Into 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.”
While i am admittedly not a Hollywood insider, this description rings true for me. Since 1984, Straczynski has been 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 might think about Straczynski, you could never accuse the man of being idle.
Even before reading “Becoming Superman” (HarperCollins, July 2019), i usually had the impression that Straczynski wrote so prolifically not because he desired to but because he absolutely had to. The person simply has lots of stories to inform 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 understand why that’s the case — and the story leading up to it’s not entirely a happy one. In this memoir (or autobiography — it’s a little of both), Straczynski details a lifetime of hardship, abuse and trauma, culminating visit here in 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 will have massive appeal beyond Straczynski’s existing fan base — but given how many scores of fans he’s entranced through the years, I imagine that’s still a pretty sizable niche.
The origin story
Reading the initial 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 with its own way.”
To express that Straczynski originated in an family that is unhappy be an understatement. The initial few chapters regarding the book are not in regards to the author after all, but rather, his grandfather Kazimir and his father, Charles. There is deception, violence, bigotry, war and incest — 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. Over and over, for the book, Charles along with his relatives allude to Vishnevo, a Belarusian town where an unrepeatable family secret must stay buried.
Since the mystery of Vishnevo is just one of the primary threads that keeps the plot of “Becoming Superman” moving, i will not spoil it here. However, it is worth pointing out that Straczynski does an admirable job of sharing information regarding the story in dribs and drabs at a pretty regular pace throughout the book. Just like with a good detective novel, the reader must look for clues, content in the knowledge that everything can come together in a satisfying (albeit horrific) conclusion eventually.
What’s a harder that is little stomach may be the incredible violence that the author along with 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. From broken teeth, to sexual assault, to attempted murder, some of the scenes in “Becoming Superman” are so devastating, it feels like a miracle that Straczynski managed to get out alive — significantly less 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 weren’t true, the writing might feel lurid that is downright. 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 isn’t any denying that the last half associated with book is a lot more enjoyable to read through.
Sci-fi and superheroes
Straczynski spent his childhood moving across the country every couple of months, usually whenever Charles needed seriously to dodge creditors after a failed get-rich-quick scheme. But just as things settled down for the author after college, the book settles into a much more comfortable pattern in its last 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 storyline of a show that is different plus the behind-the-scenes tales are amusing and informative for anybody who was simply ever curious about how 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 almost anything to you, “Becoming Superman” is an easy sell; 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 show films, as well as how he faced the difficulties inherent in each genre. Even though shows like “the Ghostbusters that is real “Captain Power while the Soldiers into the future” were only a little before my time, the chapters about them were probably my personal favorite when you look at the book.
Straczynski and his writing crews took “Ghosbusters” and “Captain Power” extremely seriously, even though the series were ostensibly just tie-ins to market 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 likely acquainted with one (or both) associated with major TV series that he created: “Babylon 5” and “Sense8.” Those shows get a good amount of attention, particularly toward the end for the book.
“Becoming Superman” isn’t exactly a tell-all; you’re not likely to learn any juicy information which you didn’t already know just, or suspect, in what went on behind the scenes. But you’ll get a thorough explanation of how each show stumbled on be — and how network that is powerful almost stopped “Babylon 5” dead in its tracks. (Netflix seemed a little more creator-friendly, at least up to it canceled “Sense8,” despite fans’ vociferous objections.)
In all honesty, I expected “Babylon 5” and “Sense8” to use up a large chunk associated with book — and, even though I would have now been thrilled to read more about them, i am glad which they did not. There is certainly a propensity to concentrate on a creator’s wins and minimize his / her losses. But, as Straczynski himself points call at the book, every element of his career shaped who he is as a writer, so when an individual.
Walking out of a dream gig on “the actual Ghostbusters” was just as important as watching “Jeremiah” crumble, which paved the best way to writing the story when it comes to “Thor” film. If Straczynski appears like a success that is massive it’s only because he is been willing to endure a great deal failure on the way.
If I experienced to guess (and I would be delighted to be wrong), I don’t think that “Becoming Superman” will probably get to be the next “hardscrabble-child-becomes-celebrated-adult” bestseller, а la Tara Westover’s “Educated” (Random House, 2018). Straczynski’s book is a tad too self-effacing, a touch too fun and perhaps a little too niche to attract an mainstream crowd that is enormous.
For fans of Straczynski’s work, though, that’s a good thing. There’s a sense in “Becoming Superman” you aren’t just listening to a stranger rattle off his life story. It really is more like a casual acquaintance opening your decision over a few beers, and after that you realize there is a very good reason you liked this guy from the start.
So come for the favourite sci-fi characters, stay when it comes to intriguing family mystery, and learn a thing or two about how precisely great writers will come from unlikely origins.