Within the foreword to “Becoming Superman” by J. Michael Straczynski, Neil Gaiman explains that Straczynski “works harder than anyone I’ve 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 book that is comic in which he wrote a BAFTA-nominated film starring Angelina Jolie and directed by Clint Eastwood. Other things you may think about Straczynski, you could never accuse the guy 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 had to. The person simply has lots of stories to inform 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 realize why that’s the case — in addition to 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 within the darkest secret in his family members’ past: an honest-to-goodness murder mystery.
“Becoming Superman” is half family drama, half behind-the-scenes showbiz anecdotes, 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 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.
Reading the very first 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 express that Straczynski originated from an unhappy family would be an understatement. The initial few chapters of this written book are not about the author at all, but alternatively, his grandfather Kazimir and his father, Charles. There’s deception, violence, bigotry, incest and wa — and that’s all well before 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. 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 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 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 hunt for clues, content within the knowledge that everything can come together in a write my essay satisfying (albeit horrific) conclusion eventually.
What is a harder that is little stomach could be the incredible violence that the author and 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. 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 major weakness, it really is that the initial 50 % of the book is grueling with its depictions of poverty, callousness and viciousness. If the events described weren’t true, the writing might feel downright lurid. For Straczynski, I that is amazing 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 last half associated with book is a lot more pleasurable to see.
Straczynski spent his childhood moving across the country every few months, usually whenever Charles needed seriously 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 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 zone that is twilight (1986), “Murder, She Wrote,” “Rising Stars,” “Spider-Man,” “Changeling” and “World War Z.”
Each chapter tells the storyline of a different show, in addition to behind-the-scenes tales are amusing and informative for anybody who had been ever interested in how the entertainment industry sausage gets made. Over the past 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 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, along with how he faced the difficulties inherent in each genre. Despite the fact that shows like “the Ghostbusters that is real “Captain Power together with Soldiers for the future” were only 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 shows that way.
Of course, most readers who would go out of their option to read a Straczynski memoir are likely acquainted with one (or both) for the major TV series that he created: “Babylon 5” and “Sense8.” Those shows get loads of attention, particularly toward the end associated with book.
“Becoming Superman” isn’t exactly a tell-all; you aren’t likely to learn any juicy information that you did not know already, or suspect, in what went on behind the scenes. But you will get a comprehensive explanation of how each show stumbled on be — and how network that is powerful almost stopped “Babylon 5” dead with 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 take up a large chunk of this book — and, even though I would personally have now been happy to find out more about them, i am glad that they did not. There is certainly a tendency to concentrate on a creator’s wins and minimize his or her losses. But, as Straczynski himself points call at the written book, every section of his career shaped who he could be as a writer, and as a person.
Walking away from a dream gig on “the actual 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 really is only because he’s been ready to endure so much failure along the way.
If I had to guess (and I also would be delighted to be wrong), i actually 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 little too self-effacing, a touch 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’s a good thing. There’s an expression in “Becoming Superman” you aren’t just listening to a stranger rattle off his life story. It is more like a acquaintance that is casual your responsibility over a couple of beers, and after that you realize there clearly was a good reason you liked this guy from the start.
So come for the favourite sci-fi characters, stay for the intriguing family mystery, and learn a thing or two regarding how great writers will come from unlikely origins.