When you look at the foreword to “Becoming Superman” by J. Michael Straczynski, Neil Gaiman explains that Straczynski “works harder than anyone I’ve met in TV and film.”
This description rings true for me while i’m admittedly not a Hollywood insider. Since 1984, Straczynski has been writing for television — anything from campy animation to high-minded sci-fi. He also spent six years writing Marvel’s “The Amazing Spider-Man” flagship book that is comic in which he wrote a BAFTA-nominated film starring Angelina Jolie and directed by Clint Eastwood. Whatever else you might think about Straczynski, you can never accuse the guy to be idle.
Even before reading “Becoming Superman” (HarperCollins, July 2019), I always had the impression that Straczynski wrote so prolifically not because he wished to but because he absolutely needed to. The person simply has lots of stories to share with and feels compelled to put pen to paper, because then no one else will if he doesn’t tell these tales.
Now, having read “Becoming Superman,” I finally realize why that’s the case — as well as the story leading up to it is not entirely a happy one. In this memoir (or autobiography — it is a bit of both), Straczynski details a life of hardship, abuse and trauma, culminating within the secret that is darkest his family members’ past: an honest-to-goodness murder mystery.
“Becoming Superman” is half family drama, half behind-the-scenes showbiz anecdotes, with a little writing advice and a few life lessons sprinkled in. The writing in the book is earnest, straightforward, incisive, often funny and occasionally very bitter like Straczynski’s TV shows and comics. I’m not sure if it’ll have massive appeal beyond Straczynski’s existing fan base — but given how many millions of fans he’s entranced over the years, I that is amazing’s still a pretty sizable niche.
The origin story
Reading the very first 50 % of Straczynski’s memoir, i really couldn’t help but recall the opening lines of Leo Tolstoy’s “Anna Karenina”: “All happy families are alike; each unhappy family is unhappy in its own way.”
To say that Straczynski originated in an unhappy family would be an understatement. The very first few chapters associated with written book aren’t in regards to the author at all, but instead, his grandfather Kazimir along with his father, Charles. There is deception, violence, bigotry, incest and wa — and that is all well before the author was even born.
Without going into great detail, Charles was something of a Nazi sympathizer, having tagged along with a small squadron of German soldiers while trapped in Poland during World War II. Time and time again, for the book, Charles and his relatives allude to Vishnevo, a Belarusian town where an family that is unrepeatable must stay buried.
Since the mystery of Vishnevo is among the primary threads that keeps the plot of “Becoming Superman” moving, I won’t spoil it here. However, it’s worth pointing out that Straczynski does an admirable job of sharing information on the storyline in dribs and drabs at a pretty pace that is regular the book. Just like with a good detective novel, your reader must hunt for clues, content when you look at the knowledge that everything can come together in a satisfying (albeit horrific) conclusion eventually.
What exactly is a little harder to stomach may be the incredible violence that the writer and his two younger sisters endured at Charles’ hands. Straczynski does not shy away from describing his father’s continual verbal, psychological and physical abuse. From broken teeth, to sexual assault, to attempted murder, a number of the scenes in “Becoming Superman” are so devastating, it is like a miracle that Straczynski managed to make it out alive — not as with a modicum of sanity intact.
In reality, if “Becoming Superman” has a weakness that is major it is that the initial 50 % of the book is grueling in its depictions of poverty, callousness and viciousness. If the events described were not true, the writing might feel lurid that is downright. For Straczynski, I imagine that finally breaking the silence about his traumatic childhood was cathartic. For young readers who are currently in similar situations, it might be instructive. But there’s no denying that the half that is second of book is a lot more pleasurable to read through.
Sci-fi and superheroes
Straczynski spent his childhood moving around the world every couple of months, usually whenever Charles needed to dodge creditors after a failed scheme that is get-rich-quick. But simply as things settled down when it comes to author after college, the book settles into a more comfortable pattern in its last half. If you’re interested in Straczynski primarily as a creator, this is when the material can get really interesting.
After kicking off his writing career as a freelance journalist, Straczynski moved through the worlds of TV, comic books and have films, where his credits include “the zone that is twilight (1986), “Murder, She Wrote,” “Rising Stars,” “Spider-Man,” “Changeling” and “World War Z.”
Each chapter tells the storyline of a different show, in addition to behind-the-scenes tales are amusing and informative for anyone who had been ever curious about the way the entertainment industry sausage gets made. In the last three decades, Straczynski has crossed paths with George R.R. Martin, Angela Lansbury, Ron Howard, the Wachowskis and a veritable “who’s who” of genre film and television.
If those names mean almost anything to you, “Becoming Superman” is an easy sell; if not, you may still enjoy a glimpse into Straczynski’s creative process. He discusses the fine points of writing for animation, live-action TV, comic books and show films, in addition to how he faced the difficulties inherent in each genre. Despite the fact that shows like “the true Ghostbusters” and “Captain Power while the Soldiers for the future” were a little before my time, the chapters about them were probably my favorite in the book.
Straczynski along with his writing crews took “Ghosbusters” and “Captain Power” extremely seriously, even though the series were ostensibly just tie-ins to sell toys. Each program had character depth, setting consistency and narrative continuity, and Straczynski staked his reputation on keeping these reveals that way.
Of course, most readers who does walk out their option to read a Straczynski memoir are probably acquainted with one (or both) of the press the site TV that is major that he created: “Babylon 5” and “Sense8.” Those shows get lots of attention, particularly toward the end regarding the book.
“Becoming Superman” isn’t exactly a tell-all; you’re not likely to learn any juicy information that you didn’t already fully know, or suspect, about what went on behind the scenes. But you’ll get a thorough explanation of how each show came to be — and how network that is powerful almost stopped “Babylon 5” dead with its tracks. (Netflix seemed a bit more creator-friendly, at least up until it canceled “Sense8,” despite fans’ vociferous objections.)
In all honesty, I expected “Babylon 5” and “Sense8” to take up a big chunk regarding the book — and, even though I would have been thrilled to find out more about them, i am glad which they did not. There is a propensity to concentrate on a creator’s wins and minimize his / her losses. But, as Straczynski himself points out in the book, every section of his career shaped who he is as a writer, so that as a person.
Walking away from a dream gig on “the Ghostbusters that is real just like important as watching “Jeremiah” crumble, which paved the way to writing the storyline for the “Thor” film. If Straczynski seems like a success that is massive it is only because he is been happy to endure a great deal failure on the way.
I would be delighted to be wrong), I don’t think that “Becoming Superman” is going to become the next “hardscrabble-child-becomes-celebrated-adult” bestseller, а la Tara Westover’s “Educated” (Random House, 2018) if I had to guess (and. Straczynski’s book is a touch too self-effacing, a little too fun as well as perhaps just a little too niche to attract an enormous mainstream crowd.
For fans of Straczynski’s work, though, that is a thing that is good. There is a feeling in “Becoming Superman” that you aren’t just listening to a stranger rattle off his life story. It is a lot more like a casual acquaintance opening your responsibility over a few beers, and after that you realize there was clearly a good reason you liked this guy right away.
So come for the favorite sci-fi characters, stay for the family that is intriguing, and learn a thing or two about how precisely great writers can come from unlikely origins.