Into 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’m admittedly not a Hollywood insider, this description rings true for me. 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 book that is comic in which he wrote a BAFTA-nominated film starring Angelina Jolie and directed by Clint Eastwood. Whatever else you might think of Straczynski, you might 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 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 just why that is the case — and also the story prior to it is really not entirely a happy one. In this memoir (or autobiography — it really is a little of both), Straczynski details a life of hardship, abuse and trauma, culminating in the secret that is darkest his family members’ past: an honest-to-goodness murder mystery.
“Becoming Superman” is half family drama, half showbiz that is behind-the-scenes, with some 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 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 initial half 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 unhappy family is unhappy in its own way.”
To say that Straczynski originated in an family that is unhappy be an understatement. The first few chapters of the book aren’t concerning the author after all, but rather, his grandfather Kazimir along with his father, Charles. There’s deception, violence, bigotry, war and incest — and that is all well before 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, throughout the book, Charles and his relatives allude to Vishnevo, a Belarusian town where an unrepeatable family secret must stay buried.
Considering that the mystery of Vishnevo is among the primary threads that keeps the plot of “Becoming Superman” moving, i will not spoil it here. However, it’s 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. Similar to with a detective that is good, your reader must search for clues, content in the knowledge that everything will come together in a satisfying (albeit horrific) conclusion eventually.
What exactly is a little harder to stomach could 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 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 fact, if “Becoming Superman” has a weakness that is major it is that the very first 1 / 2 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 that are currently in similar situations, it may be instructive. But there’s no denying that the second half associated with book will be a lot more pleasurable to learn.
Sci-fi and superheroes
Straczynski spent his childhood moving around the world every couple of months, usually whenever Charles had a need to dodge creditors after a failed get-rich-quick scheme. But simply as things settled down for the author after college, the book settles into a much more pattern that is comfortable its last half. If you are thinking about Straczynski primarily as a creator, that’s where the material can 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 story of a show that is different therefore the behind-the-scenes tales are amusing and informative for anybody 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 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 feature films, in addition to how he faced the challenges inherent in each genre. And 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 personal favorite into the book.
Straczynski and his writing crews took “Ghosbusters” and “Captain Power” extremely seriously, although 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 would walk out their method to read a Straczynski memoir are probably knowledgeable about one (or both) of 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 the book.
“Becoming Superman” isn’t exactly a tell-all; you are not going to learn any juicy information that you didn’t already fully know, or suspect, by what went on behind the scenes. But you will 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 until it canceled “Sense8,” despite fans’ vociferous objections.)
In all honesty, I expected “Babylon 5” and “Sense8” to take up a big chunk of the 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 tendency to focus 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, and as an individual.
Walking out of a dream gig on “the true Ghostbusters” was just like important as watching “Jeremiah” crumble, which paved how you can writing the storyline when it comes to “Thor” film. If Straczynski seems like a success that is massive it really is only because he’s been happy to endure a great deal failure along the way.
If I experienced to guess (and I would be delighted to be wrong), i really don’t think that “Becoming Superman” is going to 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 touch too self-effacing, a little too fun as well as perhaps only a little too niche to attract an enormous mainstream crowd.
For fans of Straczynski’s work, though, that is a good thing. There’s a sense in “Becoming Superman” you aren’t just listening to a stranger rattle off his buy essay life story. It is a lot more like a acquaintance that is casual your decision over a couple of beers, and after that you realize there was clearly a very good reason you liked this guy right away.
So come for the favourite sci-fi characters, stay when it comes to intriguing family mystery, and learn a thing or two exactly how great writers may come from unlikely origins.