‘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 have met in TV and film.”
While I’m admittedly not a Hollywood insider, this description rings true in my situation. Since 1984, Straczynski has been writing for television — everything from campy animation to high-minded sci-fi. He also spent six years writing Marvel’s “The Amazing Spider-Man” flagship book that is comic 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 man of being idle.
Even before reading “Becoming Superman” (HarperCollins, July 2019), i usually had the impression that Straczynski wrote so prolifically not because he absolutely had to because he wanted to but. 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 understand why that is the case — and also the story prior 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 in 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 some life lessons sprinkled in. Like Straczynski’s television shows and comics, the writing in the book is earnest, straightforward, incisive, often funny and occasionally very bitter. 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 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 family that is unhappy unhappy with its own way.”
To say that Straczynski originated in an unhappy family would be an understatement. The initial few chapters for the written book aren’t about the author at all, but rather, his grandfather Kazimir and his father, Charles. There’s deception, violence, bigotry, incest and wa — 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 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.
Because 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 about the storyline in dribs and drabs at a pretty pace that is regular the book. Just like with a detective that is good, your reader must hunt 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 could be the incredible violence that the author along with his two younger sisters endured at Charles’ hands. Straczynski does 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 feels like a miracle that Straczynski made it out alive — never as with a modicum of sanity intact.
In fact, if “Becoming Superman” has a weakness that is major it is that the very first 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 downright lurid. For Straczynski, I imagine that finally breaking the silence about his traumatic childhood was cathartic. 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 will be a lot more pleasurable to see.
Sci-fi and superheroes
Straczynski spent his childhood moving across the country every month or two, usually whenever Charles needed seriously 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 much more comfortable pattern in its last half. If you’re interested in Straczynski primarily as a creator, that’s where the material will get really interesting.
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 story of a different show, plus the behind-the-scenes tales are amusing and informative for anybody who was simply ever curious about 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; or even, 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, in addition to how he faced the challenges inherent in each genre. And even though shows like “the Ghostbusters that is real “Captain Power additionally the Soldiers into the future” were a little before my time, the chapters about them were probably my favorite 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 suggests that way.
Of course, most readers who would go out of their option to read a Straczynski memoir are likely knowledgeable about one (or both) of this major TV series that he created: “Babylon 5” and “Sense8.” Those shows get loads of attention, particularly toward the final end regarding the book.
“Becoming Superman” isn’t exactly a tell-all; you’re not likely to learn any juicy information which you did not already fully know, or suspect, about what went on behind the scenes. But you’ll get a comprehensive 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 little more 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 large chunk of this book — and, even though I would personally have already been thrilled to find out more about them, i am glad that they did not. There clearly was a tendency to give attention to a creator’s wins and minimize his / her losses. But, as Straczynski himself points out in the book, every part of his career shaped who he is as a writer, so that as an individual.
Walking away from a dream gig on “the Ghostbusters that is real just as important as watching “Jeremiah” crumble, which paved the best way to writing the storyline for the “Thor” film. If Straczynski appears like a massive success, it is only because he is been willing to endure so much failure as you go along.
If I experienced to guess (and I also could be delighted to be wrong), i really 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 touch too self-effacing, a little too fun as well as perhaps a little too niche to attract an enormous mainstream crowd.
For fans of Straczynski’s work, though, that is a good thing. There’s a sense in “Becoming Superman” that you aren’t just listening to a stranger rattle off his life story. It’s more like a casual acquaintance opening your decision over a couple of beers, and then you realize there is a good reason you liked this person from the beginning.
So come for the favourite sci-fi characters, stay when it comes to intriguing family mystery, and learn a thing or two about how exactly great writers may come from unlikely origins.