Rising Stars by J. Michael Straczynski
Posted November 13, 2010on:
It’s a good thing Superman wanted to be a nice guy, wanted to be a good guy, didn’t mind being famous, the center of attention. What if he’d just wanted to live a normal life?
If you had a superpower, would you use it for good, or for evil? Would you use it to help the world, or to help yourself? What if you tried to do the right thing and the world didn’t want your help?
In the late 1960’s, a fireball from space hit the rural Illinois town of Pederson. A flash, a bang, and every child born Pederson in the next nine months are special. Kept in Pederson and observed by government doctors, the children, known as “specials” developed different powers at different times. Flight, or mind reading, or super strength, or telekenesis, for example. Some developed fairly useless skills, and some never developed anything, but the government still watched. Everything started out so perfectly, and once upon a time everyone was friends. But children grow up, and friends drift apart, and super strength only makes you invulnerable against bullets, not corruption.
But this is not your standard superhero story. This is not about good vs evil, it’s not about saving the world. Well, it is about saving the world, a little bit, just not in the way you think. It’s a little bit X-Men mixed with a little bit of Heroes, mixed with a little bit of Highlander, with some of the best graphic novel writing in the business. J. Michael Straczynski’s Rising Stars just completely floored me.
When low level specials start showing up dead, John Simon, a special himself, starts to investigate. These folks, the specials, they’re not real easy to kill. No one knows their invulnerabilities, except the other specials. It’s one thing to know a friend is dead. It’s another thing to know it was one of your other friends that must have done it. Who would kill a special? They would die of old age eventually, so why start killing them now? So many specials were just trying to live ordinary lives, as police officers, or singers, or doctors or scientists, or in some cases vigilantes and criminals.
Like energy, the special powers didn’t just disappear from the deceased special, they just changed form. As the first of the 113 were killed, their powers, their strength, was transferred to the remaining specials. Specials who could maybe only fly a few feet off the ground, or read your mind if they were touching you could now keep up with 747s and tell you want someone across the world was thinking. The more specials that died, the more powerful the remaining specials became.
Nothing motivates a country like fear, and as regular citizens see bulletproof specials defending themselves on national TV, it becomes easy to give up just a few of your civil rights to make sure your children are safe from those monsters. With the blessings of the nation, the specials were hunted down. If they ran, they lost. If they fought back, they lost. Ordinary people who were born with extraordinary powers to help the world for good. And many of them wanted to bring good into the world, but the world judged them on the actions of a few dark souls.
Completed in three volumes that take place over 50 or so years, Rising Stars has it all – compelling characters, hard choices, moral ambiguity, conspiracies, crises of faith, and one of the most powerful stories I have ever come across. These very special people have the ability to change the world, to remake the world. But the world has seen what they can do and responded with fear and violence. As more specials are killed, the remaining ones become more powerful but are also running out of time. I didn’t want to read the last volume, I didn’t want the story to end. The story does end on a hopeful note, if not a happy one.
J. Michael Straczynski, known for the TV show Babylon5, is no stranger to putting his personal politics into what he writes. Depending on your personal politics, you might see Rising Stars as an empowering and passionate call for personal freedom and peace. On the otherhand, you might see it as nothing more than soapboxing. Regardless, you can’t help but be affected by his potent and unique writing style.