Rising Stars

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.

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?)

Published by TOP COW
Rating: 10/10

Re-Read: January 2018

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.
Rating: 9/10

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.

Published by TOP COW
Rating: 10/10

Re-Read: January 2018

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
Rating: 9/10

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.

Published by TOP COW
Rating: 10/10

Re-Read: February 2018

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.

Publisher: Top Cow
Rating: 9/10

Initial Review: September 2005


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 forgivenmess 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 re-read 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 re-read…

Published by Top Cow
Rating: 10/10

ADDENDUM the First:
Michael just finished and his comment was, “Wow. That’s really cool. Wow.”

Re-Read: May 2006

Rearranging bookshelves requires a will of iron.

Unfortunately, when it comes to books, I have a will of aluminum foil.

Let me repeat what I said the first time I read these: Wow.

All I wanted to do was update my book database and rearrange a couple of bookshelves. However, I foolishly opened Born in Fire--just for a quick glance. Good thing I didn't have anything else to do, because I was immediately sucked into the story, and was then incapable of doing anything else until I finished all three books.

What I found interesting is that even reading the books a second time, there were still passages that made me laugh out loud, or brought tears to my eyes. And they really did do an excellent job developing the characters (although occasionally I hard a hard time telling John and Randy apart), and an even better job explaining why individuals acted they way they did.

Again, I loved the fact that there were no easy answers, and that for the most part the "bad guys" were complex and layered, and their reasons for acting as they did made sense (the only exception here was Minister, although we didn't explore his internal landscape at all--only that of the specials--so perhaps that's the difference.)

But really, I wrote before about how awesome Rising Stars is. The only thing I have to add is, how can a comic book character manage to be so attractive looking? Because I think John and Randy both are gorgeous.

And thanks again to Tom for recommending this.
(still) Rating: 10/10

Re-Read: July 2014

Every time I read this story, I am blown away.

It is the story of children born special, but also of how the events that happen to children turn them into the adults they become, and how events people might not even know about will come to have a huge influence, and to change the course of history.

It’s about people with special powers, true, but it’s also about people. How they become great or they become twisted, and the consequences.

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.
Rating: 8/10

Re-Read: February 2018

Visitations is four short stories, the first two of which are the background of what the Specials were.

Interestingly, the recurring character throughout the entire run is Dr Wells, the man who was supposed to watch the kids, but also report on them to the government. The first three volumes make clear that Dr Wells had a connection with all the children, but here we see more of how he saw things, and how the kids did trust him and come to him (we already know he had earned and deserved that trust).

In the first story, one of the bits is even the supposed Supreme Court ruling that give the specials their rights but also the surveillance the government would do to keep the rest of the population safe.

The second shows you precisely how the public would feel about people with strange abilities–even children–if they ever happened. It’s a quick glimpse at what the government might do.

But the last two stories are really why you want to read the comic. Story three is about Edward Clairborn, the kid who claimed to be a Special but wasn’t. It’s very good story-telling, as we see the Ed dumped in with the Specials, we see the argument between his mother and the government, and we learn why he made the claim. For as short as it is, it’s quite lovely.

The last story is a peek at Jerry Montrose’s history, but it’s really more than that. We see how Jerry and Jason started their fighting, we see that even with incredible powers, Jerry still felt that he wasn’t as good as the others, and we see the start of the path of forgiveness between the two.

Aside from learning the general background. of what the Specials were, you can read both stories without having read the rest of the series. They’re quite good short stories, and able to stand on their own (once, as I said, you understand what the Specials were).

Publisher: Top Cow
Rating: 8.5/10

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 re-read the first three volumes instead.
Rating: 3/10

Re-Read: February 2018

This is actually the last published of the Rising Stars comics, but it’s my least favorite, and since there was no need to read the latter comics in order, I read it before Visitations because I don’t really like Voices of the Dead / Bright.

Bright is the story of Matthew Bright and how he became a police officer in New York. As a Special he was forbidden to become a cop in Penderson, so he took an alias and moved to New York to join the force there.

The fact he was discovered and the eventually given a uniform and badge by the NYPD was made clear in the main story, these are just the details of how it happened. They’re fine and pretty much exactly what you’d expect.

The first story, “Voices of the Dead” is Lionel’s story. He can talk to the dead and spends his life haunted by them. (Ha) After becoming an adult, he took work discovering what was behind reports and hauntings, and if possible helping the ghosts to move on. He also searches for answers as to whether there is truly something after death.

The stories are confusing and to me don’t feel like they add anything to Lionel, who is actually quite a complicated character. We discover he had a love who died (of course he did). We see his search for whether an afterlife exists (undetermined). And we see how Paulson’s group abused what they learned from him.

And the ending seems to either miss the point of or completely go against how things ended in the main story.

Essentially, these two books have neither the strength of storytelling or the heart of the main story line. I re-read them mostly to see if I still time had changed how I felt about them.

It hadn’t.

Skip these stories, they don’t add anything to the main tale.

Publisher: Top Cow
Rating: 4/10