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Cover of Rising Stars #1
|Publisher||Joe's Comics (Top Cow)|
|Publication date||August 1999 – March 2005|
|Number of issues||24|
|Writer(s)||J. Michael Straczynski|
|Creator(s)||J. Michael Straczynski|
Rising Stars is a 24-issue comic book limited series by J. Michael Straczynski about 113 people (called "Specials") born with special abilities following the appearance of a mysterious light in the sky above Pederson, Illinois. The series explores how society may react to the advent of superpowers, and how those who are Specials may react towards society and each other. Rising Stars was one of the first comics produced under Straczynski's own Joe's Comics imprint for Top Cow Productions.
The comic was published in August 1999, monthly at first by Top Cow/Image Comics, and then under the Joe's Comics imprint. Within a few months, however, there were unscheduled artist changes and unexplained delays by Top Cow in shipping the comics—sometimes lasting months.
The comic itself came to an unexpected halt after issue 21 due to internal arguments between Straczynski and Top Cow. Straczynski claimed he was cut out of the loop on the potential Rising Stars movie. After communication broke down between them, he held back the scripts for the last three issues, and the entire comic was put on hold. In addition to an apology for the way Straczynski was treated in regard to the possible film, Top Cow relented by giving him the full rights to an anthology comic he had written for them, Dream Police (later published by Marvel Comics), as well as the rights to the name and logo for the Joe's Comics imprint.
The story is narrated from the future by the last living Special, John Simon, nicknamed "Poet". The genesis of the Specials is shown to be the unforgettable descent of a fierce comet from the heavens. The story starts when the Specials are all grown up, but it constantly flashes back to when they were children. Through these flashbacks, the development of these 113 Specials is shown, starting with the government's monitoring and handling of the events, to the manifestation of their powers, to the impact of these abilities on the afflicted children and the world around them. Some of the Specials use their powers for the good of the world, others for personal benefit and fame, while others simply wish to forget about them and live a normal life.
A series of murders of the Specials spurs John to investigate. He learns that when a Special dies, their "energy" transfers to the remaining Specials, making each more powerful. This fact had become known to a Special with multiple personality disorder, who calls herself Critical Maas. It emerges that Maas has been manipulating "Patriot" (the alter ego of Jason Miller) to kill other Specials so her own power would be increased. At the instigation of Maas, the U.S. government also attacks the Specials, killing more. With her newly increased powers, Maas and a handful of Specials under her telepathic control are able to conquer Chicago, claiming it for themselves.
Ten years pass and John, his half-brother Randy Fisk (alter ego: Ravenshadow), Elizabeth Chandra, and Joshua Kane (alter ego: Sanctuary) lead the rest of the Specials in an attempt to liberate Chicago after the U.S. government promises that all charges against them will be dropped. Maas is defeated, but at a price: Matthew Bright, who had been sent by the government to assist in her defeat, is beaten into a coma by Patriot, while the latter was still under Maas' control.
Seeing that internecine conflict was not what they were empowered for, John proclaims that he wants them all to act as a unit so they can help humanity. The violence in Chicago affected the rest of the Specials as well and they all agree to assist John in his mission.
Another ten years pass, and their mission is almost complete. Humanity has been helped by the Specials, and more importantly, has been given the confidence and resources to further help themselves. But after Randy Fisk wins the Presidency, elements in the U.S. government, seeing the Specials as a threat to their power, plot to assassinate the remaining few.
A bomb, specifically designed to destroy even the most powerful Special, is set off during a gathering of almost all the Specials, excepting John who is busy working on a secret project. All present are killed, including Randy and John's lover, Elizabeth Chandra.
The released power is initially distributed amongst all the people of the world, instantly curing all forms of illness and injury. It also grants everyone limited telepathy, bringing an end to all wars, violence, and strife as people become aware of the thoughts and feelings of those they had previously viewed as their enemies. Those involved in the mass assassination voluntarily come forward and confess. For 24 hours, not a single human being dies.
After that blessed 24 hours, the power soars into the sky and seeks out John, giving him all its power and knocking him out for seven days. He uses that power to provide energy for the project he had been working on: a space ship that travels near the speed of light.
The immense power within John directs the ship to yet another world, an alien planet much like Earth. John's ship erupts into a fireball, strikingly similar to the one that had empowered the Specials, as it comes crashing down onto the planet's surface. It can be assumed that a process similar to what happened with the Specials would happen to this planet's populace. The circle has been completed.
There are 113 Specials, with the story focusing on a select few and often featuring appearances by others.
- John Simon (Poet) — Poet and writer, but not a very popular one. It is commonly known that he has a knack with electronics; he can avoid security systems, and is sensitive to electrical impulses. Secretly, however, he is the most "lethal" of all the Specials — whereas the other 112 Specials have powers fueled by the energy of the Flash, Poet can control that energy directly. Though not the fastest or strongest, he is the deadliest. There were 113 specials born. The protagonist's name is John. In the Bible, John 1:13 reads: "Who were born not of blood, nor of the will of the flesh, nor of the will of man, but of God."
- Matthew Bright — A police officer with the powers of flight, super-strength and speed, near-invulnerability. At first he hid his identity as a Special so as to join the police. After a series of serial bombings, he is exposed and the Federal Government revokes his badge as Specials are not allowed to participate in any form of government department. His fellow officers then name him a 'special' deputy rank and supply a new badge and uniform.
- Jason Miller (Formerly Flagg, Patriot) — Masked corporate superhero employed by NexusCorp, later turned vigilante - Flight, super-strength and speed, near-invulnerability, can sense radiation. Was seduced by Stephanie Maas and taken over by her split personality Critical Maas. Jason was used to murder other specials so that their power would transfer to the rest and eventually would have allowed Critical the ability to control them all. He was later freed and decided to help the world by forcing a nuclear disarmament. He proceeded to every country with nuclear weapons and took their weapons and hid them in the Antarctic. He left each country with one nuclear weapon each. While transporting one of these weapons it detonated after being hit by several bullets, the resultant EMP allowed the radiation to affect Jason and would have eventually killed him had he not died protecting Matthew Bright. It was this incident which suggested to members of the US military the idea of using a high powered EMP to temporarily knock out the power of the specials.
- Elizabeth Chandra — Former model - Appears as the physically ideal woman to whoever is looking at her. Later gains the ability to inspire love rather than lust in both male and female onlookers.
- Randy Fisk (Ravenshadow) — Artist - Flight, super-strength, ability to see things nobody else can, is sensitive to electrical impulses, energy projection. Eventually revealed to be John Simon's half-brother, and becomes President of the United States in his later years.
- Stephanie Maas/Critical Maas — Developed a second personality as a child to deal with being physically abused by her father. Able to access powers of flight, super-strength and speed, broadcast telepathy, and the ability to psychically control any Special she has had contact with. After the Surge, she is able to control almost any Special. Committed suicide when Stephanie regained temporary control.
- Jerry Montrose (Pyre) — Pyrokinetic - Controls fire, capable of surrounding his body in intense heat without burning and the ability to fly as well as enhanced strength. Despite being "enemies" in their later years, Jerry and Jason Miller were best friends as children, along with Joshua Kane. Became rich in Las Vegas, and went on to become a hero by burning cocaine fields in Columbia to redeem himself for past crimes. Was the first target of the U.S. government's EMP theory, when they used a device to disrupt his powers and eventually kill him.
- Paula Ramirez — Singer - Telepathic singing voice that can only be described as 'beautiful.' One of the few Specials adored by the non-powered public.
- Willie Smith — Flight, super-strength and speed, can locate the rest of Specials, limited telepathy. As a child Willie could only hover a few feet as he was the victim of teasing over his weight and this directly affected his confidence and in turn his abilities. During a particularly rough day Willie "snapped" as it is put and proceeded to float off and leaves not to be seen again until he saves Cathy Holmes in Chicago from Critical Maas.
- Joshua Kane (Sanctuary) — Televangelist - Levitation, energy absorption, ability to generate and concentrate light. Transvestite. Died saving the Specials from a tactical missile.
- Laurel Darkhaven — Telekinetic Government assassin. Laurel had the ability to telekinetically manipulate small objects. She was employed as an assassin because, as noted in the comic book, "The carotid artery is a small object". At John Simon's urging, she later expended her powers moving the arable soil across the entire Middle East from beneath the sand to the surface, but the strain on her results in her death.
- Lionel Zerb — Medium - Able to detect and contact the recently deceased. Later gains the ability to talk to those that have not died recently. Ability seems limited by proximity to place of death or place of burial, but he has been known to contact particular individuals.
- Cathy Holmes — Healer - Rejuvenative abilities, to the point of raising the recently dead, or bodies patched together from several species.. Nicknamed "Cathy Jean" by Critical and her minions.
- Brody Kempler — Supergenius - Einstein, Archimedes, and Stephen Hawking rolled into one don't even come close. Inventor.
- Clarence Mack — Psychologist - Telepathically visits other people's dreams. Murdered by Patriot.
- Peter Dawson — Invulnerable - a microthin energy shield protects his body from all injury, and filters his environment. As result, he has no physical sensation bar taste. Cannot be physically injured, or poisoned in any way. Peter was murdered by Patriot while under Critical Maas' control. Patriot placed a plastic bag over his head and tied him down, the shield covering Peters' body meant he could not feel this happening and suffocated.
- Lee Jackson — Pyrokinetic - Abilities similar to Jerry Montrose (Pyre). Abused as a child by a camp counselor, Lee later burned him alive using his powers after the counselor attempted to abuse him again. This became the first instance of a Special using his power for harm, leading the U.S. government to review their policies. Lee is also believed to have accidentally killed his parents by burning down their apartment while having a nightmare. Lived on the streets and was eventually taken in by an old woman, who was later killed by a gang of thugs. This led to a highly publicized rampage from Lee, who committed suicide in a violent explosion after killing the gang responsible.
- David Mueller — Able to merge his mind with people within 20 feet. Lost his consciousness when his mother committed suicide while he was in her mind trying to stop her, his comatose body was killed when Jason Miller threw it out a hospital window.
- Patrick Ferry — The ability to disappear into shadows and go anywhere without being noticed.
At first, the Specials possessed varying levels of power, ranging from the clearly superhuman, such as Matthew Bright and Jason Miller, to almost negligible abilities like being invisible when not in direct sunlight. However, when a Special died, the energy they possessed was evenly distributed among the rest, making them stronger. In an incident similar to the Waco Siege, a number of Specials were killed. The resultant transfer of energy, later known as the Surge, was enough to turn all specials regardless of their standing into high powered individuals.
- Dr. William Welles - The Supreme Court assigned Dr. Welles to the Specials shortly after their powers manifested in order to document their abilities and teach them to cope with their new powers. Further, he was to compile files on each to be used by government should any of the Specials ever go rogue. He has a close personal friendship with John Simon (Poet), whose main power he never reveals. Dr. Welles dies half-way through the story, leaving John Simon to solve the Specials crisis.
Rising Stars: Bright
The first Rising Stars spin-off, a three-issue miniseries, written by Fiona Avery, penciled by Dan Jurgens and published in Feb-Apr 2003, is about Matthew Bright's rookie years as a police officer in the NYPD under the name Brendan Miller, after he left Pederson.
Rising Stars: Voices of the Dead
The six-issue miniseries Rising Stars: Voices of the Dead features Lionel Zerb, a Special who can see dead people, and was published in Apr-Dec 2005. It was again written by Fiona Avery, with pencils by Staz Johnson and Al Rio. It concentrates on various mysteries Lionel uncovers because of his ability.
Rising Stars: Untouchable
The five-issue miniseries Rising Stars: Untouchable features Laurel Darkhaven, a Special who worked for the CIA as an assassin. Written by Fiona Avery with pencils by Brent Anderson. Published February 2006 - June 2006.
Typical of Straczynski, the beginning and end of the story were planned before he wrote the first issue. It was set to span 24 issues, and neatly divide up into three acts. Each trade paperback collects one of those acts.
- Rising Stars Vol. 1: Born in Fire (collects Rising Stars #1-8; ISBN 1-58240-172-1)
- Rising Stars Vol. 2: Power (collects Rising Stars #9-16; ISBN 1-58240-226-4)
- Rising Stars Vol. 3: Fire and Ash (collects Rising Stars #17-24; ISBN 1-58240-491-7)
- Rising Stars: Visitations (collects Rising Stars #0, ½, Prelude and Preview; ISBN 1-58240-268-X)
- Rising Stars Hardcover (collects Rising Stars #1-24, 0, ½ and Prelude; ISBN 1-58240-488-7)
- Rising Stars Vol.4 (collects Rising Stars: Bright and Rising Stars: Voices of the Dead; ISBN 1-58240-613-8)
All the publications are collected in one volume:
- Rising Stars Compendium (collects Rising Stars #1-24, 0, ½, Prelude, Rising Stars: Bright, Rising Stars: Voice of the Dead, and Rising Stars: Untouchable; 1008 pages, Image Comics, December 2008, hardcover, ISBN 1-60706-032-9, softcover, ISBN 1-58240-802-5)
In other media
Between 2002 and 2005, a novelization of Rising Stars by Arthur Byron Cover was published in a three-volume series.
- Rising Stars Book 1: Born in Fire (ISBN 978-0743435123) follows the storyline of the trade paperback of the same title.
- Rising Stars Book 2: Ten Years After (ISBN 978-0743452762) follows the storyline of Power.
- Rising Stars Book 3: Change the World (ISBN 978-1416504320) concludes the trilogy and follows the storyline of Fire and Ash.
- Rising Stars Vol. 1: Born in Fire (Issue #1-8)
- Rising Stars Vol. 2: Power (Issue #9-16)
- Rising Stars Vol. 3: Fire and Ash (Issue #17-24)
- Rising Stars at the Grand Comics Database
- Rising Stars at the Comic Book DB
- Worlds of JMS |Rising Stars
- Abyss: JMS Comics: Rising Stars
- Reviews: Rising Stars Compendium, Comic Book Resources