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.”
While i am admittedly not a Hollywood insider, this description rings true for me personally. 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 book that is comic and then he wrote a BAFTA-nominated film starring Angelina Jolie and directed by Clint Eastwood. Whatever else you may think of Straczynski, you could 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 plenty 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 is the case — and the story leading up to it isn’t 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 within the darkest secret in 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. Like Straczynski’s TV shows and comics, the writing into the book is earnest, straightforward, incisive, often funny and occasionally very bitter. 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 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 unhappy family is unhappy in its own way.”
To say that Straczynski came from an unhappy family would be an understatement. The very first few chapters for the book aren’t in regards to the author after all, but rather, his grandfather Kazimir and his father, Charles. There’s deception, violence, bigotry, war and incest — and that is all ahead of when the author was even born.
Without going into great detail, Charles was something of a Nazi sympathizer, having tagged along with a squadron that is small of soldiers while trapped in Poland during World War II. Again and again, through the book, Charles pay people to write paper along with his relatives allude to Vishnevo, a Belarusian town where an unrepeatable family secret must stay buried.
Since 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 is worth pointing out that Straczynski does an admirable job of sharing information regarding the story in dribs and drabs at a fairly regular pace throughout the book. Exactly like with a detective that is good, your reader must look for clues, content into the knowledge that everything should come together in a satisfying (albeit horrific) conclusion eventually.
What exactly 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 will not shy far from describing his father’s continual verbal, psychological and physical abuse. 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 — not as with a modicum of sanity intact.
In fact, if “Becoming Superman” has a weakness that is major it really is that the initial 1 / 2 of the book is grueling with its depictions of poverty, callousness and viciousness. In the event that events described weren’t 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 are currently in similar situations, it may be instructive. But there’s no denying that the last half associated with book will be a lot more enjoyable to read.
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 an infinitely more comfortable pattern in its last half. If you are interested in Straczynski primarily as a creator, this is how the material 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 feature 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, plus the behind-the-scenes tales are amusing and informative for anybody who was simply ever interested in 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 you don’t, 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, along with how he faced the challenges inherent in each genre. And even though shows like “the Ghostbusters that is real “Captain Power while the Soldiers into the future” were a little before my time, the chapters about them were probably my favorite into the book.
Straczynski and his writing crews took “Ghosbusters” and “Captain Power” extremely seriously, even though the series were ostensibly just tie-ins to sell toys. Each program had character depth, setting consistency and narrative continuity, and Straczynski staked his reputation on keeping these implies that way.
Of course, most readers that would walk out their way to read a Straczynski memoir are most likely familiar with one (or both) associated with the TV that is major that he created: “Babylon 5″ and “Sense8.” Those shows get a great amount of attention, particularly toward the final end associated with book.
“Becoming Superman” isn’t exactly a tell-all; you’re not likely to learn any juicy information that you didn’t know already, or suspect, as to what went on behind the scenes. But you’ll get an extensive explanation of how each show came to be — and how network that is powerful almost stopped “Babylon 5″ dead with its tracks. (Netflix seemed a 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 sizable chunk regarding the book — and, even though I would personally have been thrilled to find out more about them, I’m glad which they did not. There clearly was 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 could be as a writer, so when an individual.
Walking away from a dream gig on “the actual Ghostbusters” was in the same way important as watching “Jeremiah” crumble, which paved how you can writing the storyline when it comes to “Thor” film. If Straczynski may seem like a success that is massive it really is only because he’s been ready to endure a great deal failure on the way.
If I had to guess (and I will 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). Straczynski’s book is a tad too self-effacing, a touch too fun and perhaps just 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 a sense in “Becoming Superman” you aren’t just listening to a stranger rattle off his life story. It’s similar to a acquaintance that is casual your responsibility over a few beers, and after that you realize there clearly was a good reason you liked this person 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.