Becoming Superman: My Journey From Poverty to Hollywood (英語) ハードカバー – 2019/7/23
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Featuring an introduction by Neil Gaiman!
“J. Michael Straczynski is, without question, one of the greatest science fiction minds of our time.” -- Max Brooks (World War Z)
For four decades, J. Michael Straczynski has been one of the most successful writers in Hollywood, one of the few to forge multiple careers in movies, television and comics. Yet there’s one story he’s never told before: his own.
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.
Joe's early life nearly defies belief. Raised by damaged adults—a con-man grandfather and a manipulative grandmother, a violent, drunken father and a mother who was repeatedly institutionalized—Joe grew up in abject poverty, living in slums and projects when not on the road, crisscrossing the country in his father’s desperate attempts to escape the consequences of his past.
To survive his abusive environment Joe found refuge in his beloved comics and his dreams, immersing himself in imaginary worlds populated by superheroes whose amazing powers allowed them to overcome any adversity. The deeper he read, the more he came to realize that he, too, had a superpower: the ability to tell stories and make everything come out the way he wanted it. But even as he found success, he could not escape a dark and shocking secret that hung over his family’s past, a violent truth that he uncovered over the course of decades involving mass murder.
Straczynski’s personal history has always been shrouded in mystery. Becoming Superman lays bare the facts of his life: a story of creation and darkness, hope and success, a larger-than-life villain and a little boy who became the hero of his own life. It is also a compelling behind-the-scenes look at some of the most successful TV series and movies recognized around the world.
“J. Michael Straczynski is, without question, one of the greatest science fiction minds of our time.” (Max Brooks (World War Z))
“Everything I read made me want to stand up and salute. I can’t stress enough how significant and moving (to say nothing of gripping and sometimes hilarious) this book is. It’s a magnificent piece of work that will stay with me for a long, long time.” (Cory Doctorow, author of Radicalized and Walkaway)
“Once I started, I couldn’t put it down. Straczynski embedded a mystery in an autobiography. Has to be a first.” (Dan DiDio, Editor in Chief, DC Comics)
“Part Hollywood how-to, part Frank McCourt-style reflection on emotional neglect and poverty, “Becoming Superman” is an enveloping look back at a unique career.” (Washington Post)
“His ability to stay the course, to work hard at all times, and to keep writing were his salvation time and again. This book is a testament to that ― and it is an inspiring, touching look at how someone born into darkness can find the light and go on to do great things.” (NPR)
“I just finished reading Becoming Superman and can, without a mote of hyperbole, state it is one of the most terrifying and inspirational, funny and empathic nonfiction books of our time. I’m too old to be currying favors. Just trust me. Buy it or die!” (Walter Koenig)
“A fascinating journey through careers in three different professions—comic books, TV, and movies—from an accomplished master of each. Rare to have such detail and such access. A major literary autobiography!” (Bestselling author Greg Bear)
“Straczynski [...] delivers a frank memoir that’s equally harrowing and triumphant.” (Publishers Weekly)
“Becoming Superman is a valuable resource for those wishing to look behind the curtain to one of pop culture’s most cherished and esteemed writers [...] It is an incredible story of familial abuse and its aftermath, of perseverance and fortitude, of endurance and determination. Highly recommended.” (Fantasy Book Review)
“Gripping. An amazing testament to the range of human durability and determination, overcoming our impossibly dark side with something even more unlikely and miraculous -- hope.”
(Hugo and Nebula Award Winning Novelist David Brin)
At the time, I saw this story as yet another sign that jms was a mensch. HE CARED about doing the right thing. (And, of course, the tale was brilliantly told, because he's a great writer. Plus, hey, a fellow cat lover.)
It wasn't until I read his autobiography that I understood why jms was so adamant about saving that cat. The result is that I appreciate him even more -- and I am inspired by him.
At the time I read that CompuServe thread, I already cherished jms. He created a TV show that became a personal obsession (enough so that when I missed an episode of Babylon 5, I paid someone in the UK to send me a VHS tape). And unlike nearly every other "big creative name," jms was an active participant in the fan community. After each episode, he'd respond to people on SCIFI and answer questions. I remember being particularly pleased with myself when, early in season 2, I asked, "How does Delenn wash her hair, with a bone in it?" and he responded, "Wait for the next episode."
In the B5 years, I knew that jms had an eclectic creative history; he referred to it himself. It just wasn't particularly relevant to me. He worked on a lot of animation projects, such as The Real Ghostbusters and Captain Power, but since I didn't have kids I had no reason to care about Saturday morning cartoon shows. He was part of Murder She Wrote, but that TV show was popular during a time when I didn't even own a TV. And so on. I just judged him on who and what he was today, and followed along as he tried to make B5's follow-on, Crusade -- a project that, we later learned, was damned from the start. Then he went into and comic books (not my genre), and other shows like Sense8. I continued to be impressed by someone who is relentlessly creative in many media, and who -- with a dedicated Twitter following -- is STILL responding regularly to ordinary people.
That'd be admirable in itself, and enough of a reason to read an autobiography about "how did I get here" but OH MY GOD I HAD NO IDEA.
Not to put too fine a point on it -- I'm merely skipping 300 pages -- but jms had the most screwed-up childhood imaginable. It wasn't merely being raised by a violent, alcoholic father and a mother who spent time in institutions. It wasn't simply growing up in raging poverty, and moving twice a year for the first 18 years of his life (largely so his father could skip out on paying bills). His whole upbringing was a clusterbomb of damaged people, nobody he could trust, and the worst possible circumstances I could imagine.
And yet this amazing guy came out of it. Not out of pure dumb luck, but by force of will, a devotion to Doing What's Right (beginning with adopting Superman as a comic book hero), and being true to himself. As a teenager, he realized, "I had a superpower so great that my father could never destroy it because it was outside his reach. I had the power to choose, and the will to back it up." And so he did -- and he created himself anew, breaking out of the sort of victimhood common in families' contagion of aberration. As he first understood at 14, "To be a victim is to be forever frozen in amber by THAT person's actions at THAT moment. Victimization only looks backward, never forward, which is why my family was incapable of moving on or redefining themselves. If I allowed myself to be defined by what my father did to me, it would put him at the enter of my identity. He would have control over me for the rest of my life."
You might be thinking that jms' story is a matter of an unhappy childhood and how it did/didn't frame his worldview. But half the book is about his professional career, and I believe nearly every creative person can find takeaways from it. Some of them are "Don't do that" lessons, perhaps, or the cost of making a given decision. But I see a lot of specific advice, too, both spoken and unspoken. Things like loyalty to friends (and the positive karmic payback), and the price of being "difficult" when that means staying true to Doing the Right Thing," and choosing to do something BECAUSE it scares the crap out of you.
The result is outstanding.
I should warn you, though, not to start reading this book at 7pm when you have an early morning meeting. You'll think, "Oh, just one more chapter" and the next thing you know it'll be 2am. Guess how I know?
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.
"Becoming Superman" is about his personal universe and just as important because this is the story that fans don't know anything about. That said, being familiar with Straczynski's work is helpful (you know way more than you realize) but not a prerequisite. He's a storyteller. And in this book he's telling *his* story. The content is horrifying and inspirational and the writing is just as exceptional as you'd expect.
In the few episodes with which I'm personally familiar Joe does the opposite. He soft-pedals. He lets the villains off easy and accepts more than his actual share of responsibility for catastrophe. He would have been amply justified if he'd come down much, much harder on the people who hurt him. One of them was my late father and I was there for the story.
I can only assume Joe does the same in the rest of the book. If he says his father was a bastard, then his father was more than likely a far worse bastard even that Joe lets on. If Joe praises his high school teachers, then you can be assured they were very, very good teachers. One more witness: They were indeed great teachers. I studied under both of them for three years and taught alongside them in later years.