Rising Stars is a stand-alone 24 issue series by J. Michael Straczynski, published by Top Cow Productions. Some highlights of JMS’ other work includes a marvellous, lengthy run on Amazing Spider-Man (including the phenomenal The Other and Back in Black arcs); Bullet Points; Silver Surfer: Requiem; and the recent Earth One: Superman graphic novel from DC. The man is a treasure trove for comic writing.
I don’t want to make a simple generalization such as this, because the comic is a great piece of work on its own, but I will just for the ease of it: Rising Stars is like a mix of Watchmen and X-Men.
Set in modern times, the comic revolves around 113 children born with incredible (or not-so-incredible) powers, known as the Specials. An unexplained phenomenon that occurs over the sky in Pederson, Illinois causes every child in-utero to be born with their Special gift. The first issue begins with the narrator explaining that he was one of the 113, and that he is the only one remaining (This isn’t a spoiler it’s just how it is!). Throughout the opening issue, the narrator, who is revealed to be special John Simon, explains how they grew together, apart, and how the world viewed them and even how they viewed themselves. JMS does a great job of making this world believable; the politics and societal reactions are both human and flawed, which makes the scenario very realistic. How would we react to super-powered beings? The government would obviously intervene, as any super-powered human could be viewed as a threat, but they have rights as well, so it makes it a delicate matter. JMS weaves these realistic notions into the overarching story very well, grounding the dramatic and keeping it from becoming too far-fetched.
The super-powers aren’t terribly original: flight, control of electrons, control of fire, invincibility, etc; however, it’s how Straczynski approaches these powers that make it a great story. The Special Lionel Zerb has the ability to speak to the deceased, which ends up driving him to near insanity, causing him to move into the mountains away from the populous.
John Simon remains the principal narrator for the entire series: the detective during the ‘Watchmen-esque’ arc, and the voice of reason during the ‘X-Men-esque’ arc. He’s the so-called leader, and is both hated and loved for his role.
Rising Stars has its ups and downs for certain, but overall it is a very great comic, with a fresh take on the superhero genre: one that is both tragic as well as believable. If you enjoy Watchmen or X-Men, or detective fiction and politics, or just damn good story telling, do yourself a favour and check this one out.