The once recalcitrant, eventually enlightened character G’Kar from Babylon 5 once said:
“The war we fight is not against powers and principalities, it is against chaos and despair. Greater than the death of flesh is the death of hope, the death of dreams. Against this peril we can never surrender. The future is all around us, waiting in moments of transition, to be born in moments of revelation. No one knows the shape of that future or where it will take us. We know only that it is always born in pain.”
Only one man could have written this, and also truly understand it from his own experience: J. Michael Straczynski. Straczynski is well-known for creating the five-year science fiction epic television show Babylon 5. His diverse writing portfolio includes Changeling, Thor, and many shows over the years, such as Sense8, Murder, She Wrote, He-Man and the Masters of the Universe, She-Ra: Princess of Power, and The Real Ghostbusters, among others.
Over the years, Straczynski has encouraged writers at every stage of their careers to achieve their goals. He declared that if he can do it, anyone can. What many of us didn’t know was why he would make such a statement.
When you read his autobiography Becoming Superman: My Journey from Poverty to Hollywood, everything about his statement makes sense. But there’s nothing I can do to prepare you fully for how you’ll react to the tale. I can only tell you how it affected me.
Some of you may remember that I met Straczynski in Fall 2018. You can read about that here, but I’m not dwelling on that meeting at this moment. You need to know about his book. And you need to buy it NOW.
The first chapter horrified me so much that I couldn’t help but cry out “Jesus!” among many other things…and that was just the beginning. This man was brought up in the most caustic, terrifying family situation imaginable. And once you think it can’t get worse, it does. So much worse, again and again.
There were moments when I felt nauseous. There were plenty of others when I doubled over and cried. The abuse Straczynski and his family suffered at the hands of his father is unfathomable. The lack of affection from his mother was devastating as well. And yet for any of us who has ever endured any kind of abuse from anyone, there is a nightmarish familiarity.
While his father seemed truly hell-bent on destroying his son, Straczynski persevered. He looked to comic books, and Superman in particular, as a beacon, a path of light away from the hideous Bizarro World his father made manifest. Straczynski began to write, and despite some bumps along the way, he never stopped. He never stops. Period.
Despite the appalling stories of his upbringing, Straczynski pushed through it all. Eventually he found his way to Hollywood, and from there the tale becomes one fist-pumping moment after another. I threw my hands up in the air a few times and shouted, “YES!” Even after any defeats in the industry, Straczynski bounced back.
And then Straczynski soared: up, up, and away from his frightening past. He made friends and grew connections. He kept writing. He worked on television shows, and eventually a feature film (Changeling, the award-winning film from 2008). Doors opened for him that previously had seemed welded shut.
He was born in pain, and yet Straczynski persevered. I don’t know how he made it, but he did, and I thank the Universe for that, and for him.
There is so much more to this tale than what I’m recounting here. Every word of it is worth your time. It is as engaging as it is enraging. You will be shaken to your core.
But you will also believe a man can fly. That man is J. Michael Straczynski.
Image credit: J. Michael Straczynski at San Diego Comic-Con, Saturday July 20, 2019. Photo by J. Dianne Dotson Copyright 2019. Becoming Superman: My Journey From Poverty to Hollywood is available now from Harper Collins Publishers and is distributed worldwide.