Friday, March 06, 2009

Rising Stars

One of the guys I game with was gushing about Rising Stars, the J. Michael Straczynski comic series. He'd just found his trade paperbacks and had re-read them. I remembered hearing about them, so I asked him If I could borrow them. He was more than happy to oblige.

When I brought them home, my housemate reacted with mild disgust. She was familiar with the series and thought that the characters were one-dimensional and the portrayal of women was outright sexist. After reading it, I don't wholly disagree with her, but I do think that there are things of value to be gleaned from the books.

Generally speaking, the book chronicles the Pederson Specials. It begins with a mysterious, energetic explosion over Pederson, Illinois. All 113 of the unborn children in Pederson who were in utero at the time of the explosion (including one who was conceived during it) developed superhuman abilities later in life.

The premise isn't exactly original. It sounds a lot like Marvel's New Universe, The 4400, Aberrant, and Wild Cards. The story borrowed heavily from The Watchmen, Highlander, and Miracleman. While it wasn't particularly ground-breaking, there are worse sources to borrow from. OK, it also arguably borrowed from Superman IV: The Quest for Peace, which is just such a worse source...

I also thought the ending was predictable and, well, somewhat lame.

The representation of women was, well... of the two main female characters, one of them had the power to be super-beautiful while the other ended up being a manipulative and evil temptress, with what were effectively... ummm... super-mood-swings.

I can understand the criticism there.

I'm not making these books out to sound that great, am I? There were some good points...

The one-dimensional criticism I was less sympathetic to, primarily because there was substantial character growth. Characters began as fairly simple (multiple long-haired bad boy loners in trenchcoats), but developed along with the story. The way it takes a simple, contrived concept and turning it into a more well-rounded character is one of the two things that I think make the book useful as RPG-inspirational reading.

The other is the setting itself. No, it isn't incredibly original, but it does provide for the following:
  • A large, but manageable, cast of characters (113, in this case)
  • Built-in relationships between the PCs and PCs and NPCs (the Pederson Specials mostly grew up together and were all the same age... and were tied together by bonds of family, friendship, and locality).
  • A common mystery (what was the nature of the source of their power?)
  • Common struggles (Specials vs. normals) that provide them with more reason to associate with each other
All of these things are useful contrivances in an RPG, and you could do a lot worse in a supers game than to steal some ideas from here.

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