When you look at the foreword to “Becoming Superman” by J. Michael Straczynski, Neil Gaiman explains that Straczynski “works harder than anyone i have 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 — 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, and he wrote a BAFTA-nominated film starring Angelina Jolie and directed by Clint Eastwood. Other things that you might think of Straczynski, you might never accuse the man to be idle.
Even before reading “Becoming Superman” (HarperCollins, July 2019), I always had the impression that Straczynski wrote so prolifically not because he desired to but because he absolutely needed to. The guy simply has plenty of stories to inform and feels compelled to put pen to paper, because if he doesn’t tell these tales, then no one else will.
Now, having read “Becoming Superman,” I finally understand just why that is the case — together with story prior to it’s not entirely a happy one. In this memoir (or autobiography — it’s a small amount of both), Straczynski details a life of hardship, abuse and trauma, culminating within the darkest secret in his family members’ 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 don’t know if it has massive appeal beyond Straczynski’s existing fan base — but given what amount of millions of fans he’s entranced over time, I imagine that’s still a fairly sizable niche.
The origin story
Reading the very first 1 / 2 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 family that is unhappy unhappy with its own way.”
To express that Straczynski originated in an unhappy family would be an understatement. The initial few chapters of the written book aren’t in regards to the author after all, but instead, his grandfather Kazimir and his father, Charles. There’s deception, violence, bigotry, war and incest — and that is 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 and over again, for the book, Charles along with his relatives allude to Vishnevo, a Belarusian town where an family that is unrepeatable must stay buried.
Because the mystery of Vishnevo is amongst the primary threads that keeps the plot of “Becoming Superman” moving, i will not spoil it here. However, it really is worth pointing out that Straczynski does an admirable job of sharing information about the storyline in dribs and drabs at a fairly regular pace throughout the book. Just like with a good detective novel, 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 little harder to stomach may be the incredible violence that the writer 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, a number of the scenes in “Becoming Superman” are so devastating, it feels as though a miracle that Straczynski managed to get out alive — significantly less with a modicum of sanity intact.
In fact, if “Becoming Superman” has a weakness that is major it’s that the first half of the book is grueling with 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 childhood that is traumatic was. For young readers who 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 read through.
Sci-fi and superheroes
Straczynski spent his childhood moving across the country every few months, usually whenever Charles necessary 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 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 show 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 therefore the behind-the-scenes tales are amusing and informative for anyone who was ever interested in learning the way the entertainment industry sausage gets made. The Wachowskis and a veritable “who’s who” of genre film and television over the past three decades, Straczynski has crossed paths with George R.R. Martin, Angela Lansbury, Ron Howard.
If those names mean almost anything to you, “Becoming Superman” is an sell that is easy if not, you might 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 difficulties inherent in each genre. Even though shows like “the Ghostbusters that is real “Captain Power and the Soldiers for the future” were a little before my time, the chapters about them were probably my favorite in 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 demonstrates that way.
Of course, most readers who does go out of their method to read a Straczynski memoir are likely familiar with one (or both) for the TV that is major that he created: “Babylon 5” and “Sense8.” Those shows get plenty of attention, particularly toward the final end of this book.
“Becoming Superman” isn’t exactly a tell-all; you’re not planning to learn any juicy information which you didn’t already fully know, or suspect, as to what went on behind the scenes. But you will get an extensive explanation of how each show stumbled on be — and how powerful network forces almost stopped “Babylon 5” dead in its tracks. (Netflix seemed a tad bit more creator-friendly, at least up to it canceled “Sense8,” despite fans’ vociferous objections.)
Truth be told, I expected “Babylon 5” and “Sense8” to take up a large chunk associated with book — and, even about them, I’m glad that they didn’t though I would have been happy to read more. There is a propensity college homework helper to concentrate on a creator’s wins and minimize his / her losses. But, as Straczynski himself points out in 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 Ghostbusters that is real just like important as watching “Jeremiah” crumble, which paved how you can writing the story when it comes to “Thor” film. If Straczynski seems like a success that is massive it really is only because he’s been ready 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 little too self-effacing, a tad too fun as well as perhaps 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’s an expression in “Becoming Superman” that you’ren’t just listening to a stranger rattle off his life story. It is a lot more like a acquaintance that is casual for you to decide over a few beers, and then you realize there was clearly a good reason you liked this guy from the beginning.
So come for the favorite sci-fi characters, stay for the family that is intriguing, and learn a thing or two about how exactly great writers may come from unlikely origins.