Becoming Superman: My Journey from Poverty to Hollywood

Becoming Superman: My Journey from Poverty to Hollywood

With an introduction by Neil Gaiman!In this dazzling memoir, the acclaimed writer behind Babylon 5, Sense8, Clint Eastwood’s Changeling and Marvel’s Thor reveals how the power of creativity and imagination enabled him to overcome the horrors of his youth and a dysfunctional family haunted by madness, murder and a terrible secret.For four decades, J. Michael Straczynski has...

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Title:Becoming Superman: My Journey from Poverty to Hollywood
Author:J. Michael Straczynski
Rating:

Becoming Superman: My Journey from Poverty to Hollywood Reviews

  • Cathy Doyle

    Just an amazing book.

  • The Kawaii Slartibartfast

    I received a copy of Becoming Superman from HarperCollins Publishers through Netgalley in exchange for an honest review.

    Wow, this book was exceptional. The beginning was horrifying but somehow entrancing in a way that all survivor stories are.

    Joe Straczynski made a choice and by Grabthars hammer he stuck with it.

    The raw determination espoused is nothing short of inspiring.

    I don't think I can put into words how much this book touched me and I am so glad to have read it.

  • Rebecca

    Holy cow.

    The first 16 pages are unnerving; the next 12 pages will curdle your blood. And it doesn't stop. Chapter after chapter, the evil, the depravity, of the author's family (mainly his father) beggars belief.

    For plenty of people, this is all they need for a five-star memoir.

    could be the title of any number of popular books.

    This one is different. Yes, the author wants to lay bare the details of his family history, but it is only because he wants to speak the truth. He

    Holy cow.

    The first 16 pages are unnerving; the next 12 pages will curdle your blood. And it doesn't stop. Chapter after chapter, the evil, the depravity, of the author's family (mainly his father) beggars belief.

    For plenty of people, this is all they need for a five-star memoir.

    could be the title of any number of popular books.

    This one is different. Yes, the author wants to lay bare the details of his family history, but it is only because he wants to speak the truth. He tells his story in the most matter-of-fact way, sometimes with dry humor, completely lacking self-pity or even pathos. (It doesn't need pathos because it is awash in horror - but even the horror is not the point.)

    No, the point of this book is to tell us how and why Joe Straczynski became a successful writer. Of course, part of his becoming a writer involved surviving his childhood. And then surviving Hollywood. The remarkable thing, of course, is that he survives with his integrity intact, hence the title:

    (a title with many layers of significance in this many-layered book).

    I especially appreciate Straczynski's style. So many memoirs read like fiction, a quality I despise. I distrust plot arcs in nonfiction; I find it alienating. Now, Straczynski does have a sense of dramatic tension, and to keep the story from flagging does dole out some facts more slowly than others, but the overarching quality of his writing is that of utmost honesty. His effort to be accurate as possible to historical facts and his own internal experiences lift this memoir above the rest, along with his clear goal of making meaning and creating value in his life.

    This is an amazing, almost incredible tale with the strongest possible moral core. A recurring point of reflection is how bullies use victimhood narratives to justify their abuse of others, and that, moreover, the only way the real victims can survive and succeed is by casting off victimhood itself.

    There's so much more to it, too. The focus on personal agency and choice in the face of unbelievable odds is certainly my favorite part, but there are also themes of emotional connection/alienation, rage, responsibility, loyalty, self-expression, and courage. And then there's all the crazy stuff, not just his horrible childhood but oh, you know, the cult, the censors, the shady dealings, the "murder, madness and mayhem" of the title. All glued together by a focus on what writing is for, the writer's craft, what Harlan Ellison called a "holy chore." And an abiding love for comic books, super heroes, and science fiction.

    What a fantastic book for 2019.

  • Jason Snell

    When Joe Straczynski talks publicly about his difficult upbringing, it's easy to insert a generic, TV-movie sort of rags-to-riches story. Only in this book does he reveal, after most of the participants have died, the depths of the awfulness of his childhood and family. It's almost certainly worse than you imagined.

    The magic of "Becoming Superman," though, is that it's simultaneously horrifying and uplifting, and a great read. It helps that not only is Straczynski an accomplished writer, but tha

    When Joe Straczynski talks publicly about his difficult upbringing, it's easy to insert a generic, TV-movie sort of rags-to-riches story. Only in this book does he reveal, after most of the participants have died, the depths of the awfulness of his childhood and family. It's almost certainly worse than you imagined.

    The magic of "Becoming Superman," though, is that it's simultaneously horrifying and uplifting, and a great read. It helps that not only is Straczynski an accomplished writer, but that this is the story he's been training to tell for his entire life. It's funny, sad, infuriating, and inspiring--often all at once.

    Beyond the horrific family secrets, there's also the story of how Straczynski built his career by ping-ponging from school plays to local newspapers to animation to live-action TV to comics to--in a surprisingly dramatic moment--feature films. By the time he collects a million-dollar check for a spec screenplay, you will be cheering--because you'll see how far he's come from his childhood in New Jersey.

    The subject matter of "Becoming Superman" is difficult, but the book itself is engrossing and enjoyable. You don't need to be a fan of "Babylon 5" or "Sense8" or "The Real Ghostbusters" or "She-Ra" to enjoy this book. You just have to be an empathetic human being.

  • Adam

    When I review a book, I’ll highlight passages I’ll want to refer to after I complete it. By the end of chapter two of J. Michael Straczynski’s autobiography

    I had already highlighted an obscene amount of passages and notes expressing a mix of shock, incredulity, and an unhealthy amount of swearing. Similar to Jeanette Walls’

    and Tara Westover’s

    ,

    When I review a book, I’ll highlight passages I’ll want to refer to after I complete it. By the end of chapter two of J. Michael Straczynski’s autobiography

    I had already highlighted an obscene amount of passages and notes expressing a mix of shock, incredulity, and an unhealthy amount of swearing. Similar to Jeanette Walls’

    and Tara Westover’s

    , the first half of Joe’s life depicts a child raised by… let’s call it

    means. But the similarities end there. Joe was raised by his parents and grandmother who were Polish immigrants and Nazi sympathizers. His father Charles is the pure embodiment of evil, a truly sick a vile man whose atrocities are too long to list, and he plays a central role in the story of Joe’s life. Charles is one of the most despicable humans I’ve had the displeasure of learning about, and he takes on the mantle of ‘head villain’ of Joe’s origin story. For Joe to overcome this villain and unearth his family’s various abhorrent secrets, he must rise above their absence of affection, their lack of morals, and their penchant for violence and abuse. Joe must become Superman.

    The only thing more shocking than the early half of Joe’s life is what happens after. Joe’s story is one that needs to be told. How he didn’t end up dead, imprisoned, or worse is a testament to his strength of will and his determination to never compromise his values. “I swore to never settle for It’s better here, it’s safer here. I would take chances, even if that meant risking everything.” Joe’s life teetered between success and failure for decades, never being able to establish steady work more than a couple of years before it all blows up in his face. Although most of his early life was spent under constant threat of physical violence and emotional abuse, Joe never wavered from his principals, relying on the teachings of comic book heroes to guide his moral compass.

    The horror stories from his childhood alone would be enough to sell plenty of books. But the fact that Joe became an iconic creator of She-Ra, an author of novels and dozens of short stories, the creator and show-runner of Babylon 5 and Sense 8, and screenwriter of Thor, Changeling, and other Hollywood films, is an incredible story on its own. It’s almost as if we’re getting two different life stories in one book. The writing is infused with humor and wisdom, with a sharp awareness that at times feels like Joe is an outside observer to his own experiences.

    This book is explicitly detailed, and its many revelations are at times truly hard to believe. But the author addresses why these memoirs are so vividly recalled, especially during his early years:

    This book isn’t just Joe’s story, it’s a book about stories themselves: how they’re crafted and the process behind their creation, the massive failures, creative challenges, and the incremental successes that feel all too familiar. While I thankfully don’t share many early life experiences with Joe, there are many lessons learned that can easily be applied to any of our lives.

    is a valuable resource for those wishing to look behind the curtain to one of pop culture’s most cherished and esteemed writers. While at times painful and horrific, it also serves as a powerful inspiration for fighting through the very worst of situations to test your limits and realize your goals. It is an incredible story of familial abuse and its aftermath, of perseverance and fortitude, of endurance and determination. Highly recommended.

    9.0 / 10

  • Jan Schroeder

    “My father was a monster.” As a fan who’s seen J. Michael Straczynski (JMS) at a number of appearances, I’d heard those words and imagined the worst father I’d ever known or heard of. I couldn’t have been more wrong if I’d been picturing Mr. Rogers.

    Year by year, step by step, JMS describes every conscious decision he made, even while extremely young, that would form him into the man he wanted to be, not what seemed destined by family and society. Leavened with snark and humor, the book is grippi

    “My father was a monster.” As a fan who’s seen J. Michael Straczynski (JMS) at a number of appearances, I’d heard those words and imagined the worst father I’d ever known or heard of. I couldn’t have been more wrong if I’d been picturing Mr. Rogers.

    Year by year, step by step, JMS describes every conscious decision he made, even while extremely young, that would form him into the man he wanted to be, not what seemed destined by family and society. Leavened with snark and humor, the book is gripping and avoids the unrelenting grimness that it might otherwise have had.

    While the family secrets and the odds against JMS’ success are a major thread, never think that that’s what the book is about. The real story is about the man, his decisions, his determination and willingness to face fears and do the right thing. Whether you’re a fan of his work or never heard of him before, this is a book well worth your time.

  • Joe Crowe

    This book is really good, an autobiography about someone whose work I knew, but not his personal history.

    Straczynski digs deep into both, discussing everything from his work on some of my favorite TV shows, Real Ghostbusters, He-Man, and his creation, Babylon 5.

    He details his comic book work, including writing the issue of Spider-Man where the Marvel heroes (and villains) reacted to the Sept. 11, 2001 terror attacks.

    JMS gets to all that, but first, he discusses how he rose from poverty and su

    This book is really good, an autobiography about someone whose work I knew, but not his personal history.

    Straczynski digs deep into both, discussing everything from his work on some of my favorite TV shows, Real Ghostbusters, He-Man, and his creation, Babylon 5.

    He details his comic book work, including writing the issue of Spider-Man where the Marvel heroes (and villains) reacted to the Sept. 11, 2001 terror attacks.

    JMS gets to all that, but first, he discusses how he rose from poverty and survived a rotten childhood, and how he dealt with horrible family secrets that he didn't find out about until he was an adult.

    His recollections of frankly awful things are stark and bleak, and his rise beyond them is pretty inspiring.

    The book is equal parts personal stuff and professional stuff. I came away with a desire to binge-watch Real Ghostbusters, which is an admirable goal for anyone.

  • Robert Greenberger

    I first met Joe in 1984 when we both attended a talk by producer Dan Blatt about NBC's

    series. We were both fairly terrified at his pronouncement that SF could be anything, without being grounded in, you know, science. We became friends and would run into one another at east and west coast conventions over the next few years before he blossomed into a prolific writer/producer in TV.

    At one point, he expressed interest in comics which led me and/or Marv Wolfman offering him an issue of

    I first met Joe in 1984 when we both attended a talk by producer Dan Blatt about NBC's

    series. We were both fairly terrified at his pronouncement that SF could be anything, without being grounded in, you know, science. We became friends and would run into one another at east and west coast conventions over the next few years before he blossomed into a prolific writer/producer in TV.

    At one point, he expressed interest in comics which led me and/or Marv Wolfman offering him an issue of

    , followed by my offer of an issue of

    .

    But I had no idea about his background so when NetGalley offered me a chance to read a galley of his autobiography I snatched it up. Somehow I missed the bits and pieces of his past he has been publically discussing since his father died in 2011 so this was all revelatory to me.

    They say an author is the sum of his experiences and let me tell you, this man has endured much which goes to explain why he's such an interesting writer regardless of medium. He grew up on the move, relocating annually if not more frequently, unable to form friendships or even excel in school. His parents were dysfunctional, wth dad outright abusive to all around him. The extended family also harbored secrets, which he doles out throughout the narrative. The summation is horrifying and I pity Joe and his sisters for enduring all of this.

    He goes on to explore how he became a writer despite the above and his experience as a journalist, animation and live-action television writer prior to moving into a production role. He doesn't shy away from the

    vs.

    controversy or the demons that afflicted several of the

    cast.

    This is an open and honest examination of the past, with some advice for writers sprinkled throughout. I felt compelled to keep turning the page, a sign of a well-told tale. If you like anything Joe has produced, this is a worthwhile read.

  • J.D. DeHart

    From comic books to real life, this author engages the reader. This book is a rarity — the chance to get to know the life of a creative voice, the reality that exists behind authorship and invention.

  • Stewart Tame

    Full disclosure: I won a free ARC of this book in a Goodreads giveaway. And I’m also a big fan of Straczynski’s work. I was first exposed to it in an issue of Teen Titans Spotlight, but I didn't really start to take notice of it until my wife and I started watching Babylon 5 around about season 3 or so. Anyway, yes, it was pretty much a foregone conclusion I was going to like this. You have been warned.

    So. This is an autobiography of J. Michael Straczynski, who’s written for movies, television,

    Full disclosure: I won a free ARC of this book in a Goodreads giveaway. And I’m also a big fan of Straczynski’s work. I was first exposed to it in an issue of Teen Titans Spotlight, but I didn't really start to take notice of it until my wife and I started watching Babylon 5 around about season 3 or so. Anyway, yes, it was pretty much a foregone conclusion I was going to like this. You have been warned.

    So. This is an autobiography of J. Michael Straczynski, who’s written for movies, television, radio, comics, newspapers, and pretty much anything that will hold still long enough to be written on. Unless you're very young or incredibly isolated, you’ve almost certainly experienced something he’s done. Heard of it at the very least.

    He’s certainly led an interesting life. He survived childhood abuse and crushing poverty. Honestly, there are many aspects of his childhood that made me cringe in horror. While the events of his life shaped him into the person he is today--a fine human being and a talented writer as far as I can discern from his work--I still wouldn't wish some of them on my worst enemy. It's incredible that he survived and didn't grow up to be a serial killer or an alcoholic or something (Note: I am certainly not trying to liken the two in any way except in that they are both forms of destruction; one is just inwardly focused.)

    Fortunately, you get to experience the high points of his life as well as the lows. This book was compelling to the point where I almost literally couldn't put it down. It's a good thing I didn't have to work today, because I don't think I could have borne having to read only on my breaks.

    This one is highly recommended!

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