‘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 film and TV.”
This description rings true for me while i’m admittedly not a Hollywood insider. Since 1984, Straczynski happens to be 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 book that is comic in which he wrote a BAFTA-nominated film starring Angelina Jolie and directed by Clint Eastwood. Other things that you might think about Straczynski, you could never accuse the person of being 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 needed to. The man simply has plenty of stories to tell 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 — together with story prior to it is not entirely a happy one. In this memoir (or autobiography — it’s a bit of both), Straczynski details a life of hardship, abuse and trauma, culminating within 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 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 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 origin story
Reading the first half of Straczynski’s memoir, I 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 in an unhappy family would be an understatement. The initial few chapters of the book are not about the author after all, but alternatively, his grandfather Kazimir and his father, Charles. There’s deception, violence, bigotry, incest and wa — 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, throughout the book, Charles along with his relatives allude to Vishnevo, a Belarusian town where an family that is unrepeatable must stay buried.
Considering that the mystery of Vishnevo is just one of the primary threads that keeps the plot of “Becoming Superman” moving, i will not spoil it here. However, it is worth pointing out that Straczynski does an admirable job of sharing information on the storyline in dribs and drabs at a fairly regular pace throughout the book. Exactly like with a good detective novel, the reader must search for clues, content within the knowledge that everything should come together in a satisfying (albeit horrific) conclusion eventually.
What is a harder that is little stomach may 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. 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 reality, if “Becoming Superman” has a weakness that is major it really is that the very first 1 / 2 of the book is grueling in its depictions of poverty, callousness and viciousness. If the events described were not 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 who will be currently in similar situations, it might be instructive. But there’s no denying that the second half of the book will be a lot more pleasurable to learn.
Sci-fi and superheroes
Straczynski spent his childhood moving across the country every few months, usually whenever Charles needed to dodge creditors after a failed scheme that is get-rich-quick. But simply as things settled down for the author after college, the book settles into an infinitely more comfortable pattern in its second 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 feature 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, as well as the behind-the-scenes tales are amusing and informative for anyone who was ever curious about 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 anything to you, “Becoming Superman” is an easy sell; if you don’t, 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 have films, in addition to how he faced the difficulties inherent in each genre. And even though shows like “the Ghostbusters that is real “Captain Power and 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, although 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 walk out their solution to read a Straczynski memoir are most likely familiar with one (or both) regarding the TV that is major that he created: “Babylon 5” and “Sense8.” Those shows get plenty of attention, particularly toward the final end of the book.
“Becoming Superman” isn’t exactly a tell-all; you aren’t going to learn any juicy information which you didn’t already fully know, or suspect, as to what went on behind the scenes. However you will get a comprehensive explanation of how each show stumbled on be — and how powerful network forces almost stopped “Babylon 5” dead with its tracks. (Netflix seemed a tad 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 use up a big chunk associated with the book — and, even though I would essaywritingorgв„ў have now been very happy to read more about them, i am glad which they did not. There clearly was a propensity to focus on a creator’s wins and minimize his / her losses. But, as Straczynski himself points call at the written book, every part of his career shaped who he could be as a writer, so when a person.
Walking away from a dream gig on “the Ghostbusters that is real in the same way important as watching “Jeremiah” crumble, which paved the best way to writing the story for the “Thor” film. If Straczynski appears like a massive success, it is only because he is been ready to endure a great deal failure along the way.
If I experienced to guess (and I also will 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 touch too self-effacing, a little too fun and maybe just a little too niche to attract an enormous mainstream crowd.
For fans of Straczynski’s work, though, that’s a good thing. There is a feeling in “Becoming Superman” that you’renot only listening to a stranger rattle off his life story. It’s a lot more like a acquaintance that is casual for you to decide over a few beers, and after that you realize there clearly was a very good reason you liked this guy from the beginning.
So come for the favourite sci-fi characters, stay when it comes to family that is intriguing, and learn a thing or two on how great writers can come from unlikely origins.