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. 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 comic book, in which he wrote a BAFTA-nominated film starring Angelina Jolie and directed by Clint Eastwood. Whatever else you might think about Straczynski, you can never accuse the guy to be idle.
Even before reading “Becoming Superman” (HarperCollins, July 2019), i usually had the impression that Straczynski wrote so prolifically not because he wanted to but because he absolutely had to. The man simply has lots of stories to share with and feels compelled to put pen to paper, because if he does not tell these tales, then no one else will.
Now, having read “Becoming Superman,” I finally understand why that is the case — while the story prior to it is really not entirely a happy one. In this memoir (or autobiography — it’s a little of both), Straczynski details a life of hardship, abuse and trauma, culminating into 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 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 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 foundation story
Reading the very first 1 / 2 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 family that is unhappy unhappy with its own way.”
To say that Straczynski came from an unhappy family would be an understatement. The first few chapters for the book are not concerning the author at all, but rather, his grandfather Kazimir along with his father, Charles. There is 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 side a small squadron of German soldiers while trapped in Poland during World War II. Over and over, through the entire book, Charles along with his relatives allude to Vishnevo, a Belarusian town where an unrepeatable family secret must stay buried.
Since 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 is worth pointing out that Straczynski does an admirable job of sharing information regarding the storyline in dribs and drabs at a fairly regular pace throughout the book. Exactly like with a good detective novel, your reader must look for clues, content into the knowledge that everything can come together in a satisfying (albeit horrific) conclusion eventually.
What is a little harder to stomach is the incredible violence that the writer along with his two younger sisters endured at Charles’ hands. Straczynski does 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, a number of the scenes in “Becoming Superman” are so devastating, it is like a miracle that Straczynski managed to get out alive — significantly less with a modicum of sanity intact.
In reality, if “Becoming Superman” has a weakness that is major it really is that the very first 50 % 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 childhood that is traumatic was. For young readers who are currently in similar situations, it may be instructive. But there isn’t any denying that the half that is second of book is a lot more enjoyable to learn.
Sci-fi and superheroes
Straczynski spent his childhood moving across the country every couple of months, usually whenever Charles needed to dodge creditors after a failed get-rich-quick scheme. But just as things settled down for the author after college, the book settles into a much more pattern that is comfortable its second half. If you’re thinking about Straczynski primarily as a creator, that’s where the materials can get really interesting.
After kicking off his writing career as a freelance journalist, Straczynski moved through the worlds of TV, comic books and have 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, and the behind-the-scenes tales are amusing and informative for anyone who was simply ever interested in learning 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 sell that is easy or even, you might 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. Even though shows like “the Ghostbusters that is real “Captain Power and also the Soldiers for the future” were just a little before my time, the chapters about them were probably my personal favorite in 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 offer 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 way to read a Straczynski memoir are probably familiar with one (or both) associated with the TV that is major that he created: “Babylon 5” and “Sense8.” Those shows get a lot of attention, particularly toward the final end associated with book.
“Becoming Superman” isn’t exactly a tell-all; you’re not planning to learn any juicy information that you didn’t already fully know, or suspect, as to 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 with its tracks. (Netflix seemed a tad bit more https://essaywritersite.com creator-friendly, at least up to it canceled “Sense8,” despite fans’ vociferous objections.)
In all honesty, I expected “Babylon 5” and “Sense8” to use up a sizable 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 is certainly a propensity to focus on a creator’s wins and minimize his / her losses. But, as Straczynski himself points out in the written book, every part of his career shaped who he is as a writer, and as a person.
Walking out of a dream gig on “The Real Ghostbusters” was just as important as watching “Jeremiah” crumble, which paved the way to writing the storyline when it comes to “Thor” film. If Straczynski seems like a success that is massive it is only because he is been ready to endure a great deal failure as you go along.
If I had to guess (and I could be delighted to be wrong), i really 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 touch too self-effacing, a touch too fun and 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 is an awareness in “Becoming Superman” that you’ren’t just listening to a stranger rattle off his life story. It is more like a acquaintance that is casual up to you over a few beers, and then you realize there clearly was a good reason you liked this person right away.
So come for the favourite sci-fi characters, stay for the intriguing family mystery, and learn a thing or two about how precisely great writers can come from unlikely origins.