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 sci-fi that is high-minded. He also spent six years writing Marvel’s “The Amazing Spider-Man” flagship comic book, in which he wrote a BAFTA-nominated film starring Angelina Jolie and directed by Clint Eastwood. Other things that you may think about Straczynski, you can 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 absolutely had to because he wanted to but. The man simply has plenty of stories to tell and feels compelled to put pen to paper, because if he does not tell these tales, then no body else will.
Now, having read “Becoming Superman,” I finally realize why that is the case — plus the story prior to it is really not entirely a happy one. In this memoir (or autobiography — it really is a bit of both), Straczynski details a lifetime 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 behind-the-scenes showbiz anecdotes, with a little writing advice and some 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 how many an incredible number of fans he is entranced over the years, I that is amazing’s still a pretty sizable niche.
The foundation story
Reading the first 1 / 2 of Straczynski’s memoir, i possibly couldn’t help but recall the opening lines of Leo Tolstoy’s “Anna Karenina”: “All happy families are alike; each family that is unhappy unhappy in its own way.”
To say that Straczynski originated from an family that is unhappy be an understatement. The very first few chapters associated with written book are not in regards to the author at all, but alternatively, his grandfather Kazimir along with his father, Charles. There’s deception, violence, bigotry, incest and wa — and that’s all ahead of when the author was even born.
Without going into great detail, Charles was something of a Nazi sympathizer, having tagged along side a squadron that is small of soldiers while trapped in Poland during World War II. Again and again, through the entire book, Charles along with his relatives allude to Vishnevo, a Belarusian town where an unrepeatable family secret must stay buried.
Because 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’s worth pointing out that Straczynski does an admirable job of sharing information about the story in dribs and drabs at a fairly pace that is regular the book. Just like with a good detective novel, your reader must hunt for clues, content in 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 author and his two younger sisters endured at Charles’ hands. Straczynski will 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 weakness that is major it’s that the first 1 / 2 of the book is grueling in its depictions of poverty, callousness and viciousness. If the events described weren’t 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 that are currently in similar situations, it may be instructive. But there isn’t any denying that the half that is second of book is a lot more pleasurable to learn.
Sci-fi and superheroes
Straczynski spent his childhood moving around the world every month or two, usually whenever Charles had a need to dodge creditors after a failed get-rich-quick scheme. 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 are enthusiastic about Straczynski primarily as a creator, that is where the materials will 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, and also the behind-the-scenes tales are amusing and informative for anybody who was ever curious about how the entertainment industry sausage gets made. Within 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 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, as well as how he faced the challenges inherent in each genre. Even though shows like “the Ghostbusters that is real “Captain Power and the Soldiers into the future” were only a little before my time, the chapters about them were probably my personal favorite into the book.
Straczynski along with 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 that would walk out their solution to read a Straczynski memoir are probably knowledgeable about one (or both) associated with major TV series that he created: “Babylon 5” and “Sense8.” Those shows get a lot of attention, particularly toward the end regarding the book.
“Becoming Superman” isn’t exactly a tell-all; you’re not going to learn any juicy information which you didn’t know already, or suspect, in what went on behind the scenes. But 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 use up a big chunk associated with the book — and doing homework, even about them, I’m glad that they didn’t though I would have been happy to read more. There is a propensity to concentrate on a creator’s wins and minimize his or her losses. But, as Straczynski himself points call at the written book, every part of his career shaped who he is as a writer, and as an individual.
Walking away from a dream gig on “the true Ghostbusters” was in the same way important as watching “Jeremiah” crumble, which paved the best 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 is been prepared to endure a great deal failure along 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 tad too fun as well as perhaps only a little too niche to attract an mainstream crowd that is enormous.
For fans of Straczynski’s work, though, that’s a thing that is good. There’s an expression in “Becoming Superman” you aren’t just listening to a stranger rattle off his life story. It is more like a acquaintance that is casual for you to decide over a couple of beers, and then you realize there clearly was a very good reason you liked this guy from the start.
So come for the favourite sci-fi characters, stay when it comes to family that is intriguing, and learn a thing or two about how precisely great writers may come from unlikely origins.