“Becoming Superman”, by J. Michael Straczynski is the writer’s autobiographical story of his childhood and career, constantly backlit by his desire to emulate the greatest superhero of all time; Superman.
Like a lot of children from my generation, which is also his, Straczynski found superhero comics at an early age and, also like me, his favorite was Superman. He would desperately need that example of goodness and right, because his childhood was one of violence, poverty, and sadness visited upon him by his own family; his father in particular.
Without getting into the details that you should read for yourself, suffice it to say that he suffered physical, verbal, and emotional abuse at the hands of his father and unspeakable sexual abuse from his grandmother. Through all of those things over years of his childhood that would have made most children as evil and demented as his family, Straczynski held onto the Man of Steel as the example he would follow to the best of his ability. He vowed to be the opposite of his father and as much like Superman, who was fair and just and kind and stood for right, as he could.
I first became aware of Straczynski when I began watching the science fiction TV show “Babylon 5” in 1993. Strangely enough (and you find out why in this book) it came out at almost the same time as “Star Trek: Deep Space Nine” and for a fan of science fiction like myself, this was a treasure trove of TV viewing. However, although I am a huge Star Trek fan in general, I found myself liking B5 more than I did DS9.
But “Babylon 5” was not Straczynski’s first TV work by any stretch of the imagination. It turns out he was a writer for the animated cartoon show “He-Man and the Masters of the Universe” a decade earlier as well as other animated shows and moved on from those to network live action series shows such as “Jake and the Fatman” and “Murder, She Wrote” (neither of which I ever watched aside from a few minutes of Jake one time).
Before becoming a screenwriter, Straczynski was a print journalist for various weeklies in the LA area where he grew up and even wrote a play or two for fun. Writing was something he felt a compulsion to do, like most writers. But once he exhausted all he felt he could do in print journalism he moved to stage, television screenplays, and then…comic books.
Which was where I picked up him again in 2001 when he became the writer for “The Amazing Spider-Man” at Marvel Comics. I liked some of the things he did with the character, but there were more things I didn’t like and so I gave up reading the title. That’s OK, no one is going to agree with everything a writer does to a character they have been reading since they were 7 or 8 years old.
He also was the writer chosen by Marvel to bring back “The Mighty Thor” in the comic books. Much of what he did in the book was also used in the first Thor movie. And best of all, he was an extra on the movie. Remember the first guy that drives up to the crater where Thor’s hammer has landed, gets out of his pickup truck, goes down into the crater, and tries to lift the hammer? Yep, that was J. Michael Straczynski.
The next time I came across Straczynski was in 2010 when he had been hired to write 3 graphic novels of my favorite character and his; Superman. Titled “Superman: Earth One” he did a few different things with the character’s origin and arrival in Metropolis, but I looked at them as taking place on a slightly different earth and he did do some fun things that I enjoyed.
What was even more interesting was after I finished this book the other night I went back and re-read all three volumes of “Superman: Earth One” and I was amazed and amused to see how he had taken events from his own life and woven them into the comic book story, such as meeting a vivacious redhead (who sort acted as a stand in for Lana Lang, in my opinion) and even gave Clark a kitten/cat much like a kitten Straczynski literally rescued from a drain pipe that lived with him for many years.
I don’t mean to give you the impression that this man was perfect in any way. He made some mistakes and some bad decisions, but we all do. Here is the main truth of this autobiography; always strive to be the best you can be and stand for what is right. My end thought on completing the book was this: Straczynski has a will of iron. He determined that he would never be like his father and in fact would be the complete opposite of his father. He would hold Superman as his example and would do all he could to emulate those attributes of truth and justice and standing for the humanity of mankind.
There is much, much more to his story than what I have covered here. Finding out the truth about his father, a million-dollar movie deal and so much more.
One last thing; That front book cover photo of a Superman costume hanging in a closet is not just wishful thinking. Straczynski claims to have a tailor-made to his body exact re-creation of the Superman suit that George Reeves wore in “The Adventures of Superman” TV show from the 50’s and 60’s hanging in his clothes closet. He also claims he’s never worn it, but c’mon! I think this might be one time he is fudging it just a bit. How could you have THAT in your closet and NOT wear it at least once?? I know I would! Lol!
This is an inspiring book to read whether you are familiar with J. Michael Straczynski and his work or not, but I admit I think I enjoyed it more because I’ve seen some of his work and this book gives you that all important “behind the scenes” peek that always excites me.
I highly recommend “Becoming Superman” as an excellent book to read.