I’ve been a fan of J. Michael Straczynski since I was five, though I didn’t know that until I was closer to 25. I grew up on He-Man, written for kids without pandering to kids. Then I moved on to The Real Ghostbusters. From there, I latched on to Captain Power and the Soldiers of the Future, a children’s show set in a dystopian future with serialized storytelling. Let me repeat: it was a children’s show set in a dystopian future with serialized storytelling. Add in a couple of the stronger seasons of Murder, She Wrote, and I had consumed far more of his writing than I realized before I heard the words Babylon 5. By the time I heard enough positive things to give that show a chance, it was in season four, and my emphatic distaste for spoilers kept me away until I had the chance to watch it from the start. That happened on DVD, and those reviews are in the archives of this website. Add in his comic book and movie work, and I thought I knew something of the man through his writing. The picture I had of him wasn’t wrong, per se, but it was astonishingly incomplete. This is an autobiography of a man who lived a truly incredible life.
Title: Becoming Superman: My Journey From Poverty to Hollywood
Author: J. Michael Straczynski
Original Publication Date: July 2019
Buy from Amazon.com: hardcover, paperback (available June 23), kindle, audiobook (read by Peter Jurasik, the actor who played Londo Mollari on Babylon 5).
J. Michael Straczynski tells his life story. His is the kind of life that is fascinating regardless of whether or not you know his other works.
The meticulous structure in all of Straczynski’s work shines through here. While he has always had personal stories to tell, I never realized how carefully curated the stories he chose to share until now, when I had to chance to read the other stories of his life.
After reading 458 pages of autobiography, do we really need an “about the author” section at the end? I assume it was some sort of requirement for an obscure publication legality, but to the credit of JMS, he even managed to button that with an interesting tidbit that didn’t easily fit in the larger narrative. Sure, it could have been a footnote somewhere, but it feels like it was saved to make that section worthwhile.
We often rate originality in terms of how often we have seen stories like this. In the text, Straczynski mathematically estimates he’s lived a 1 in 1,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000 life. Reviewing his calculation, I think that number’s wrong. It should be much, much higher. I give it 6 out of 6.
The imagery is solid. There’s a lot of, well, plot isn’t quite the right word for a life story, but it’ll do. There’s a lot of plot to get through, so the imagery is there if needed and absent if not, though you may not realize just why it’s needed for a few hundred more pages. You don’t have Tolkien level details, but you have every relevant detail. I give it 5 out of 6.
The story is his life, and it’s unlike any other life I’ve ever heard of. I like to think my sister and I grew up to be good people, and that was made easier by simply following the example set by our parents. If JMS had followed the examples set by the people who raised him, he wouldn’t be listed on the IMDB, he’d be listed on websites that glorify serial killers. Even if you think you know parts of this story, if you haven’t read this, you do not know the context surrounding those parts. See also the math mentioned above. I give it 6 out of 6.
The characterization is clear, largely because he’s talking about actual people. Whether he’s describing the people who seem familiar, such as Rod Serling, Angela Lansbury, Harlan Ellison, the Babylon 5 cast, etc. or people who strove to stay out of the spotlight, such as his parents, you feel like you know them. Given who some of these people are and the lives they have led, you will also understand why this book couldn’t be written while some of his relatives were still among the living. I give it 6 out of 6.
The emotional response is incredible. Yes, I am a fan of the man’s work. Yes, I am impressed by the fact that he took the time to answer my emails (off the record) when I sent him links to reviews of his work in the past. That helped pique my interest and get me to pick up the book, but I assure you, this could be the first work you ever read by the man and still be enthralled. Hint: writing murder mysteries like Murder, She Wrote and Jake and the Fatman were more relevant work experiences here than you might expect. I give it 6 out of 6.
The editing is tight. No detail is irrelevant, and those who have read things like his Babylon 5 script books know how much was trimmed to squeeze the story down to this size. (He could have more than filled a book this size with Babylon 5 stories alone, and it sounds like there might even be another book’s worth of Jeremiah stories, should he outlive enough of the people who would be in it and choose to relive that unpleasantness on paper.) I give it 6 out of 6.
Overall, this is very easy to recommend. In fact, due to the tendinitis I deal with, you may have noticed that my output for the site has largely shifted from text to audio, which is much easier on the cubital tunnels. As soon as I put this down, I knew I had to tell others to pick it up every way I can, so here’s one of those way. Buy this book in your preferred format at your earliest opportunity. I give it 6 out of 6.
In total, Becoming Superman: My Journey from Poverty to Hollywood scores 41 out of 42. Now go get it!
To hear more about it from the man himself, check out this episode of WordBalloon.