Joseph Michael Straczynski is a bit of legend to me, full disclosure. In the 90s I absolutely LOVED Babylon 5, and am rewatching it as a result of reading this book. Still holding the record for writing nigh on a complete five season TV series by himself (he let Neil Gaiman have one episode), he is indeed a writing giant, but I never knew anything else about him (apart from the fact he also writes great comics).
“Becoming Superman” gets its title from a young Joe’s obsession with the overgrown boy scout. Before we get to young Joe, however, we get a family history, and when Joe comes along in 1954 it’s not to a happy family in any way. I have to say, reading about Joe’s family is constantly heartbreaking and anger inducing. His father was scum, basically. A misogynistic wife beating piece of shit, as he is described late in the book. The Straczynskis were a pretty poor family, moving from town to town as his father failed at enterprises or pissed off landlords, always waiting for the next time the father would beat the kids or get then out of bed to watch their mother being beaten. Seriously, the man was pure evil, if you believe in such concepts.
Young Joe was, as you can guess, a child who liked the write. Reading science fiction books was his escape, and he’d steal them from shops only to return them secretly when he was finished (he couldn’t afford to buy them). He once got into religion, which is an interesting section, mainly because it was the first time he’d been shown kindness by anyone. All the experiences from his awful childhood could easily have turned him into a serial killer or, worse, a republican (joke! No letters, please), but instead he became a writer, eventually being a big noise (or as big as was allowed by the controlling studios) in cartoons like He Man and She Ra.
I could go on, of course, as this is one of the most fascinating autobiographies I’ve ever read. At times it’s incredibly hard to listen to, as even without the family stuff the way that studio’s operate socked me almost as much. It’s incredible that the man who wrote Babylon 5, created She-Ra and had an 80 odd issue run on Spider-Man was almost broke in the mid 2000s. If it wasn’t for the films script he wrote for “Changeling” he’d probably be just another guy who used to be famous, and that would be so wrong in so many ways.
“Becoming Superman” is the gold standard of autobiographies. Heartbreaking, uplifting, funny and insightful, it lays bare a life that would ruin most people. If I liked Joe Straczynski before, I like him even more now. A true inspiration to anyone who has hardship, anyone who has been told they’re not good enough, anyone who has been told by “the man” to give it up, “Becoming Superman” may not change your life monumentally, but it will certainly make it better, just for having read it.
NOTE: I actually didn’t “read” this per se, but listened to the audiobook, which is superbly done by Peter Jurasik (Londo from Babylon 5).