Pederson 113: The Geometry Of Rising Stars (Part I of II)
By Andrew Luke
"The voices! I can't hear the voices!"
With a 'up there' logo, standard template characters, a great layout, the cover to Rising Stars #1 gazes at me. Detailed to stimulate attentiveness from enquiry, perhaps suspicion. Turning the page, force immense celestial bodies handled with reverence. Colourist Liquid! works within inker Jason Gorder's boundaries with cared application. These inks give detail to mass, general unlikeliness meaning and definition. The tale carries unclear communication, but Babylon 5 creator J. Michael Straczynski pulls in a dual-metaphor storytelling process over a double-page spread. The parallels are painted realistically, giving the 'radioactive sex origin' story extra cred, but which it benefits from, fu*k is gorgeous. Handled with sense, unlike 'The New Universe' were if DeFalco or Shooter had've thought about it, they would have had a radioactive rubber johnny present. (Writer's note: brilliant name for a comic book!). I bet the artists too are really proud of this stuff. Particular attention to nature is emphasised here. Penciller Keu Cha seems bored by technology but finds growth and the elements important. The toll taken upon receiving their powers, the integration in relation to demeanour and physique, Cha finds especially interesting. This is seen in the way clothing is drawn. The more man-made in the process an object, Cha and Liquid! in particular are less willing in the tackle. Substituting metals for a plastic-coated look is a common occurrence too. Living is the common expression that Cha has bestowed these paper and ink children with. The souls of these beings jump out as keenly as the weather, which creates mood and temperature.
The crux of this twenty-four issue series is as follows. One hundred and thirteen children born in the same town, conceived at the same time as a strange flash appears in the sky. As with most traditional superhero tales, the metaphysical powers reveal themselves through circumstance's necessity. Again, the elements are called upon to stimulate six-year old Matthew Bright when a freak storm threatens to engulf Pederson Elementary. The flashes of lightning, inferred spotlight and the flash from a camera is a perfect symphony of illumination. Again, light and Liquid! comes into play in the transitional page following. The warmth emanating from a coffee cup leads not to a faceless bureaucrat 'tackling the problem' but a human being in a confused world which just got hyper-confused. That he isn't given a name is on the same page as the look of torture he wears and the ring on his finger.
The humanisation of the metapowered has been done before and done well, and mighty Joe Straczynski does this well. That he writes about children and writes their behavioural patterns with accuracy is rewarding. While the bulk of the growing is glossed over, this is because 'Nova Placenta' is about the beginning and ending of the tale. And the 'glossing over' page (below) is as visual as basically integral.
The kids are packed off to 'Camp Sunshine', where they are to spend their growing years. Things go wrong in a scene that is an omen of what is to come in this series. Nasty things, when an exploitative world meets an unseen complication, for the most parts its own creation. Unstoppable force meets immovable object. The unwelcome advances of manipulative humanity and the nature of infection.
"We didn't know. Could never have guessed. But we should have known. Because like all true evils, it knew our names... and it came from inside."
"Can't touch this" is in part, the death of 'special' Peter Dawson. Behind a challenging cover, oddly so. On one level, it looks like the bog standard superhero, looking really pissed with lots of electric's flash. With the other eye, he's a dangerous fat retard, definitely a look of the crazy power controller. His facial expression suggests unseen saliva moving down his chin. The final night of Dawson's life, cold hopeless twilight, coloured fittingly with blacks and blues, an eerie luminescence gazing out from the LED of an alarm clock. Dawson is/was invulnerable and wretched. Lonely, his physical meta-ability is an emotional disability resulting in loneliness and numbness. Like the tear of the first fatality in Pederson, this is tragedy. As his life appears before us, Cha lays out a slow moving pictorial account, close time sequencing: the tick of the watch coming to claim the victim - closing with beat narrative.
The big tension builder in the first arc (there's that word again!), is the killing of the 'specials', and this issue using the framing device of the cops interviewing Doctor Welles (doctor to the specials). Grey muddy green hues give a clinical breakdown of facts, serving to communicate with the public whose only understanding of them is through the mass media and its hyperbole. The suggestion of the part 'Nova Society' will pay. The chapter concludes with the killings being examined by special/poet John Simon. Transmitted through four pages of hand-written text from Simon's journal, the artists draw only accompanying 'photos'.
Whatever Happened To Keu Cha?
With #3 everything looks promising. Graphic Design Editor Peter Steigerwald goes the Dave McKean Vertigo cover route. It fits in well, and although I can't quite explain it, it's my favourite of the covers.
Trickery is afoot. I discover what you probably know - No Keu Cha! No Jason Gorder! No Liquid!! With the exception of letterer David Heisler a brilliant art team is gone! The reason JMS is gives is that it was 'a stylistic decision' and it has been said that Cha's work-rate was slow in comparison to Zanier's. I can't say the new art team is bloody awful. However, the majority of their work doesn't sit well with me at all, and reading this book becomes a chore.
Christian Zanier's first page debut shows a rather stunning looking model, with beautiful skin tone by Tyson Wengler. It's a shame her breast is the size of my head. Some of Zanier's characters are the downright clichés JMS ought to stay away from. (Perhaps they are trying to reproduce the hammier acting from B5). He may be perfectly comfortable when it comes to drawing any buildings, furniture, construction or valuables but when it comes to capturing LIFE he is no substitute for Keu Cha. And he seems to enjoy drawing those masks and capes just a little too much. Perhaps he thought his gig with Straczynski was Spider-Man. Also, whether at Straczynski's sudden insistence or Zanier's clumsiness, the pages and panel arrangements all look cramped.
The inkers must be sleeping too, for if something doesn't clash, it blurs or bores. I'm no expert on inking, but it too is inconsistent. There are some clear cases were it is over-done. The colourist team (five of them in #4!) put together some really bland stuff. The best of their work is scoured by the uneven nature of it. For some reason, they only really succeed when the firestarter characters are involved.
Numerous backup colourists too do little to curry my favour. Wengler and co paint poorly and make Zanier's panels and Livesay's inks more confined. There is no suggestion of light or décor, and everything looks muddy. In opinion, the colouring is the big offender. The separations are bloody dreadful in #3 and #4.
'Whatever Happened To Lee Jackson?' and 'Masques' are fairly similar to the preceding tale. Hard-luck heroes and death, are the predominant themes. Thematically identical, JMS does what he did in B5 : tells a multitude of tales of varying lengths, all the while expanding THE TALE and THE TALES : he's a master weaver. Through the lives of paranormals Peter Dawson, Lee Jackson and Cathy Jean, we witness the changing of times and the growth of the Pederson children. Despite it's obviousness or because of it, the 'costumes and codenames' surfacing is irritating even if only background. The murderer ID/detective story has a great build but essentially #2-#4 follow quite an identical formula, yet somehow it seems fresh and new. #4 is Zanier's first cover for Rising Stars and it boasts some fine layouts worthy of a pin-up. His interiors are also a lot neater and warming and the script plays to his advantages.
My chief fear with RS is the immense cast and geographical spreading. B5 had a huge cast, and with more supporting characters than main characters this worked extremely well. JMS sets up a date between one of the 113 and a colleague from her workplace, and the piece is not only quite intimate and personal, it manages to tell at least ten other stories! On quick count! It's a big shame much of the hues and the visual character, particularly in the action sequences, are flat and uninspired.
#5 is the big one. Covered by a really cruddy cover that is awkward and forced and lacks atmosphere. The interior reveals the identity of the killer, and although the 'whodunit' is a let down, the directorial 'howwefoundoutaboutwhodunit' however, is up there with the best of B5. Straczynski throws editorial curveballs in at every opportunity, with a wonderfully simplistic twofold yarn of strength and visual trickery. The 'trickery' at the end is cake's icing, a mark of 'credible' comicbooklet creator. It is wonderful that in this short time JMS has not only adapted to the comicbooklet medium but is able to play with form and stretch boundaries, approaching the league of Outcalt, Ware and Sim. "The World Between" is a must buy.
I'm angry because I want to tell people this is one of the best comic books of last year. I can't. Christian Zanier, to be fair, does try. So what goes wrong? The art team isn't a team. They're a bunch of artists who don't work very well together. Ken Lashley, the layout penciller has some great ideas but occasionally too ambitious for this lot. The weather is really bad. This is visual imagery which plays an important part in the story and Cha's crew could have handled it with ease, but Zanier and co. seems stuck for clues. The colourists produce the usual dog's dinner, a tornado sequence as weak as watered down Superbuy Economy Juice. The inker does not convey any depth, clarity or effective texturing and there is nothing to work with as far as backgrounds go. However, this is still the finest pre-Cha issue and a great read.
Things Fall Apart
An aptly titled three-parter, unfortunately. Real agendas come out from behalf of both the cast and the creators. There is a sudden influx of the three C's - costumes, capes and codenames. And the dreaded 'f' word. With the killer revealed to the hero, politics determine allies should be gathered. The 'bad guys' faction manipulates the government and soon go playing 'round up the paranormals'. By the end of this saga, the visuals do get a sense of balance as the team learn to work together. Zanier gets to do his car chases and helicopter gunships as Camp Sunshine is left behind for more confined adult locations: Churches, prisons, that sort of thing. The covers are mostly standard pin-up fare: connected to the story but poorly realised or with a veneer of the 'stunning' but with no internal quality to them.
Livesay`s inking manages to finally reach the place where the rest of the art stands out. In concordance with the direction this story takes, less 'the world of the specials', it focuses on 'the world the specials inhabit'.
Matt Nelson, the main colourist, still makes the page unappealing. The brightest moments of #6-#7 are when the panels are tackled with a Vess colouring pencil technique. Brett Evans' colouring on #8 is the finest and brings out Zanier high. Incidentally, the issue with the lowest 'force beam' content.
The art is at its worst when the artists do the `mainstream comic-book artist` chores and this is brought into the open by the direction of the trilogy's main plot. The problem is that the visage of 'director/storyteller' falls away to reveal the comic book fanboy in Joe Straczynski. The result, lots of very by-the-numbers superhero slugfests. A theory of mine is that JMS somewhere realises the failure of the telepath story in B5. Or that's what I hope he's doing, with the 'specials'. A re-creation and/or re-exploration or extension of those themes. Not that there's anything wrong with that. Sure, didn't Garth Ennis and Steve Dillon do it in the move from Hellblazer to Preacher?
Comics don't have sound, and the great sense of 'epic' doesn't really stand out here. Yet Joe still has that wonderful ear for dialogue and sets up his usual well-realised scenes of the common people. 'Tis truly a shame the series so far hasn't been as promising as the first two issues...
The Deconstruction Of Rising Stars continues next Saturday.
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