Becoming Superman

I first came across J Michael Straczynski on Usenet (where he was known as JMS) back in the mid-90s just as Babylon 5 was coming on the air. B5 was to become my favourite television series, and I still re-watch it every few years. After that though, he sort of slipped off my radar. I don’t generally read comics (especially not superhero ones) and so avoided most of his work after that. I did discover that he wrote Thor, the only Marvel superhero movie I actually enjoyed, and Sense8, which was okay but which I still haven’t got around to finish watching.

Becoming Superman is his auto-biography, which tells the story of his life from his childhood up until more or less the present day. It was a book mentioned on the Fear the Boot podcast (episode 83), and I figured I’d pick it up just for anything interesting it had about his Babylon 5 years.

As it turns out, he’s led an “interesting” life, and he’s written about it in a way that was pretty engaging. His childhood was depressing – a Nazi-wannabee for a father that beat him and his mother, a mother who tried to kill him, and a life of moving from school to school as his family outran debts (and possibly, as it turned out, darker parts of their history). He found escape in comic books, where he dreamt about being Superman, and ultimately by the end of the book he gets to write Superman comics himself.

Fragments of his life were hinted at during his discussions, but obviously there’s a lot more detail in the book. Finally, also, there’s an account of what happened between Babylon 5 and Deep Space 9 (there were suggestions that Paramount borrowed rather heavily from JMS after he presented his ideas for B5 to them), and further accounts of what happened with Michael O’Hare during and after season one.

There’s a lot in here though which has nothing to do with B5, and though I may not be interested in a lot of the things he created, the story he tells about how he created them is still interesting.

JMS did damn well to get where he has got to from where he started, though his words at the end that seem to suggest that anyone could do the same seem a bit… off.

However, it’s a good book, and well worth the read.

Samuel Penn