This August, Dynamite Entertainment gives the classic television show “The Six Million Dollar Man” a new coat of paint and a simplified name: “The Bionic Man.”
Originally scripted by Kevin Smith for a feature film that remains in limbo and now adapted by veteran “Green Hornet” scribe Phil Hester, “The Bionic Man” brings Steve Austin into the modern era with Smith’s distinctive take on a classic hero. While the premise — a former astronaut with bionic implants that enhance his strength, speed and vision who works for an organization known as OSI — is the same,Smith and Hester’s “The Bionic Man” intends to bring new life to the character through a retelling of his origin in a style similar to Smith’s “Green Hornet.”
Comic Book Resources spoke with writer Hester about what’s new for Steve Austin, exploring the character and the process that gave him his powers and along the way offered a few tidbits of what longtime fans should expect from this fledgling series.
CBR News: Phil, tell us about this fresh take on “The Six Million Dollar Man.” What’s new, what’s old and what’s the general story?
Phil Hester: The concept remains faithful to the old TV show, but we’re tackling this as a complete reboot. The basics are there: Test pilot turned cyborg hero, OSI, [supporting characters] Jaime, Oscar and Rudy, but we’ll see them in the context of the 21st century. That means the science fiction will reach a little farther, and our book will have a wider scope in terms of action.
How does this Steve Austin differ from the original, and how have you and the creative team adapted him for a modern audience?
Colonel Steve Austin is an accomplished, if irreverent, test pilot on the verge of retirement when fate deals him the blow that will make him the Bionic Man. He has the original character’s wry sense of humor and loyalty to country, but we’re going to get into his head a bit more and really detail the anguish and soul-searching that might go into having most of your body replaced by artificial parts. Also, this is a comic book. Being able to lift the tail end of a car or punch down a door doesn’t go very far here. Steve’s feats, though more realistic than an average superhero, will be more spectacular than what we saw on television decades ago.
To that end, Alex Ross designed a look for Austin that, on the surface, harkens back to the ’70s, but actually establishes a bold new take on the physical aspects of the Bionic Man.
“Green Hornet” focused on Britt Reid’s son coming into the mantle of his father. How does “The Bionic Man” introduce the new Steve Austin?
Much like “The Green Hornet,” most of Kevin [Smith]’s initial arc is devoted to Steve’s origin and first adventure. We’re not just recapping his origin, but telling it from square one and following it all the way through the prosthetic replacement process and into his rookie adventures as an OSI agent. There’s a lot of drama there that the show didn’t have time for that I hope we’ll explore in a more satisfying way.
We see not only Austin’s body break down, but his identity. Watching him rebuild his internal resolve is as big an act of heroism as any derring-do we’ll see in the book.
The original “Six Million Dollar Man” aired for 99 episodes and six TV movies, not including “The Bionic Woman” spin-off — quite a lot of material to draw from. How much of that canon was taken into consideration for the book?
I think we’re taking it more as inspiration than canon. We’re starting over and retelling Austin’s story for a new audience. We’re striving to hit all the notes that will reward long-time fans and stay true to the spirit of the original show without being slavish about it. We want it to work for people who have never heard of the Six Million Dollar Man as well as for those who have all the action figures mint in box.
What do you think fans of the original series will enjoy about this book? By the same token, how does the book appeal to new readers without sacrificing the classic tropes from the original show?
Steve is Steve and Jaime is Jaime. Kevin really nails what’s essential about their characters. He also really delves into the Oscar/Steve relationship in a way that I found surprisingly touching. That said, we are definitely turning up the volume. We’re giving Steve enemies worthy of his newfound power and throwing him headlong into the shifting landscape of black-ops machinations. Long-time fans will find plenty of Easter eggs referring to the old show, but the plot is hell-bent on providing new readers with the kind of espionage and action that modern comic book readers expect.
Once again, you’re working with Kevin Smith and Jonathan Lau to bring a classic hero to comics. Since collaborating on “Green Hornet,” how has your process evolved?
On “Green Hornet” I originally adapted the screenplay into comic book scripts and drew the book in a very rudimentary, thumbnail fashion. Jonathan and I are on the same wavelength now, so that thumbnailing step has been eliminated. I basically take the screenplay Kevin wrote (as he did on “Green Hornet”) and parcel it out into distinct issues. Kevin and I kick it back and forth until we have issue breaks that we are both happy with. I then adapt the screenplay to comics, Kevin tweaks that, and it goes to Jonathan who pencils it, Kevin gives it another tweak before lettering, and we’re off!
What kind of research or catch-up was involved in preparing for this series?
Very little. We’re all, except Jonathan, old men who remember the show fondly. It’s in our DNA. It was actually important to me to separate myself from those feelings of nostalgia and present something that could be enjoyed by a reader who had never heard of the original show. That’s our ultimate goal, really: Make a good comic.
How well does Kevin’s script translate from potential film to sequential story?
Kevin does a lot with dialogue and acting, so it’s important to convey those same subtleties, but in staging, composition and body language. There’s no voice inflection in comics, so if someone is being sarcastic in the script, they must look sarcastic on the page. Very little else fails to make the jump. Kevin wrote all the action scenes so crisply that I dare say they were made for comics.
What about this book should excite fans the most?
If you liked “Green Hornet,” you’ll love “The Bionic Man.” It’s a bit more serious and action driven, but you’ll still find Kevin’s insightful writing style, deft humor and vivid imagination, as well as Jonathan Lau’s amazing gift for depicting action. Honestly, put all the nostalgia aside. This is going to be one smart, dramatic, funny, romantic, action-packed comic book.
Dynamite Entertainment’s The Bionic Man #1 slow-mo jumps its way into comic shops on August 31.