Book Review: Becoming Superman

This is a book review of Becoming Superman written by J. Michael Strazynski, the person behind the Babylon 5 Television series as well as SENSE8. The book is an autobiography, covering the author’s family history before he was born, chronicling his own experiences growing up in a precarious, violent home, his coping mechanisms in the form of comic books, pursuing a career in the creative and writing field, and ongoing commentary about his relationships throughout the years.

For some context, my husband is a huge fan of Babylon 5, and by huge, I mean it’s the “mega-nerd” level, which I say affectionately. He has the DVDs, book of the scripts of the episodes, including a separate book talking about what happened to another show that was launched by the author but was not so successful. Watching Babylon 5 was a memorable part of our early years of dating, back when sleepovers were not even a consideration and we are sorting through our mutual awkwardness. The moment that there was news about a book where the writer talked about his past, I was not surprised that my husband pre-ordered an autographed copy!

Now, to the actual review of the book.

It is detailed, gut-wrenching and compelling in its narration, a reflection of his ability to captivate audiences creatively no matter what creative medium. He is a well-recognized and well-respected writer in Hollywood, particularly in the science fiction genre, so this is just another testimony to his talents.

On a personal level, many chapters and stories are very relatable, particularly the parts that talk about fictional characters and forms of literature as a source of escape from the harshness of real life. The anguish of the young child, of the young man, in every fight that happened in the home, every time his father announced that they are moving again, every time he pours in hours and days writing to the point that he gets sick, all of these are palpable in every page and every chapter.

It’s fascinating to me though, to witness how a real person has embodied in many ways, the characteristics they saw in a particular fictional superhero, in this case, was Superman. Which made me wail in agony, just like him, when his father maliciously destroyed Michael’s comic book collection.

This is not just a book that aims to narrate and inspire. As I was reading through the chapters, there’s an undertone of wanting to use the book as a tool or a weapon, to vindicate and for vengeance. And in the last chapters of the book, my inclination was confirmed. The writer did intend to use the book in many ways to get back at his father, for the abusive treatment he inflicted towards the family, and to expose the background he felt his father was trying to hide and deny. It is evident that the writer wanted to broadcast as loudly as possible, his father as a Nazi sympathizer. An arrogant, violent and abusive man.

One thing I didn’t anticipate is how in certain chapters, it felt more like a personal development book, rather than an autobiography. During his several positions in journalism and scriptwriting, he shared a few pieces of advice that stood out to me (in paraphrased form):

  • Write as much as you can to “get the crap out”, so you can start making good content
  • Be reliable and always hand in your work on time, since about half the people who are expected to hand in work, flake out and miss deadlines. This builds reliability and a good reputation.

As someone who is still a young professional, who does creative work on the side, I think that these are really good pieces of advice, even for those who are not necessarily working in creative fields.

Overall, I am pleased with the book, and I know it will be part of a treasured collection of items that we will have in our home for a long time.

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