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.»
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 high-minded sci-fi. He also spent six years writing Marvel’s «The Amazing Spider-Man» flagship comic book, and he wrote a BAFTA-nominated film starring Angelina Jolie and directed by Clint Eastwood. Other things you may think of 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 desired to but because he absolutely needed to. The man simply has a lot of stories to share with 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 is the case — in addition to story prior to it is really not entirely a happy one. In this memoir (or autobiography — it is a bit of both), Straczynski details a life of hardship, abuse and trauma, culminating within the secret that is darkest his family members’ past: an honest-to-goodness murder mystery.
«Becoming Superman» is half family drama, half behind-the-scenes showbiz anecdotes, with some writing advice and a few life lessons sprinkled in. Like Straczynski’s television shows and comics, the writing when you look at the book is earnest, straightforward, incisive, often funny and occasionally very bitter. I’m not sure if it has massive appeal beyond Straczynski’s existing fan base — but given how many an incredible number of fans he is entranced through the years, I imagine that’s still a pretty sizable niche.
The origin story
Reading the first 50 % 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 unhappy family is unhappy with its own way.»
To express that Straczynski originated in an unhappy family would be an understatement. The very first few chapters regarding the book aren’t in regards to the author at all, but rather, his grandfather Kazimir and his father, Charles. There’s deception, violence, bigotry, war and incest — and that is all prior to the writer was even born.
Without going into great detail, Charles was something of a Nazi sympathizer, having tagged along side a squadron that is small of soldiers while trapped in Poland during World War II. Time and time again, for 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 really is worth pointing out that Straczynski does an admirable job of sharing information about the storyline in dribs and drabs at a fairly regular pace throughout the book. The same as with a good detective novel, your reader must look for clues, content within the knowledge that everything will come together in a satisfying (albeit horrific) conclusion eventually.
What’s a harder that is little stomach may be the incredible violence that the writer along with his two younger sisters endured at Charles’ hands. Straczynski will not shy away from describing his father’s continual verbal, psychological and physical abuse. From broken teeth, to sexual assault, to attempted murder, some of the scenes in «Becoming Superman» are so devastating, it is like a miracle that Straczynski made it out alive — not as with a modicum of sanity intact.
In fact, if «Becoming Superman» has a weakness that is major it’s that the very first half of the book is grueling in its depictions of poverty, callousness and viciousness. If the events described were not 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 might be instructive. But there isn’t any denying that the last half regarding the book is a lot more enjoyable to see.
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 scheme that is get-rich-quick. But just as things settled down when it comes to author after college, the book settles into a more pattern that is comfortable its second half. This is where the material will get really interesting if you’re interested in essay writer 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 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 story of a different show, and the behind-the-scenes tales are amusing and informative for anyone who was 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 if you don’t, 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 have 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 additionally the Soldiers for the future» were only a little before my time, the chapters about them were probably the best into 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 sell 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 does walk out their solution to read a Straczynski memoir are likely knowledgeable about one (or both) regarding the TV that is major that he created: «Babylon 5» and «Sense8.» Those shows get a good amount of attention, particularly toward the final end regarding the book.
«Becoming Superman» isn’t exactly a tell-all; you aren’t going to learn any juicy information that you did not already fully know, 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 in 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 large chunk associated with the book — and, even though I would have already been very happy to read more about them, i am glad which they did not. There clearly was a propensity to concentrate on a creator’s wins and minimize his or her losses. But, as Straczynski himself points out in the written book, every element of his career shaped who he could be as a writer, so that as a person.
Walking away from a dream gig on «the actual Ghostbusters» was just as important as watching «Jeremiah» crumble, which paved the best way to writing the story for the «Thor» film. If Straczynski appears like a success that is massive it really is only because he’s been prepared to endure a great deal failure as you go along.
If I experienced to guess (and I also would be delighted to be wrong), i really don’t think that «Becoming Superman» will probably 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 and perhaps just a little too niche to attract an enormous mainstream crowd.
For fans of Straczynski’s work, though, that is a good thing. There is an awareness in «Becoming Superman» you arenot only listening to a stranger rattle off his life story. It’s similar to a acquaintance that is casual your responsibility over a couple of beers, and after that you realize there was a good reason you liked this guy right away.
So come for the favourite sci-fi characters, stay for the family that is intriguing, and learn a thing or two exactly how great writers can come from unlikely origins.