‘Becoming Superman’ Reveals Origin Story for ‘Babylon 5’ Creator
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 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 then he wrote a BAFTA-nominated film starring Angelina Jolie and directed by Clint Eastwood. Whatever else you may think of Straczynski, you could never accuse the man 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 a lot of stories to share with and feels compelled to place pen to paper, because if he does not tell these tales, then no body else will.
Now, having read « Becoming Superman, » I finally understand just why that’s the case — together with story leading up to it is really not entirely a happy one. In this memoir (or autobiography — it’s a bit of both), Straczynski details a lifetime of hardship, abuse and trauma, culminating when you look at the darkest secret in his family’s past: an honest-to-goodness murder mystery.
« Becoming Superman » is half family drama, half behind-the-scenes showbiz anecdotes, with some 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 initial half 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 in its own way. »
To say that Straczynski originated in an unhappy family would be an understatement. The initial few chapters associated with 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 squadron that is small of soldiers while trapped in Poland during World War II. Over and over again, for the book, Charles along with his relatives allude to Vishnevo, a Belarusian town where an family that is unrepeatable must stay buried.
Since the mystery of Vishnevo is amongst 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 details about the storyline in dribs and drabs at a fairly pace that is regular the book. Exactly like with a good detective novel, the reader must hunt for clues, content into the knowledge that everything will come together in a satisfying (albeit horrific) conclusion eventually.
What’s a harder that is little stomach is the incredible violence that the writer and his two younger sisters endured at Charles’ hands. Straczynski will not shy far from describing his father’s continual verbal, psychological and physical abuse. 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 — never as with a modicum of sanity intact.
In reality, if « Becoming Superman » has a weakness that is major it really is that the initial 1 / 2 of the book is grueling with 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 of this book is a lot more pleasurable to read through.
Sci-fi and superheroes
Straczynski spent his childhood moving across the country every month or two, usually whenever Charles needed to dodge creditors after a failed get-rich-quick scheme. But simply as things settled down when it comes to author after college, the book settles into a more comfortable pattern in its second half. If you are interested in Straczynski primarily as a creator, this is 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 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, plus the behind-the-scenes tales are amusing and informative for anyone who was ever interested in 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 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, as well as how he faced the challenges inherent in each genre. And even though shows like « the true Ghostbusters » and « Captain Power together with Soldiers into 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, 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 implies that way.
Of course, most readers who would go out of essay writers their way to read a Straczynski memoir are probably acquainted with one (or both) associated with the TV that is major that he created: « Babylon 5 » and « Sense8. » Those shows get plenty of attention, particularly toward the end regarding the book.
« Becoming Superman » isn’t exactly a tell-all; you’re not going to learn any juicy information that you did not already know just, or suspect, as to what went on behind the scenes. However you will get an extensive 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 bit more creator-friendly, at least up to it canceled « Sense8, » despite fans’ vociferous objections.)
Truth be told, I expected « Babylon 5 » and « Sense8 » to take up a big 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 was a tendency to focus on a creator’s wins and minimize his or her losses. But, as Straczynski himself points call at the book, every element of his career shaped who he could be as a writer, so that as an individual.
Walking away from a dream gig on « the Ghostbusters that is real just like important as watching « Jeremiah » crumble, which paved the best way to writing the story when it comes to « Thor » film. If Straczynski seems like a success that is massive it’s only because he’s been happy to endure so much failure on the way.
I would be delighted to be wrong), I 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) if I had to guess (and. Straczynski’s book is a little too self-effacing, a little too fun and perhaps just 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 » that you aren’t just listening to a stranger rattle off his life story. It is similar to a casual acquaintance opening your decision over a couple of beers, and after that you realize there is a very good reason you liked this guy from the beginning.
So come for the favorite sci-fi characters, stay for the intriguing family mystery, and learn a thing or two regarding how great writers may come from unlikely origins.