Pederson 113: In The Shadow Of Chicago (Part II of II)

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The Last, Best Hope...

Rising Stars is a dubious little bugger, swaying between masterful proclamations as if transcribed from the greatest of the literati and the hammiest teen awkward notepad. Between brilliant and innovative storytelling technique and drab typical by-the-numbers overused superhero templates. Between wonderfully fixating visual feasts and artwork so terrible I might wipe my arse with it. Quite fittingly, between the darkness and the light.

Before Rising Stars went on sale, Top Cow went the route of most comicbook distribution, limiting it as much as possible so that it would reach, only those 'in the know'. And those in the know, avoid Wizard like the plague. So, in June of last year, they had the good sense to reprint for those who travel distance, Rising Stars #0.

In a six-page strip, Slappy The Clown has been hired by the government to talk to 113 children about Camp Sunshine, their home until the age of 18. Alcoholic Slappy (whose wife has run off with a circus geek) is considerably nervous being left alone with these metapowered youngsters. This serves as a great introduction to the series, laid back, written in the style of Peter David and his comical asides. Drawn too, by Gary Frank, whose skill at drawing PEOPLE is as suited to this book as Keu Cha's work ever was. Keu Cha and co-original art team, Jason Gorder, Liquid! and David Heisler return in an eight-page story that really should have seen print in #1. It's the introduction to the series and makes things an awful lot clearer. Everything looks spot-on and the scenery is breathtaking and the characters look travelled. JMS had expressed to Top Cow he wanted RS top be a writer-driven book. But writer-driven only works if the right artists bring his book to life.

"The night it happened. The night the sky burned we thought we had been touched by the finger of God. We were so impressed and overwhelmed that we forgot to ask one question. Which finger?"

One of the few just reasons the over-enthusiastic fanbase of RS makes comparisons to Watchmen is to do with JMS' use of fictional published documents to illustrate the world around the protagonists. A note from the journal of camp counsellor Doctor Welles and a Supreme Court ruling referencing a court battle between representatives of the 'specials' and the government are present. These are neat asides but do lack the strength of relation in the more 'closure' tale that Alan Moore and Dave Gibbons set out. A five-page look at Rising Stars rounds this book off, too 'advert' or 'fannique' for my liking.

Another Rising Stars extra, 'Prelude' was published some months after.

'Visitations And Midnight Thoughts' includes the work of (p)Dave Finch, (i)John Livesay and Victor Llamas. Notable in that it features the original art team that worked on #0-#2 and a return to JMS' more 'intimate' storytelling. With a sermon on the nature of comics and superhero/supervillain rivalry that adds a new dimension to the old 'two sides of one coin' thing. The humanity of this piece is daring and while it won't convert me to christianity it does make some valid philosophical points on the theme of 'making amends'. The tale's only flaw is that the minimalism is a little badly fitted at times.

In The Year Of The Chicago War...

The second act of Rising Stars begins with #9, the first fifteen pages of which once again feature the Rising Stars 'published document' or media representation. Straczynski's writing is a lot clearer and it also works to better effect than the B5 episodes, 'And Now For A Word' and 'The Illusion Of Truth'.

A copy of Mediaweek shows the strengths of Rising Stars. The potential for misused responsibility of The Child Welfare Act(#1). 'Things Fall Apart' (#6-#8) as a metaphor for the events of Waco. The possibility of the hundred and thirteen allowing to be representative of a general population sample.

Regular artist Christian Zanier despite turning in a 'big pile of poo' cover, is improving his work. He seems to favour the 'dark and mysterious' angle for every scene and it is all drawn very much in the Image house style, but perhaps at the higher end of those aged spectrums. The tale centres on Stephanie Maas, a special who has taken over the city of Chicago and made it her own. In exchange for an amnesty a collective of specials decide to take a government offer: the re-taking of Chicago. Brett Evans added the seriously twilight tones that run through much of this series. Again, it does suit it. There is an essence of Straczynski trying to do a superpowered gang warfare zombie flick.

At times it's annoyingly predictable. When a friend of lead character John Simon, dies, a fit is thrown where the hero yells at the sky. It's so overblown that it is funny. Part of me wishes this were intended, that Joe seeks to satirise the 'death in fiction' cliché at the most untypical moment. When it comes to friendship, Joe is at it's best. 'What Goes Around' (#11) details the friendship between two 'specials' which JMS writes as if he were Garth Ennis.

Rising Stars is at it's best when Joe pulls little tricks out of the bag and #12 ("A, B, C, and D") is one of those long overdue welcome moments. Pages 2-9, 10, 11-13, and page 15 are four horizontal panels per page. Each follows a specific protagonist or situation with only the minimum of beats skipped.

#13 sees the import of another new inker and colourist team: Marlo Alquiza, Danny Miki and Dan Kemp, take a bow folks. Granted, the work is still 'house style' but it's more New Marvel rather than Image. There's a little hint at a return to Keu Cha's expressionist style, which I hope is a good omen. The colours are quite golden and shining, not fitting with the events were they actual, but more to tie in with the introductory page's comparative simile. Yet, it's cluttered, with the writer's designated archetypes and what they do and how they move about.

Story, it's a big one, with the death of a major character, the defeat of a major villain and a few 'shocks' and 'surprises'. At least, I get the impression that's what they should be. I just feel like shrugging my shoulders. 'Huh? So what?' As Dave Sim once wrote, "No impact".

JMS is really at his best writing his multi-part stories, with a bloody good mask of them being self-contained tales, over in a teaser, three acts and a spoiler. Even the rather neat historical and occult reference don't impress as much as they should.

Nothing here is exactly as it appears...

The number of similarities between Rising Stars and Marvel's (frequently maligned) New Universe line increases. With 'Nova Placenta' (#1) we had a parallel with "the white event", a bright light in the sky granting superpowers. Pederson's 'Camp Sunshine' mirrors both 'The Clinic' (DP7) and 'Sanctuary' (PSI-FORCE) in the providence of home, early base of operations. In 'Things Fall Apart', a forced registering and abduction of those affected by the aurora borealis is similar to the New U's THE DRAFT.

The thematic similarity, the incidence of a paranormal war pops up in the unimaginatively titled and written THE WAR. Yes, Rising Stars does it better, but they could have done it much better...

I can't help but feel totally disappointed by Rising Stars, despite its good points. Are Claudia Christian and Keu Cha enhancing influences on JMS' connections with his muse? I adored Babylon 5 bar the more haphazard nature of the first and last season. As a reviewer of over-optimistic nature, I have waited for a mainstream book to come along that I really didn't like: an excuse to tear into convention. And you know what? When one reads a really great book it's an absolute delight to write about it. When one reads a really bad book and has to write about it, the chore is doubled in enmity.

I'm sorry Joe, I can't believe everything you touch turns to gold, silver or bronze. And it's a shame you can't see that. For you would be a much better writer if you did.

Who's Who In The SBC Update 2001

Who is... Andrew Luke

Alter Ego: Andy Luke, Drew, John Andrew Luke, J. Andrew Luke, Antdew Loop, Alpen Jones, Weapon X (Glutton)

Occupation: Professionally unemployed.

Group Affiliation: Eltingville Club (Hicksville Branch)

Base Of Operations: A great big blue sofa beside biscuits.

First Appearance: Scholars are still working on this. The guy is such a slut.

History: Born in Belfast, Northern Ireland and decimated everything in his wake until he got to Newtownards. His Flat Of Not-Enough-Solitude looks out over the magnificently phallic shaped Scrabo Tower were he compiles reviews and articles for Silver Bullets. Also, The Review Sheet (TRS2), a bimonthly newsheet centering on small press comics in the UK which is published both on paper and electronically, by Bugpowder.

Andrew is also working on his latest comic books, including an autobiographical tale of a teenage party and the final issue of his (s)hit s/p book, BOB'S.

Powers And Weapons: Andrew has the tendency to get as many words into a sentence as possible, feeling that if he uses a lot of research material in his work, that gives him divine right. He regularly hits christians over the head with a hardback MacMillan Encyclopedia. He is also a schizo.

Past Articles: This is the first. Makes you feel kinda special? You are.

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