Within 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 happens to be writing for television — everything from campy animation to high-minded sci-fi. He also spent six years writing Marvel’s “The Amazing Spider-Man” flagship comic book, and he wrote a BAFTA-nominated film starring Angelina Jolie and directed by Clint Eastwood. Other things that you may think of Straczynski, you could never accuse the man of being idle.
Even before reading “Becoming Superman” (HarperCollins, July 2019), I always had the impression that Straczynski wrote so prolifically not because he wanted to but because he absolutely had to. The person simply has lots of stories to tell and feels compelled to place pen to paper, because then no one else will if he doesn’t tell these tales.
Now, having read “Becoming Superman,” I finally understand why that is the case — together with story prior to it is not entirely a happy one. In this memoir (or autobiography — it’s a little of both), Straczynski details a life of hardship, abuse and trauma, culminating into the darkest secret in his family’s past: an honest-to-goodness murder mystery.
“Becoming Superman” is half family drama, half showbiz that is behind-the-scenes, 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 has massive appeal beyond Straczynski’s existing fan base — but given just how many millions of fans he’s entranced over time, I that is amazing’s still a fairly sizable niche.
The foundation story
Reading the very first half of Straczynski’s memoir, I 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 initial few chapters associated with book aren’t in regards to the author at all, but alternatively, his grandfather Kazimir along with his father, Charles. There is deception, violence, bigotry, incest and wa — and that is all ahead of when 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. Over repeatedly, through the book, Charles and his relatives allude to Vishnevo, a Belarusian town where an unrepeatable family secret must stay buried.
Considering that the mystery of Vishnevo is one of the primary threads that keeps the plot of “Becoming Superman” moving, I won’t spoil it here. However, it really is worth pointing out that Straczynski does an admirable job of sharing information on the storyline in dribs and drabs at a pretty regular pace throughout the book. Similar to with a good detective novel, your reader must search for clues, content within the knowledge that everything can come together in a satisfying (albeit horrific) conclusion eventually.
What exactly is a little harder to stomach is the incredible violence that the author and his two younger sisters endured at Charles’ hands. Straczynski does not shy far 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 — never as with a modicum of sanity intact.
In fact, if “Becoming Superman” has a weakness that is major it really is that the initial 1 / 2 of the book is grueling in its depictions of poverty, callousness and viciousness. If the events described weren’t true, the pay to do your essay writing might feel downright lurid. For Straczynski, I that is amazing finally breaking the silence about his traumatic childhood was cathartic. For young readers who are currently in similar situations, it may be instructive. But there’s no denying that the second half regarding the book will be a lot more enjoyable 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 just as things settled down when it comes to author after college, the book settles into a more pattern that is comfortable its second half. This is where the material will get really interesting if you’re interested in Straczynski primarily as a creator.
After kicking off his writing career as a freelance journalist, Straczynski moved through the worlds of TV, comic books and feature 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 story of a different show, plus the behind-the-scenes tales are amusing and informative for anybody who had been ever interested in learning the way the entertainment industry sausage gets made. Over the past 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 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 feature films, in addition to how he faced the challenges inherent in each genre. Even though shows like “the Ghostbusters that is real “Captain Power and also the Soldiers of the Future” were just a little before my time, the chapters about them were probably the best into the book.
Straczynski and his writing crews took “Ghosbusters” and “Captain Power” extremely seriously, although the series were ostensibly just tie-ins to offer toys. Each program had character depth, setting consistency and narrative continuity, and Straczynski staked his reputation on keeping these indicates that way.
Of course, most readers who would go out of their way to read a Straczynski memoir are probably knowledgeable about one (or both) of the TV that is major that he created: “Babylon 5” and “Sense8.” Those shows get an abundance of attention, particularly toward the final end associated with 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, in what went on behind the scenes. However you will get a thorough explanation of how each show came to be — and how network that is powerful almost stopped “Babylon 5” dead in its tracks. (Netflix seemed a bit more creator-friendly, at least up until it canceled “Sense8,” despite fans’ vociferous objections.)
Truth be told, I expected “Babylon 5” and “Sense8” to take up a large chunk of this book — and, even about them, I’m glad that they didn’t though I would have been happy to read more. There was a tendency 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 could be as a writer, and also as an individual.
Walking out of a dream gig on “the Ghostbusters that is real just as important as watching “Jeremiah” crumble, which paved how you can writing the story when it comes to “Thor” film. If Straczynski seems like a massive success, it is only because he’s been prepared to endure so much 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 tad too self-effacing, a touch too fun as well as perhaps only a little too niche to attract an enormous mainstream crowd.
For fans of Straczynski’s work, though, that’s a good thing. There is a sense in “Becoming Superman” that you arenot only listening to a stranger rattle off his life story. It really is more like a acquaintance that is casual up to you over a couple of beers, and then you realize there is a very good reason you liked this guy from the start.
So come for the favorite sci-fi characters, stay for the family that is intriguing, and learn a thing or two about how great writers can come from unlikely origins.