JMS: Asking the Important Questions

J. Michael Straczynski is a writer whose name may be one not many can spell, but they're certainly familiar with it and the man himself. Whether it's from his creation of "Babylon 5," his prolific run on "Amazing Spider-Man" or his re-imagining of the Squadron Supreme in "Supreme Power," fans everywhere are familiar with his work. Now, with the recent release of "Babylon 5: The Lost Tales" and his stewardship of the return of Thor he is about to start some new chapters, as he closes the book on a few others. CBR News spoke with Straczynski about beginnings, endings and everything in between.

For Straczynski, it's been a lot of fun returning to these characters as he explained that "there is a temptation, having created the show and the characters, to want to go back every once in awhile and revisit them. [It's] like going back to a high school reunion, often there is little logic involved." He added that "Warner's, having made ten gazillion dollars on 'Babylon 5', wanted to do something else with it and I didn't want to do a feature film right now. We've lost some cast members and I can't see what a movie would be without them so I said how about doing short stories in television form, two or three per DVD, set around different characters on the show. Almost like an anthology show and called 'The Lost Tales.' They thought it was a fine idea and I said I want to write and produce it and of course they said fine.

It was at this point that Straczynski said he wanted to direct. At first Warner's hesitated, but ultimately they gave him the opportunity. But why did he feel the need to step behind the lens? "I wanted to set the template cause no one's done 'Babylon 5' for ten years and I know what the look of it is and what the appeal of it is and Helen Keller wasn't available so I figured 'let me do it," said Straczynski.

While he did enjoy his time directing, Straczynski explained he's not a director by nature and necessarily want to be one. "I am a writer, I am happy doing that but to me it was good to have a chance to set the tone of it and it went very quickly," said Straczynski. "We finished up early and under budget, which is always a good thing I, think." It is also a rare thing as more and more movies run over budget these days. "Fortunately for [me] being a writer and producer, I've already seen it in my head. I know frame for frame what I want to get and once I get it I move on."

Straczynski said it's been almost 10 years since the Interstellar Alliance was founded in story time and 10 years since we last saw them in real time, so the decision was made to set this new series about 10 years after the alliance was formed. With that, he had anniversaries in mind, which helped shape the rest of the story. "If you're having an anniversary, the logical place to have it would be on Babylon 5 and Lochley would still be around. So, who do you invite? A logical person would be Sheridan and once you made those decisions the story begins to pull itself together. Then the challenge was to write two stories that take place in the same 72 hour period from two different perspectives. As he [Sheridan] is coming to Babylon 5 and she [Lochley] is waiting for him, so it kind of layers back and forth between them."

Would we see a character leave in one story and then appear in another? "Not quite that intricate," Straczynski said, "only because Warner's was scared about that, but the theory is there."

As it has been quite some time since Straczynski has written these characters, was he at all surprised at where they ended up? "No, I never stopped hearing them, they still talk to me till this day. You know I hear G'Kar in my head, I hear Londo in my head making them shut up is the hard part. So to me it was good to get it out once and awhile so they can talk to somebody else for a change."

Along with beginnings come endings. Recently, Straczynski finished the critically acclaimed "Silver Surfer: Requiem." Straczynski looked back fondly on the story he told. "To me how a person dies is almost as important as how they lived," said Straczynski. "Both reveal quite a bit about somebody and here's someone who has crossed the galaxy numerous times and is tremendously powerful. I wanted to see how he deals with death, how he deals with the dying of the light and the nobility of that quiet was very attractive to me."

A lot of Straczynski's work deals with mythology, whether a mythology that he created within a show like "Babylon 5" or within the mythos of a character like the Silver Surfer or Thor. Straczynski finds himself drawn to mythology. "It allows you to ask the important questions, the big questions. In the average TV show or movie it's 'Will they defuse the bomb in time before it blows up a bus full of kids?' and the answer is 'Yes, always.' It's the blue wire never the green wire. Mythology allows you to ask questions why are we here, where are we going, what does it all mean and is there ample parking? Things that matter. To me those are the only questions worth asking. It's the chance to put the questions out there without providing all the answers. It isn't my responsibility to provide answers, my job is to start firefights and you can do that best from mythology."

Another conclusion in Straczynski's life is that of his run on "Amazing Spider-Man." "I'll miss the character a great deal," said Straczynski, "but at the same time it's good to move on a bit because the concern is if I stay too much longer I begin to suck, and I don't want that, and it's time for other voices to come in. Hopefully, I broke some ground and didn't fertilize it too much. I've cut back a lot of my comics work at Marvel to focus on Thor a lot, so I'm looking forward to that."

But what is it that appeals to him about a character like Thor? "It's that dynamic of the human god intersection and just the chance to use his character to look at the larger issues."

And the larger issue out there, the question most people should be asking is "where do they fit in," according to Straczynski "There is a tendency in society to say the individual cannot change the world, cannot fight City Hall. That there are forces much larger than you are and mythology says that anyone with the will can up end the universe," said Straczynski. "I think it's an important message to send at a time where we are tribalized and marginalized and trivialized within an inch of our lives and told we have no power."

Looking forward past issue two, Thor will "begin to look for the Asgardians and he'll have them back within three or four issues, I'm not going to drag this thing out too much. But there's someone he's trying not to bring back and that's why he's being very careful and slow in bringing those back and whether that works out or not we'll have to see."

Looking towards the future, Straczynski said he has "a full hundred years of history of Babylon 5 in my head, forwards and backwards," so he won't run out of stories any time soon. As for Thor he said, "I've got a whole year's worth of issues planned out, so I'm good."

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