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Jason Schachat is the next Supergirl.
Jason Schachat's Weekly Meltdown
November 15, 2004

That's right...Jason accidentally missed a week. We blame the computer, because it can't fight back. Here, then, in his own words, are the highlights of the week before last...

Due to my now weekly total computer meltdown, last week’s Breakdown was buried under a bad Windows installation and couldn’t be found again until THIS week’s comics had already come out.

But, not one to let mind-numbing hours of comics reading go to waste, I’m tossing some choice reviews of last week’s books your way:

It can’t be any wonder that Astonishing X-Men #6 is a must buy. This book’s been a chart-topper from day one, hailed as a return to the storytelling that made the X-franchise explode in the early eighties. It has Joss Whedon writing a witty and thoughtful script that managed to bring back Colossus without too many fanboy heads imploding. And, more importantly than everything else, John Cassaday and Laura (DePuy) Martin are handling art duties. With visuals like these, you could have a script by an angry marmoset beating a keyboard with a rock hammer, and it would still be worth buying.

But there are two glorious words, unsaid in this issue, that make for the most unexpectedly enjoyable moment we’ve had in an X-Men book this year:

“Fastball Special”

I don’t know how they did it, but Whedon and Cassaday made the goofy Danger Room classic sing. Oh, sure, we find out that ORD’s been plotting the whole mutant cure to prevent a mutant from destroying his planet and kicking off an intergalactic war in the future. And there’s lots of fighting, explosions, betrayals, and big speeches. That’s all well and good. But the sight of Colossus hurling Wolverine at an alien spaceship… that damn near brought a tear to my eye.

Kudos, gentlemen (and lady Martin); you’ve made the X-Men a delight to read again. Definitely recommended.

The President is Special.
After a more than two year hiatus, Rising Stars #22 finally hits the stands with little fanfare. It’s a shame, really. When it was going, this was the most successful Image book around (though Spawn could still top it). It was J. Michael Stracynski’s big foray into the world of comics, and some still consider the unfinished epic his greatest achievement. As The Authority moved from badass post-superhero revolution into sad self-parody, Rising Stars took up the reigns and didn’t back down from its extreme storytelling, even in the wake of 9/11.

Who would guess that the series would come to a screeching halt because of a spat between creator and company when a movie deal was in the air? The details have gotten a bit fuzzy after all the gossip and rumor-mongering, but, essentially, JMS withheld the last three issues after supposed backstabbing and then re-directed his creative efforts towards Marvel’s Supreme Power, the direct descendant of Rising Stars in both subject matter and style. It wasn’t until recently that creator and company came back together and gave the fans what they wanted. And now, after a painfully long wait, the final chapter of the saga winds down.

The story mercifully recaps the entirety of the series before resuming John Simon’s elegiac tale of a generation of superpowered humans who fought for and against a world that wasn’t ready for them. For perhaps the first time, we see that the stories he’s told us have all come from books he’s written and that his final manuscript is entitled “Rising Stars” (a conceit, yes, but one that’s been hinted at for a long time).

John then launches into telling how Randy Fisk (aka Ravenshadow, aka nice guy version of Batman) ran for President of the United States, winning when one political party’s snooping on the other’s illicit affairs leads to a sex and murder scandal that leaves both major candidates publicly disgraced. Randy immediately sets about blackmailing Congress with information of the government’s past misdeeds and uses his new power to bring the rest of the Specials in as defenders of the nation, thus cutting down on defense spending and siphoning it back into urban renewal. Of course, some folks in dark, smoke-filled rooms aren’t happy about that.

In a way, it’s unfair to review this issue. The long pause in the story forced a lot of exposition that’ll seem clunky in a collected edition and doesn’t do much more than set up the next major conflict. Loyal readers already know the military hates the Specials and Randy’s bid for presidency was so well concocted in the last issues that the long explanations here are almost redundant. On the other hand, I’m not sure any amount of summary and flashbacks could catch up new readers in time for the story’s climax (namely: what the hell is John building in Mexico?).

Rising Stars has always owed something to Alan Moore’s work in the ‘80s. Elements of Watchmen and Swamp Thing have trickled into the story every now and then. At times, it practically rips off the ill-fated Miracleman (Marvelman in the UK), especially in the three act structure (which is rather amusing, since Moore started Miracleman with no hope of structure). However, like Babylon 5, Rising Stars may have climaxed in the middle of the story, leaving a fascinating but less exciting third act in its wake.

I can already hazard a guess as to what the “big surprise” in the end will be. It’s practically screamed at us since the last page of the first issue. I can also see it working, since it’s such a natural close to the saga of the Specials. But, unless JMS is writing at his best and pushes the narrative to the extreme scope it’s hinted at for so long, it could be too subdued for its own good. Recommended, but check out the Rising Stars trade paperbacks if you want to get the full effect.

What? No parting shot of Supergirl?
If I had to sum up the M.O. on Superman/Batman, it would be “make it big”. The series began with damn near every villain in the DCU (as well as a few heroes) teaming up to take down the world’s finest. Then it all ended with Lex Luthor being ousted from the White House and presumed dead. How did they top that? Trot out Kara Zor-El and make her the new Supergirl (don’t even try to figure out the continuity on this one, kids).

That’s not enough for you? Okay, let’s have Darkseid enslave her mind and make her captain of his guards.

Still not enough? Fine, Darkseid kills her.

Oh, cripes, you want MORE? Alright, how about the fight to end all fights? Fists flying, omega beams blasting, limbs getting dipped into the sun… and only one of them makes it back home. Purists may not believe Wonder Woman’s bracelets are strong enough to reflect omega beams (not quite proven capable of destroying anything), and I wouldn’t bet on Darkseid being “dead” for long, but issue #13 more than meets the task set out before it.

There IS a big cheat and I won’t spoil the ending by revealing it, but it’s for the best. The ending of this arc leaves you feeling good. The characters are strong and true to form, and your head doesn’t hurt too much when the obligatory explanation is delivered. If Jeph Loeb can keep writing it like this, it just may deserve its #1 spot on the charts.

But next month begins Carlos Pacheco’s arc. Much as I LOVE Pacheco’s work, I wouldn’t call him a flashy artist. The loss of Michael Turner’s insane scribbles could see the title slowly slide down the charts (like it did when fans got tired of Ed McGuiness). Hopefully, Superman/Batman has spent enough time riding the top ten for fanboys to know it’s worth the pesos. Definitely recommended.

Hot Predictions for Next Week: Captain America #1, Conan #10, Ex Machina #6, She-Hulk #9, and Walking Dead #13.

Jason Schachat

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