Cover image for Becoming Superman : my journey from poverty to Hollywood with stops along the way at murder, madness, mayhem, movie stars, cults, slums, sociopaths, and war crimes
Becoming Superman : my journey from poverty to Hollywood with stops along the way at murder, madness, mayhem, movie stars, cults, slums, sociopaths, and war crimes
1st ed.
Physical Description:
xiii, 460 pages, 16 unnumbered pages of plates : illustrations (some color) ; 24 cm.
Added Author:
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.


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Book 921 STRACZYNSKI 1 1
Book 921 STRACZYNSKI 1 1

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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.

Author Notes

Joseph Michael Straczynski was born on July 17, 1954 in N.J. He is a writer and producer who has worked on films, novels, television series and comic books. He was the creator for the science fiction television series Babylon 5, its spin-off Crusade, as well as Jeremiah, a series loosely based on Hermann Huppen's comics. Straczynski wrote 92 out of the 110 Babylon 5 episodes. From 2001 to 2007, he was the writer for the long-running Marvel comic book series The Amazing Spider-Man.

Straczynski began his career writing plays first for colege theater then professionally for Performance Publshing for an adaptation of "Snow White". During the late 1970s, Straczynski also became the on-air entertainment reviewer for KSDO-FM and wrote several radio plays before being hired as a scriptwriter for the radio drama Alien Worlds. Straczynski has also been an on-air personality. He began by doing a weekly entertainment segment on KSDO News Radio in San Diego from 1978-1980. In Los Angeles, he put in five years as on-air host of the science fiction talk show Hour 25.

Straczynski was a fan of the cartoon, He-Man and the Masters of the Universe. He wrote a spec script in 1984 and sent it directly to Filmation. They purchased his script, bought several others, and hired him on staff. He also worked on other T.V. shows such as: The New Twilight Zone, Jake and the Fatman, Murder, She Wrote, and Walker Texas Ranger. In 2015 his title Superman - Earth One made the New York Times Best Seller List.

(Bowker Author Biography)

Reviews 5

Publisher's Weekly Review

Straczynski, a prolific comics, television, and film writer, delivers a frank memoir that's equally harrowing and triumphant. Raised by a depressed, battered mother and violently abusive, alcoholic father, Straczynski found in comic books, first, refuge from his dysfunctional family, and then inspiration to pursue a writing career. He particularly admired Superman (whose adventures he would eventually write), finding in the character an ethical core that "meant everything to a young kid trapped in a family that operated without any sort of moral compass." Though Straczynski's anger (at his father, most notably) comes across as still raw, he balances it with heartfelt appreciations of colleagues such as Harlan Ellison, who, "despite his reputation for crankiness," was "one of the most gracious souls I have ever known." He also offers tantalizing looks at behind-the-scenes creative battles. While Straczynski could do nothing about an executive mandate that his animated show She-Ra, Princess of Power's title character be not warlike but "maternal, nurturing, and nonthreatening to male authority figures," on the later SF series Babylon 5, he achieved his ambition of telling, over the series' entire course, a "single overarching story with a clearly defined beginning, middle, and end"--a television first. Fans of this and other achievements in Straczynski's career will find much to enjoy here. (Aug.)

Kirkus Review

A hugely successful writer for TV, movies, and comics makes his debut as a memoirist with a stunning chronicle of survival.Straczynski grew up in a destructive family, subjected to "the worst kinds of physical, psychological, and emotional torture" by an alcoholic, violently abusive father, a lifelong admirer of Nazis; a depressed mother, repeatedly institutionalized, who once dropped her young son from a roof; and a grandmother who tried to sexually abuse him. The family was rootless, moving 21 times in 19 years, often fleeing in the middle of the night and "roaring cross-country in an alcohol-fueled haze of drunken violence" to take up residence somewhere else. In one unheated apartment, ill with pneumonia, the author slept in front of an open oven door all night for warmth. He suffered corporal punishment at a Catholic school run by angry nuns and was victimized by bullies elsewhere. Comics, and especially Superman, provided Straczynski with escape and hope. Morally upright, patient, gentle, and powerful, the valiant hero became his model. A bright spot in his dismal childhood occurred in his senior year of high school, when two teachers saw his potential and invested "time, effort, and belief" in him, praising his writing and encouraging him. The author recounts his rocky start as a writer, sending short stories to magazines and collecting rejection slips; getting a gig as a humor columnist for a college newspaper; taking creative writing classes; and submitting reviews, feature articles, screenplays for sitcom pilots, and scripts. He wrote tirelessly and obsessively, not eating or sleeping, until finally some of his efforts bore fruit. Successes, which seemed like miracles, often were followed with spectacular failures. Although he encourages young writers to work hard and follow their passion, the viciously competitive and capricious entertainment industry, as he portrays it, is not for the faint-hearted. Besides recalling professional challenges, Straczynski admits personal struggles resulting from emotional wounds: "social awkwardness" and "compulsive self-reliance" that made him unable to form lasting relationships.Candid, often sordid, and definitely a page-turner. Copyright Kirkus Reviews, used with permission.

Booklist Review

The creator of iconic sf series Babylon 5 and Sense8 bares his soul in this raw, utterly compelling memoir. Born in 1954 to the sadistic son of Russian immigrants and his kidnapped bride, Straczynski grew up in an abusive and controlling household. His only escape was comic books, which fueled his imagination and his desire to write, a calling his cruel father took every opportunity to stifle and stymie. So Straczynski got creative, resorting to everything from ""borrowing"" books from a local drug store to faking a graduate degree in psychology to get out from under his father's thumb. Once he finally freed himself, Straczynski pursued a career in journalism which, when it floundered, resulted in a move to Los Angeles and the beginning of his television writing career, launched with a He-Man freelance script. Straczynski was eventually able to make the difficult leap from animated to live-action writing, and he pushed his passion project, the space opera Babylon 5, forward despite nearly insurmountable opposition. ""If my life stands for anything, it's to offer proof. . . that it's possible to fight and win,"" Straczynski asserts, and proves, in this at times shocking, at times difficult to read, and ultimately inspiring account of his determination and triumph against all odds.--Kristine Huntley Copyright 2019 Booklist

New York Review of Books Review

THE JOURNAL I DID NOT KEEP: NEW AND SELECTED WRITING, by Lore Segal. (Melville House, $28.99.) For almost six decades Segal has quietly produced some of the best fiction and essays in American literature, as this generous sampler attests. VERY NICE, by Marcy Dermansky. (Knopf, $25.95.) Dermansky's fourth novel is a mordant satire of wealth and art, in which a creative writing professor sleeps first with his student, then with her newly divorced mother, then takes up residence in their vast Connecticut estate. A TERRIBLE THING TO WASTE: ENVIRONMENTAL RACISM and its assault on the American mind, by Harriet A. Washington. (Little, Brown Spark, $28.) Washington shows how public policy and other factors expose minority groups to disproportionate pollution and blight, with direct consequences for their success. BECOMING SUPERMAN: MY JOURNEY FROM POVERTY TO Hollywood, by J. Michael Straczynski. (Harper Voyager/HarperCollins, $28.99.) Best known as a TV writer, Straczynski here recalls a horrific childhood: a Nazi-loving father, a mentally ill mother, a predatory grandmother. Comics and good teachers saved him. SAY SAY SAY, by Lila Savage. (Knopf, $24.) Savage's brisk, intimate novel traces the complicated interior life of a young woman who drops out of graduate school to work as a caregiver for a man and his brain-damaged wife.

Library Journal Review

Straczynski (Babylon 5; Changeling) tells all in this half-shocking, half-juicy memoir of growing up in a dysfunctional, abusive household and his path to becoming a television, movie, and comic book writer. Straczynski was raised in poverty in a family that saw more than its share of trauma: domestic violence, alcoholism, incest, murder, and even war crimes. The clan moved frequently to chase jobs and escape debt collectors, resulting in numerous school changes for Straczynski and his sisters. Despite the continuous upheaval, Straczynski earned two bachelor's degrees and began his writing career in the late 1970s. His work has resulted in hundreds of hours of television and five movies, plus more than 15 years' worth of releasing comics with publishers such as Top Cow, Image, DC, and Marvel. Straczynski holds court in this book, spinning one tale after another about his family, other writers, and the movie, television, and publishing industries. VERDICT Recommended for readers of true crime and intense family drama, behind-the-scenes stories of Hollywood and the world of publishing, sf/fantasy fandom, and, especially, Straczynski's work.--Monica Howell, Northwestern Health Sciences Univ. Lib., Bloomington, MN

Table of Contents

Neil Gaiman
Acknowledgmentsp. ix
Introductionp. xi
Chapter 1 We Were Toldp. 1
Chapter 2 Strange Relationsp. 17
Chapter 3 Faster Than a Speeding Bulletp. 29
Chapter 4 Death as a Lifestylep. 35
Chapter 5 Pigeon Dinner with a Slice of Watermelonp. 39
Chapter 6 The First One's Always Freep. 49
Chapter 7 The Face Behind the Maskp. 65
Chapter 8 The Wind Took Away His Namep. 73
Chapter 9 Being Invisiblep. 81
Chapter 10 Targets of Opportunityp. 89
Chapter 11 Patricide by Proxyp. 103
Chapter 12 Discovering Words, Worlds, and Estrogenp. 115
Chapter 13 The God Thingp. 131
Chapter 14 The Weed of Evil Bears Strange Fruitp. 145
Chapter 15 The God Thing, Reduxp. 155
Chapter 16 Blood in the Streetp. 169
Chapter 17 When the Light at the End of the Tunnel Isn't a Train (For a Change)p. 183
Chapter 18 The Big Conp. 207
Chapter 19 God, Death, and Harlan Ellisonp. 223
Chapter 20 An Unexpected Journey to Toon-Townp. 233
Chapter 21 Who Ya Gonna Call?p. 249
Chapter 22 Captain, My Captainp. 269
Chapter 23 Into the Zonep. 279
Chapter 24 Blowing Up the Worldp. 285
Chapter 25 Things I Learned Dancing with the Fatmanp. 295
Chapter 26 Paging Jessica Fletcherp. 303
Chapter 27 Boarding Babylonp. 323
Chapter 28 The Christmas Ambushp. 333
Chapter 29 Swingin' with Spider-Manp. 355
Chapter 30 Lost in the Tall Grass with Jeremiahp. 367
Chapter 31 What Was I Thinking?p. 389
Chapter 32 Being Supermanp. 407
Chapter 33 The Truth Unearthedp. 413
Chapter 34 Selahp. 433
Epiloguep. 441