'Six Million Dollar Man' upgrades its humor and finds a better, stronger, goofier Steve Austin
Cover to ‘The Six Million Dollar Man’ #1. Art: Michael Walsh/Dynamite

by Clyde Hall. Steve Austin, astronaut. Barely alive, then re-purposed as the central character in Martin Caidin’s novel Cyborg. It was a decent, violent 1973 actioner with speculative sci-fi overtones. A secret U.S. government think tank/intelligence bureau recruits Austin after he is horribly maimed in an experimental aircraft crash. They replace his lost limbs (both legs, his right arm) with powerful cybernetic prosthetics which appear organically human. He also received a bionic eye with camera capability. On his recovery, the government recouped their investment in Austin by putting him to work as a super-powered intelligence operative.

It was a Very Serious book, speculating on the future of cybernetics and how a human would cope with suddenly becoming part machine. Also, how he would handle the newfound powers his bionic enhancements bestowed. It spawned a Very Serious TV movie, The Six Million Dollar Man, its title bean-counting how much the project’s price tag set Uncle Sam back.

The movie begat a Fairly Serious TV series which quickly became a Comic Bookish hit. During the early 1970s, with little spandex-clad comic book fare in mainstream media, The Six Million Dollar Man and its spinoff, The Bionic Woman, featured plainclothes superheroes. Austin and fellow cyborg Jaime Sommers soon became actual comic book heroes in various publications, right up to the present day.

Dynamite’s new SMDM series with writer Christopher Hastings (The Adventures of Dr. McNinja, The Unbelievable Gwenpool, Deadpool: Fear Itself, Adventure Time) is taking Colonel Austin back to the start of his espionage career—and down a more ‘Pool-ish path. Operative Niko Abe spills to U.S. Intelligence that international businessman Takeshi Amari is building a nuclear missile on his private island in Japan. They send factory-fresh bionic agent Steve Austin to team with her and assess the situation. Expecting a commando squad, Niko’s underwhelmed by a lone former astronaut. But they get proof of an operable ICBM, just as material for a nuclear payload arrives. Also arriving are Amari’s squad of Oni Samurai Assassins, making escape for Steve and Niko unlikely.

To put the original TV series into perspective, Lee Majors played Austin as a strong, serious bionic block of wood. Humor was restrained, normally left to supporting characters. With this series, Hastings performs a turnaround. Unlike the absurdist world of the equally-absurd Dr. McNinja, or the goofy comics reality that Gwenpool calls out while goofily navigating it, the setting of issue #1 is 1974 serious: an internationally influential nemesis, a nuclear threat, Niko an espionage pro, etc. Austin brings the humor, as a jazzed-with-his-own-tech newbie to the spy game. He’s like a kid with a secret, which he naturally divulges the first chance he gets. How poorly he explains what ‘bionics’ are to the exasperated Niko is part of the charm. She eventually realizes the truth of his claims, and even saves his semi-machinated bacon when he fumbles.

Artist David Hahn graces the pages with a style matching the adventure’s tone. Austin could be an action figure, with plastic-perfect hair, NASA jacket, and mission patches. Action scenes involving the devil-masked bad guys flow well. While Austin proudly proclaims he only knows basic hand-to-hand combat, his bionics making him a match for any martial artist, Hahn creatively displays how true that is. Equally, how false. Colorist Roshan Kurichiyanil keeps things bright and bouncy, even missions after dark. (These sequences echoes the old TV series, camera filters used with limited success to turn daylight scenes into ‘night’.) Ariana Maher gets a workout on the lettering for this issue. Japanese kana/kanji and Japanese kana/kanji turned into cries of outrage, whisper balloons, loud and soft sound effects, and my favorite: Characters trying to talk over the deafening ‘Whup’ of an ascending helicopter. It’s a brilliant reality-in-comics moment.

This Six Million Dollar Man series gives the original action formula a bionic noogie. It’s taking chances, always applause-worthy. Still, the comics-buying public may be split. Old-timers used to a taciturn Col. Austin may feel alienated by the Our Man Flint stretch. (If Derek Flint was played by a de-aged Steve Carrell instead of James Coburn.) The variant cover by Michael Walsh already gives a grouse prod, probably intentional; You guys do know Austin’s holding his severed left arm, the human one, yeah? Meanwhile, with setting and support less wacky than Hastings’ previous work, his SMDM may not be quirky enough for readers used to McNinjas and the ‘Pools.   

Still, it’s a fresh perspective for a hero who predates Deathlok, Cyborg, Cable, and RoboCop. It could make Austin better, stronger, faster for a new generation. Before fans of the original get too bent regarding the mirth, a few reminders. Max the Bionic Dog. Alien ‘technology’ by Tandy. Bionic bank-robbing Bigfoot. Fembots. Many classic SMDM components, viewed through the lens of time, are just as playful. That didn’t make Steve Austin any less cool, just fun.

Dynamite / $3.99

Written by Christopher Hastings.

Art by David Hahn.

Colors by Roshan Kurichiyanil.

Letters by Ariana Maher (with special thanks to Zack Davisson)

7 out of 10

Check out this 5-page preview of ‘The Six Million Dollar Man’ #1, courtesy of Dynamite!

Cover A by Michael Walsh.
Cover B by Yasmine Putri.
Cover C by Francesco Francavilla.
Cover D by Denis Medri.