There is no question that J. Michael Straczynski is the one who made Babylon 5 happen. He wrote it, he came up with the concept, he helped steer the story even in all the related works. Becoming Superman is his autobiography, telling the awful story of his childhood, his dreams, and his accomplishments, all of which intertwine in a compelling tale. I am going to post SPOILERS from the book in this review.
Straczynski is ever the storyteller, and it’s clear even reading his autobiography that he intentionally frames it in a way that engages the reader more than a simple A-B-C progression. Throughout most of the book, Straczynski teases readers with revelations about his family background. His family was stuck behind German lines in Russia until the end of World War II. His father and grandmother, though, apparently were much more collaborators than they liked to portray. Though Straczynski only confirmed this much later in his life, it is clear that his father’s obsession with Nazi ideology and awful abuse of all around him deeply influenced Straczynski’s writing career.
In Becoming Superman, we see how Straczynski discovered Superman and used the facade of the Man of Steel to get past the trauma in his own life. The toughness of this adopted persona impacts how Straczynski writes about trauma, as well. His comments about being a “victim” are particularly strong:
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 center of my identity. (110)
These comments about victimhood are intensely personal to Straczynski, but as a reader I wondered if this is his commentary on victimization in general, given the generalized way he comments that it “looks backward, never forward…” If so, I disagree fairly strongly with this assessment. One aspect of declaring oneself a victim is acknowledgement that wrong has occurred which demands justice and rehabilitation. To be a victim does not necessitate redefining oneself in those terms, but it does define the actions of the other–the aggressor–towards oneself. I am not an expert in the psychology of this topic, so I don’t feel comfortable making stronger comments, but I do think we should read Straczynski’s words here as a personal comment that helped him through a particularly difficult time, rather than normative for all who have been abused.
The fascinating story of Straczynski’s time in the television, comic, and film industry is detailed over most of the book, and it is an incredible journey. I haven’t read much from writers in this field, but this seems one of the more honest and perceptive looks at the industry. Intermingled with this are such details as Angela Lansbury’s appreciation for his writing on Murder, She Wrote. That’s one of my all-time favorite shows, and I was shocked to see the maker of Babylon 5 was involved on one of its best seasons, as well. Sporadic details about Babylon 5, background story about how Star Trek: Deep Space 9 may have stolen from its concept, and more are found throughout this chapter of his life. Having only recently discovered Babylon 5 (see my journey through the series here), it was wonderful having these details from the show reported.
Becoming Superman is a great read, as one would expect from a writer as talented as Straczynski. For readers interested in learning more about the brain behind Babylon 5, it’s a must-read. It’s clear that so many elements of Straczynski’s life appear in the show.
Babylon 5 Hub– Find all my Babylon 5-related posts and content here.
J.W. Wartick- Always Have a Reason– Check out my “main site” which talks about philosophy of religion, theology, and Christian apologetics (among other random topics). I love science fiction so that comes up integrated with theology fairly frequently as well. I’d love to have you follow there, too!
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