices of the Dead / Bright (2006) by Fiona Avery, Dan Jurgens, Staz Johnson, Al Rio

This was definitely a disappointment.

First of all, it didn't say on the front cover that this was not written by J. Michael Stracznski. So I was expecting a certain type of writing and story, and didn't get it. That probably didn't help matters.

This collects two different stories, Voices of the Dead and Bright. For those who have read the previous three volumes of Rising Stars, it should be pretty obvious as to who these stories are about. Voices of the Dead tells some of the history of Lionel Zerb--what drove him to his solitude and semi-madness. The second story, Bright, tells of Matthew Bright's life from the time he left Penderson till he received his special badge and uniform from the police department of New York.

What bothered me, was that these stories didn't really add anything to the Rising Stars universe. We already knew the basics of how Matthew Bright became a NYC police officer, and how he was dedicated to truth and Justice. So this expending retelling didn't tell me anything I didn't already know or assume. Matthew Bright was a hero and a good guy. That's it. No conflict, no discovery of his secrets, just the expansion of a story we already knew.

The longer story, Voices of the Dead did tell of a character about whom we know much less--Lionel Zerb, the Special who spoke with the dead. Except that even after reading this story, I'm less sure about what pushed Lionel over the edge than I was before I read the story. And somehow, the story managed to keep the character at a distance, so that I still never connected to him, or felt much interest in what happened to him.

And to add insult to injury, I hated the way that John and Randy (the brief glimpses we saw of them) were done. I didn't recognize either of them from the way they were drawn or they way they were written. The seemed more caricatures than characters. Considering how much I liked John and Randy, this was another severe disappointment. The story in the first three volumes is fantastic and compelling and nearly impossible to put down. These stories hardly seemed to know why they were written and put together. They wandered about, poking into things. But the story that showed us something new, didn't give us a reason to care about what was going on, while Bright just seemed like a mundane retelling of a history we already knew.

They felt almost more like fan fiction than new stories. Not that there's anything wrong with fan fiction--I just have no interest in paying $20 for it.

So although there was nothing wrong per se with either story, they were a disappointment, and their quality nowhere near that of the initial three volumes, or even Visitations. So perhaps on their own, they weren't so bad, but when compared to the previous volumes, they were awful. Save your money, and Reread the first three volumes instead.