Always Early #1 – J. Michael Straczynski

By Richard Early

Science fiction fans came to know J. Michael Straczynski in the mid-1990s.  He created and wrote the classic TV series “Babylon 5”. JMS, as he’s known commonly, was a major player at Marvel Comics for years and is now set to take over his dream comic job as the writer on DC’s flagship Superman title. Debuting on “Superman” #700, Straczynski takes up where James Robinson moves on. Here’s a look at JMS past and present.

In 1994, “Babylon 5” debuted with a 2-hour TV movie titled “The Gathering”. The show was to be part of a syndicated brand called PTEN. Ultimately, “B5” was one of only a few shows chosen and the only one that wasn’t cancelled. Straczynski has often recounted the day he pitched the series. He had hours earlier gone to a dentist for sudden tooth pain and felt nearly incoherent during his presentation. The series struggled in syndication, never having a permenant network or time slot. Up against “Star Trek: Deep Space Nine” and “Star Trek: Voyager,” ratings were hard to fight for. But as fans found the series, it grew to become one of the most popular and beloved sci-fi series. “B5” fans still thrive today with conventions, costumes, and internet sites.

According to his IMDB profile, JMS began writing in the 1980s on numerous animated series. His projects included “He-Man,” “Captain Planet” and “The Real Ghostbusters.” Early live action work included “Murder, She Wrote” and “Walker Texas Ranger.” JMS then dedicated himself to “Babylon 5,” writing the bulk of the series.  In fact, only a handful of the five seasons worth of stories are not penned by him. Guest writers such as Peter David helped out during season two when the workload was overbearing.

Cancelled after four seasons, JMS wrote a shortened final story arc only to have the series be picked up by TNT for a single fifth season. When the final episode aired, it was actually a show filmed over a year earlier. Several attempts were made to continue the “Babylon 5” universe including a short-lived sequel series titled “Crusade” and a two hour made for Sci-Fi Channel movie called “Legend of the Rangers.” Both failed to find an audience.  Next up for the writer was 34 episodes for Shotime on another series of his own creation called “Jeremiah” starring Luke Perry of “90210” fame. This was the end of JMS’ TV run in 2003.

Straczinski comes to comics next.  He launched creator owned series “Rising Stars” and “Midnight Nation” for Top Cow Productions at Image Comics. Both books are high concept and received immediate attention and popularity.  In particular, “Rising Stars” becomes a top selling title as JMS’ name drives excitement. The series stalls out eventually in a dispute with Top Cow over a movie script adaptation. This sends JMS is on his way to Marvel to wite mainstream comics. He takes over “Amazing Spider-Man” to acclaim and sales success. His take on Spider-Man is ambitious and controversial. During his run, he authors the infamous 9/11 black covered comic. In a very public disagreement, JMS leaves the title due to editorial decisions. He relaunched “Thor” but this would be his last ongoing work for Marvel Comics. His only remaining project at the company is the unfinished “Twelve” maxi-series.

Today, Straczynski is writing at DC Entertainment as well as planning creator-owned work back at Image Comics.  He is about to become one of DC’s major writers, taking over both “Superman” and “Wonder Woman”. He’s already had the chance to write Batman, Green Lantern, the Atom, Aquaman, and more on DC’s team up book “The Brave and the Bold.”

While not much is known publicly about his upcoming run, JMS has big shoes to follow. James Robinson is bringing his time on the Man of Steel to an end with “War of the Supermen,” a four-issue mini series this May. It’s hard to know what the Superman status quo will be after a war between Earth’s super-heroes and 100,000 Kryptonians, but that’s the world that J. Michael Straczynski and his fans will explore next.