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Underrated: Becoming Superman

This is a column that focuses on something or some things from the comic book sphere of influence that may not get the credit and recognition it deserves. Whether that’s a list of comic book movies, ongoing comics, or a set of stories featuring a certain character. The columns may take the form of a bullet-pointed list, or a slightly longer thinkpiece – there’s really no formula for this other than whether the things being covered are Underrated in some way. This week:  Becoming Superman by J. Michael Strazinsky

I’m not usually one to read autobiographies, if I’m honest, which probably sounds like a contradiction to those of you who know how much I like reading about history – specifically the history of comic books – given that autobiographies will typically deal with history in some form or another. And so it was somewhat surprising to me that when I saw Becoming Superman show up at my local comic shop of all places I felt compelled to pick it up. Especially considering I didn’t consider myself a huge J. Michael Straczynski fan to begin with (more as I hadn’t read a lot of his comics as far as I was aware of than because I didn’t like what I read), and so I went into the book knowing relatively little about who he was.

The reason I’m focusing on that book this week, rather than the broader subject of comic book creator auto/biographies is purely that I haven’t read enough of them to have any kind of compelling point to make. Plus, I am sure part of me knows I can then milk the subject a bit further as needed.

Anyway, obviously this is a book that fans of Straczynski are more likely to pick up, but what about those of us who aren’t that into autobiographies or even that big a fan of the man himself?

As somebody who fits both those categories, I can honestly say this was a super compelling book (pun not intended). Straczynski doesn’t shy away from the harsh truths of his life or even the way his actions shaped them. It’s an often times unflinching look at his journey, and you can see how his childhood shaped the man he became, and how he has shaped that into his work. From the harsh reality of television, the highs and lows, JMS is a fantastic storyteller (which shouldn’t be surprising given the list of things the man has worked. Seriously, it reads like a geek’s Must Watch list – Babylon 5, He-Man… the man is nonstop. And yet he looks back upon his life with a wisdom and analytical mind that stops him from portraying the events with rose tinted glasses.

It’s as honest an autobiography as I’ve read, and certainly more than I expected.

Being a comics fan primarily, I came to this looking for insight on his comics, and boy was I not disappointed. His telling of the script writing for Amazing Spider-Man #36, the 9/11 tribute issue, is genuinely beautiful, and had me rushing out to find a copy for my collection (as well as reading it digitally because that all black cover is a nightmare with fingerprints).

I didn’t expect that this would be a book I’d ever cover here, but man oh man was it good. Becoming Superman is a book that checks a lot of boxes, and yet despite that I haven’t heard many folks talking about it, which is why I wanted to write about it today.

Join us next week when we look at something else that is, for whatever reason, Underrated.

Almost American