In the foreword to «Becoming Superman» by J. Michael Straczynski, Neil Gaiman explains that Straczynski «works harder than anyone I’ve met in film and TV.»
This description rings true for me while i’m admittedly not a Hollywood insider. Since 1984, Straczynski happens to be 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 comic book, and then he wrote a BAFTA-nominated film starring Angelina Jolie and directed by Clint Eastwood. Whatever else you may think about Straczynski, you might never accuse the person 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 had to. The guy simply has lots of stories to tell and feels compelled to put pen to paper, because if he doesn’t tell these tales, then no body else will.
Now, having read «Becoming Superman,» I finally understand why that is the case — plus the story prior to it isn’t entirely a happy one. In this memoir (or autobiography — it is a small amount of both), Straczynski details a lifetime of hardship, abuse and trauma, culminating into the darkest secret in 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 I imagine that’s still a pretty sizable niche if it will have massive appeal beyond Straczynski’s existing fan base — but given how many millions of fans he’s entranced over the years.
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 express that Straczynski originated from an unhappy family would be an understatement. The very first few chapters for the book are not in regards to the author at all, but alternatively, his grandfather Kazimir and his father, Charles. There is deception, violence, bigotry, war and incest — and that’s all prior to the writer 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.
Because the mystery of Vishnevo is just one of 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 details about the story in dribs and drabs at a pretty regular pace throughout the book. Just like with a detective that is good, your reader must look for clues, content in the knowledge that everything can come together in a satisfying (albeit horrific) conclusion eventually.
What is a harder that is little stomach may be the incredible violence that the writer and his two younger sisters endured at Charles’ hands. Straczynski does not shy far from describing his father’s continual verbal, psychological and abuse that is physical. Some of the scenes in «Becoming Superman» are so devastating, it feels like a miracle that Straczynski made it out alive — much less with a modicum of sanity intact from broken teeth, to sexual assault, to attempted murder.
In fact, if «Becoming Superman» has a major weakness, it’s that the first 50 % of the book is grueling in its depictions of poverty, callousness and viciousness. In the event that events described were not true, the writing might feel downright lurid. For Straczynski, I imagine that finally breaking the silence about his childhood that is traumatic was. For young readers who are currently in similar situations, it might be instructive. But there isn’t any denying that the second half associated with book will be a lot more pleasurable to read.
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 for the author after college, the book settles into a more pattern that is comfortable its second half. If you’re thinking about Straczynski primarily as a creator, this is how the materials are certain to get really interesting.
After kicking off his writing career as a freelance journalist, Straczynski moved through the worlds of TV, comic books and show films, where his credits include «The Twilight Zone» (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 anybody who was simply ever interested in learning 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 sell that is easy or even, 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 have films, as well as how he faced the challenges inherent in each genre. Despite the fact that shows like «the Ghostbusters that is real «Captain Power and also the Soldiers into 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 offer toys. Each program had character depth, setting consistency and narrative continuity, and Straczynski staked his reputation on customwritings keeping these demonstrates that way.
Of course, most readers that would go out of their option to read a Straczynski memoir are most likely knowledgeable about one (or both) associated with the major TV series that he created: «Babylon 5» and «Sense8.» Those shows get an abundance of attention, particularly toward the end associated with the book.
«Becoming Superman» isn’t exactly a tell-all; you are not planning to learn any juicy information which you didn’t already know, or suspect, as to what went on behind the scenes. However you will get a comprehensive explanation of how each show came to be — and how powerful network forces 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.)
Truth be told, I expected «Babylon 5» and «Sense8» to use up a big chunk regarding the book — and, even though I would have been happy to find out more about them, I’m glad which they did not. There is certainly a propensity to concentrate on a creator’s wins and minimize his or her losses. But, as Straczynski himself points out in the book, every part of his career shaped who he could be as a writer, so when an individual.
Walking away from a dream gig on «the Ghostbusters that is real in the same way important as watching «Jeremiah» crumble, which paved the way to writing the storyline when it comes to «Thor» film. If Straczynski may seem like a massive success, it really is only because he’s been willing to endure so much failure along the way.
If I experienced to guess (and I also would be delighted to be wrong), i actually don’t think that «Becoming Superman» will probably become the next «hardscrabble-child-becomes-celebrated-adult» bestseller, а la Tara Westover’s «Educated» (Random House, 2018). Straczynski’s book is a touch too self-effacing, a tad too fun and perhaps a little too niche to attract an mainstream crowd that is enormous.
For fans of Straczynski’s work, though, that is a thing that is good. There’s an awareness in «Becoming Superman» you aren’t just listening to a stranger rattle off his life story. It is more like a casual acquaintance opening for you to decide over a few beers, and after that you realize there clearly was a very good reason you liked this guy from the beginning.
So come for the favorite sci-fi characters, stay when it comes to family that is intriguing, and learn a thing or two about how exactly great writers can come from unlikely origins.