Today’s Super Comic — Rising Stars #1 (1999)

I think Rising Stars was the first time I strayed from my DC/Marvel comfort zone. I lost track of the series before its conclusion, but I remember the early issues were strong.

The first issue provides an intriguing set-up. A mysterious flash of light affects every child in utero within a certain radius, granting 113 classmates various powers. And later in life, everything will go wrong.

Writer J. Michael Straczynski developed a superhero story that was intended to reach a definitive conclusion. No never-ending battle here. It was going somewhere specific from issue #1. That alone immediately distinguished it from most other comics.

In another nice touch, all super-powered people in this world knew each other from childhood. They have that lifelong connection, which would never work with the Justice League or Avengers. As issue #1 makes clear, these kids would go in all different directions as they grow up, but they share a starting point.

We don’t get a strong sense of the individual characters yet in issue #1, but it’s got me curious enough to want to find out. I can’t vouch for whether the series stuck the landing, but it starts off as an engaging science fiction story. These 113 people are unlike any who came before…now what are they going to do with their lives?

Writer: J. Michael Straczynski

Penciler: Keu Cha

Inker: Jason Gorder

Publisher: Top Cow Productions

How to Read It: back issues; Comixology; included in Rising Stars vol. 1: Born in Fire (TPB)

Appropriate For: ages 15 and up

Today’s Super Comic — The Amazing Spider-Man #38 (2002)

In the category of “long-overdue conversations” …

Aunt May discovers that her nephew Peter is Spider-Man—which means he’s been lying to her for years. It’s the sort of thing that requires setting aside some time to chat…perhaps an entire issue to chat.

The Amazing Spider-Man #38 (or #479, since the cover plays it both ways) features no super-heroic action whatsoever. It’s just Peter and May talking. Between all the history behind the conversation and how well J. Michael Straczynski writes it, it’s engaging throughout, full of emotion rather than melodrama. Both characters have been holding secrets in, and the release is scary, relieving, and scary all over again.

A nice touch is how much credit the story gives Aunt May. She had often been portrayed as elderly and frail, but here Straczynski gives the impression she’s a remarkably resilient old lady, and she would have to be to single-handedly raise a teenager after her husband’s murder and in the face of repeated health problems and financial troubles.

The issue doesn’t reach any tidy resolution. There’s no happily ever after—there’s just moving forward.

Straczynski had a memorable run on Spider-Man a few over fifteen years ago, and this was the best thing he did with the book. It needed to happen (though I’m pretty sure it was retconned along with Peter and Mary Jane’s marriage, alas).

Writer: J. Michael Straczynski

Penciler: John Romita Jr.

Inker: Scott Hanna

Cover: Kaare Andrews

Publisher: Marvel Comics

How to Read It: back issues; Marvel Unlimited; Comixology; included in The Amazing Spider-Man vol. 2: Revelations (TPB)

Today’s Super Comic — Wonder Woman #601 (2010)

This may have been one of the shortest-lived reboots ever, but it was certainly interesting. Writer J. Michael Straczynski reinterpreted Wonder Woman by stripping her of her past and setting her on a quest to rediscover herself and her heritage.

Paradise Island has apparently been destroyed, and the survivors have fled in various directions. It’s up to Diana to find and protect them. But as of Wonder Woman #601 (the story’s first full part), she’s hardly a hero—she’s a vengeful woman on a mission. We get some foreshadowing of her inner Wonder Woman potential, but growth and change are required to get her back to that point. With this, Straczynski has turned a decades-old character into a dynamic character. It’s quite a feat.

Oh, and she gets pants. That was long overdue (and also short-lived, alas).

Writer: J. Michael Straczynski

Penciler: Don Kramer

Inker: Michael Babinski

Publisher: DC Comics

How to Read It: back issues; Comixology; included in Wonder Woman: Odyssey vol. 1 (TPB)

Appropriate For: ages 13 and up