In the foreword to «Becoming Superman» by J. Michael Straczynski, Neil Gaiman explains that Straczynski «works harder than anyone i have met in film and TV.»
This description rings true for me while i’m admittedly not a Hollywood insider. Since 1984, Straczynski has been 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, in which he wrote a BAFTA-nominated film starring Angelina Jolie and directed by Clint Eastwood. Whatever else you may think about Straczynski, you could never accuse the person of being idle.
Even before reading «Becoming Superman» (HarperCollins, July 2019), i usually had the impression that Straczynski wrote so prolifically not because he wished to but because he absolutely needed to. The person simply has plenty of stories to inform and feels compelled to place pen to paper, because if he doesn’t tell these tales, then no body else will.
Now, having read «Becoming Superman,» I finally realize why that’s the case — and also the story leading up to it is not entirely a happy one. In this memoir (or autobiography — it really is a bit of both), Straczynski details a life 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 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’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 very first 50 % 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 express that Straczynski originated from an unhappy family would be an understatement. The first few chapters of this book aren’t concerning the author after all, but rather, his grandfather Kazimir along with his father, Charles. index 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 squadron that is small of soldiers while trapped in Poland during World War II. Over and over repeatedly, through 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 just one of the primary threads that keeps the plot of «Becoming Superman» moving, I won’t 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. The same as 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 could be the incredible violence that the author along with his two younger sisters endured at Charles’ hands. Straczynski will not shy away 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 as though a miracle that Straczynski managed to make it out alive — significantly less with a modicum of sanity intact.
In fact, if «Becoming Superman» has a weakness that is major it is that the very first half 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 downright lurid. For Straczynski, I imagine that finally breaking the silence about his traumatic childhood was cathartic. For young readers that are currently in similar situations, it might be instructive. But there’s no denying that the half that is second of book is a lot more enjoyable to read through.
Sci-fi and superheroes
Straczynski spent his childhood moving across the country every month or two, usually whenever Charles necessary 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 an infinitely 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 while the behind-the-scenes tales are amusing and informative for anyone who was ever interested in how the entertainment industry sausage gets made. Within the last 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 anything to you, «Becoming Superman» is an sell that is easy 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 feature films, in addition to how he faced the difficulties inherent in each genre. Despite the fact that shows like «the Ghostbusters that is real «Captain Power and also the Soldiers for the future» were a little before my time, the chapters about them were probably the best when you look at the book.
Straczynski along with 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 suggests that way.
Of course, most readers that would walk out their option to read a Straczynski memoir are most likely familiar with one (or both) associated with major TV series that he created: «Babylon 5» and «Sense8.» Those shows get an abundance of attention, particularly toward the end associated with book.
«Becoming Superman» isn’t exactly a tell-all; you aren’t planning to learn any juicy information which you did not already know just, or suspect, in what went on behind the scenes. But you’ll get a thorough explanation of how each show came to be — and how network that is powerful almost stopped «Babylon 5» dead in its tracks. (Netflix seemed a tad bit more creator-friendly, at least up until it canceled «Sense8,» despite fans’ vociferous objections.)
Truth be told, I expected «Babylon 5» and «Sense8» to use 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 concentrate on a creator’s wins and minimize his / her losses. But, as Straczynski himself points call at the written book, every element of his career shaped who he is as a writer, and also as an individual.
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 story for the «Thor» film. If Straczynski may seem like a massive success, it really is only because he is been prepared to endure so much failure along the way.
If I had to guess (and I also will be delighted to be wrong), i actually 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 little too self-effacing, a tad too fun as well as perhaps only a little too niche to attract an mainstream crowd that is enormous.
For fans of Straczynski’s work, though, that is a good thing. There is an expression in «Becoming Superman» you aren’t just listening to a stranger rattle off his life story. It really is a lot more like a acquaintance that is casual your decision over a few beers, and after that you realize there was clearly a very good reason you liked this person right away.
So come for the favourite sci-fi characters, stay for the family that is intriguing, and learn a thing or two on how great writers will come from unlikely origins.