Thursday, March 03, 2005

RISING STARS #24

I can't quite figure out why I'm disappointed with the end of this series. But I am.

There wasn't a single surprise here in this final issue. We knew from the very first couple of pages of the very first issue that John Simon was the last surviving Special. We knew that JM Straczynski's favorite shape is the circle (or possibly the ellipse) and that everything that goes around in JMS's universes ends up coming around. Also, we knew that Straczynski's got a certain holistic, spiritual approach to the cosmos. And all of that was in this coda.

So why do I feel like the Rising Stars world ended with a whimper and not a bang? Especially since it did, actually, end with a bang?

Perhaps it was the anticipation building -- after waiting more than two years for the final three issues, were they fated to not live up to the hype? I've been sorely disappointed in the post-hiatus issues, just as I have been with the entire third act of Rising Stars -- I'd have been perfectly happy if the story had ended at Doc Welles's gravesite, after John's speech about what the Specials were really supposed to have done. But the post-hiatus issues in particular feel like let-downs.

There are worthy themes in the third act -- redemption, making the hard choice, that no good deed ever goes unpunished -- but none of them are really at play in the post-hiatus issues. John's not in need of redemption anymore and his choices don't count; his third act transformation into an oracle/messiah rendered him uninteresting (not to mention exceedingly creepy) and his choices too ethereal to have much impact. Everyone else? *shrugs* They're just there to be clueless cannon fodder. Once upon a time, we related to Chandra and Randy and Lionel and Matthew and Paula and the others, but they faded into the background as Act Three progressed and the vaguely godlike John, thrust into the spotlight, remained opaque and needlessly closed off to the readers.

Ultimately, while the ending made sense in the peculiar JMS way and in a larger narrative way, John's revelations and his sacrifice meant little to me because he had stopped meaning anything to me.

[... Now that I think of it, this series reminds me of the end of the Horatio Hornblower novel series -- the last few stories chronologically, after Horatio gets the woman he loves, after he finally gets rewarded for his heroism, are hopelessly bland. They're just a string of amazing successes without the least hint of doubt, occasionally punctuated by the bloody death of someone Horatio has come to care for, but all rewarded beyond all hope and expectation.]

Despite the unimpressive ending, I remain a fan of this series and recommend the first two trades, Born in Fire and Power, without reservation. I will also strenuously warn everyone away from the execrable novelizations by Arthur Byron Cover -- they're heinous even by the lowest of fanfic standards. And I will gratuitously recommend Midnight Nation because it remains my favorite Straczynski comic.

And, finally, the true point of comparison with this title... Supreme Power. It's not stretching to say that SP is Straczynski's chance at a do-over as it addresses many of the same themes and it's not hard to see where Straczynski is consciously trying not to make the same mistakes twice. Rising Stars had a massive cast -- there were 113 Specials to begin with, plus assorted parents, government types, and Doc Welles -- and there were definitely points at which he lost control of the narrative in his attempts to flesh out his characters. SP, by contrast, is a very, very tight ship -- too tight, perhaps, in that we have very little insight into any of the personalities and we're well past the dozen-issue point. (The dishwater-dull Dr. Spectrum mini isn't helping to shine any light.) It's like Goldilocks -- the first was too loose, the second too tight, the third will be just right?

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