In 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 has been writing for television — everything from campy animation to sci-fi that is high-minded. He also spent six years writing Marvel’s “The Amazing Spider-Man” flagship book that is comic in which he wrote a BAFTA-nominated film starring Angelina Jolie and directed by Clint Eastwood. Whatever else you may think about Straczynski, you can never accuse the man to be idle.
Even before reading “Becoming Superman” (HarperCollins, July 2019), i usually had the impression that Straczynski wrote so prolifically not because he absolutely had to because he wanted to but. The person simply has a lot of stories to share with 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’s the case — and also the story leading up to it isn’t entirely a happy one. In this memoir (or autobiography — it really is a small amount of both), Straczynski details a life of hardship, abuse and trauma, culminating in the secret that is darkest 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 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 don’t know if it will have massive appeal beyond Straczynski’s existing fan base — but given just how many millions of fans he’s entranced over customwritings time, I imagine that’s still a pretty sizable niche.
The foundation story
Reading the 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 with its own way.”
To express that Straczynski came from an unhappy family would be an understatement. The first few chapters associated with the book are not in regards to the author at all, but rather, his grandfather Kazimir along with his father, Charles. There is deception, violence, bigotry, incest and wa — 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 side a small squadron of German soldiers while trapped in Poland during World War II. Time and time again, through the book, Charles and his relatives allude to Vishnevo, a Belarusian town where an family that is unrepeatable must stay buried.
Considering that 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 information about the story in dribs and drabs at a fairly pace that is regular the book. The same as with a good detective novel, the reader must search for clues, content when you look at the knowledge that everything should come together in a satisfying (albeit horrific) conclusion eventually.
What’s 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 away from describing his father’s continual verbal, psychological and physical abuse. 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 reality, if “Becoming Superman” has a major weakness, it really is that the initial half of the book is grueling with its depictions of poverty, callousness and viciousness. If the events described were not true, the writing might feel lurid that is downright. For Straczynski, I imagine that finally breaking the silence about his traumatic childhood was cathartic. For young readers who will be 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 learn.
Sci-fi and superheroes
Straczynski spent his childhood moving around the world every couple of months, usually whenever Charles necessary to dodge creditors after a failed get-rich-quick scheme. But just as things settled down when it comes to author after college, the book settles into a much more pattern that is comfortable 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 Twilight Zone” (1986), “Murder, She Wrote,” “Rising Stars,” “Spider-Man,” “Changeling” and “World War Z.”
Each chapter tells the story of a show that is different and the behind-the-scenes tales are amusing and informative for anyone who had been ever curious about how 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 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 show films, in addition to how he faced the challenges inherent in each genre. Even though shows like “the Ghostbusters that is real “Captain Power while the Soldiers of the Future” were just 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 reveals that way.
Of course, most readers that would go out of their solution to read a Straczynski memoir are most likely knowledgeable about one (or both) associated with TV that is major that he created: “Babylon 5” and “Sense8.” Those shows get loads of attention, particularly toward the end associated with the book.
“Becoming Superman” isn’t exactly a tell-all; you’re not planning to learn any juicy information which you did not know already, or suspect, about 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 until 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 about them, I’m glad that they didn’t though I would have been happy to read more. There clearly was a propensity to concentrate on a creator’s wins and minimize his or her losses. But, as Straczynski himself points out in the written book, every element of his career shaped who he could be as a writer, and as a person.
Walking away from a dream gig on “The Real Ghostbusters” was just like important as watching “Jeremiah” crumble, which paved the way to writing the storyline for the “Thor” film. If Straczynski appears like a massive success, it’s only because he’s been prepared to endure a great deal 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 touch too self-effacing, a tad too fun as well as 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 an expression in “Becoming Superman” that you arenot only listening to a stranger rattle off his life story. It’s more like a casual acquaintance opening up to you over a couple of beers, and then you realize there was a 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 will come from unlikely origins.