Dynamite Entertainment has one thing to say to New York Comic Con: We don’t need to wait for you to make major announcements.
Avoiding the glut of announcements from some of those other publishers, Dynamite is instead pushing out big stories all week leading up to the show (and probably one or two there, too). Today, they’re announcing a new comic based on the Six Million Dollar Man also known as the Bionic Man. Sure, they’ve done Bionic Man comics before, but this one is different – it picks up right where the TV series left off.
It’s a concept that has found some major footing in comic books lately. There was Buffy Season 8 & 9, there’s X-Files Season 10, and Samurai Jack and Firefly are getting new comic book “Seasons” just around the corner. For more on Six Million Dollar Man Season 6, Newsarama spoke exclusively with writer James Kuhoric. He told us about the concept, his lifelong ambition to tell this story, and what it’s like working with interior artist Juanan Ramirez and a cover artist you may have heard of, Alex Ross.
Newsarama: James, you said in the announcement release that it's a "lifetime ambition" of yours to write Steve Austin and the Six Million Dollar Man. What resonated about the character for you as a child, and what kept him around in your head for so long?
James Kuhoric: There aren’t a lot of fond memories that I look back on from my childhood, but the Six Million Dollar Man is one that really captured my imagination and affected me on a personal level. From my first time watching the program as a very young person, there was something about it that just captivated me. The silly sound effects and primitive special effects registered as fantastic to the mind of a child. Like many kids of that era, I wanted to be Steve Austin.
If I really examine those influences, I think it is safe to say that the character had a lot of gender identity and social imprinting impact on me at the time. Steve Austin was a man who faced death and became something bigger and more heroic by battling through it. He always chose the right thing to do, even when his bosses didn’t agree or it was a more difficult path. And this was during the Dirty Harry and Death Wish era, so there were plenty of anti-hero sentiments in the world at that time. Lee Majors’ portrayal of the character made you feel like you could accomplish anything with a grin, a raised eyebrow, and a “denenenene” sound effect. The character epitomized that wish fulfillment fantasy that an everyday person could be made special and extraordinary. In our cases, as non-bionic children, that meant trying to emulate the things we could do. It’s no surprise that in short order I had selected the Bionic Man as my first grade Halloween costume. I think I wore that plastic jumpsuit and mask for a couple of years after until it was worn out. Come to think of it…I need to get one of those to complete my personal collection of SMDM collectibles...and maybe to wear every once in a while too, you know…for old time’s sake.
Nrama: What's the specific appeal of telling a "Season 6" story? I know the "comics continuing TV" is happening more often now, but what is appealing to you?
Kuhoric: The Six Million Dollar Man series never had a truly fitting ending. Season 5 ends with a regular episode that doesn’t give any real closure to the overall story to that point (though it does foreshadow the changing world and developing role of computers). It could be argued that the reunion movies offered a glimpse of Steve Austin as he aged, but frankly they were so awful and pandering that very little of what made the series special remained. In my mind they really were never part of the cannon, only an attempt at capturing some quick ratings on a beloved series.
The appeal of a continuing series is a chance for us to apply 21st Century comic book story-telling techniques to an episodic series that deserved to have some real closure. We’re developing a bigger picture story arc that will tear Steve Austin down and find out what he is really made of (besides wires and circuits). The continuing story tries to preserve the episodic nature of 70s TV while building the drama to a crescendo for Steve in a longer more contemporary format. I love the challenge of making this something that new readers can enjoy and insuring that old time fans (like me) are able to enjoy a series that is true to its source material and treats it with the same reverence that they do.
Nrama: Tell us a bit about your specific story - how soon after Season 5 does this take place, and where is Steve at in his personal journey when it begins?
Kuhoric: Season 6 takes place in what would have been the year following the end of the television series. Steve and Oscar are at their highest point, essentially. They’ve enjoyed years of being OSI’s secret weapon and most effective team. But as anyone can tell you, usually at that high point is when the world rises up and bites you. In the comic series, Steve will face challenges he has never had to deal with before. There are forces actually within the OSI that will actively help to drag him and the entire program down. In a lot of ways, this series will tear Steve down and we’ll have to see how or if he is able to rebuild himself in the wake of these tribulations. A running theme for me is that Steve Austin, the man not the bionics, made him the agent he ended up being. It is the reason that people like Barney Hiller (The Seven Million Dollar Man) were failures, despite having more advanced bionics than Steve. Because deep down, it was who Steve Austin was and what he stood for that worked in concert with the bionics to make him truly successful. It’s the same thing with Alex Murphy of Robocop. In television and the movies they could stick any nutjob’s brain into a computer or a bionic body, but only the few that were strong willed and good people are able to maintain their humanity and become a true hero. By the end of Season 6’s main story arc, Steve will have faced a complete tear down that in many ways mirrors the accident that nearly killed him. We just have to see if he’s able to overcome that again after having so much loss heaped upon him.
Nrama: How will you be actively trying to make this interesting for both longtime fans and for newcomers to the Six Million Dollar Man's story?
Kuhoric: On the surface, the theme of The Six Million Dollar Man is the story of a man transformed by life-threatening injury into the world’s first cyborg. But it is so much more than that. I want to really express the Steve Austin that I experienced as a child to a new audience. To do that, we have to start from square one and establish the person, his relationships, and his ethos. We’re going to try to start by setting everyone up at ground zero. Each issue will run a similar recap blurb like they used to have on the television series, a “Previously on The Six Million Dollar Man” section that establishes the history and what has come before. In addition to that, we are going to start the series with the iconic opening sequence that walks through Steve’s accident and rehabilitation as a bionic man. There will be a ton of call backs, some very subtle, that reference episodes of the series and really dig into the continuity for longtime fans. But those features will be added content for die-hard readers, as anyone should be able to step in and understand the story from the first issue. The most important thing will be conveying who Steve is to generations of fans that don’t have a reason to care about him. I want to deliver a great comic book and hopefully get people to go looking for the old series DVDs based on their reading enjoyment. They could always borrow them from me if they need to…
Nrama: Finally, what can you say about the artists you're working with - you have Juanan Ramirez on interiors and Alex Ross on covers - what do each of them bring to the table?
Kuhoric: We had a special vision for the art on this series. Fans of the original television program recall certain visual cues that set it apart from other shows. The use of slow motion bionics became a signature that kids would reenact and imagine when reading the original Charlton comics. We had to find new and innovative ways to capture that feeling with the The Six Million Dollar Man Season 6.
Juanan Ramirez did some great initial turn arounds for the characters. His first sketches really reinforced the look and feel we wanted to capture. But it was when the comic pages started coming in; I knew that he was the perfect choice for this series. He captured everything I felt was essential to creating The Six Million Dollar Man in a comic book. From posture and facial expressions to just understanding the flow of the storytelling, Juanan has nailed every step of the process. I’m not a big original art collector, but there are pages he is turning in that I want to be first in line to buy. They are simply fantastic and I am sure he will only get better as we get deeper into the series.
And what can I say about Alex Ross? I’ve been a fan of his for so many years and to have original Ross paintings on the covers for the series is a dream come true. I don’t believe anyone else could capture the magic of the series like he can and the first images I’ve seen are simply stunning. Holding the Ross art for issue #1 in my hands really did bring back the magic of the series to me in a way I hadn’t expected. Alex has been the creative vision to portray some of the greatest moments in comics history. I have a huge Alex Ross Spider-Man & Green Goblin lithograph hanging in my office that I walk by every day on the way to work. To me it epitomizes everything I loved about those characters and I am humbled to have his visionary work on a book that I contributed to. I’m looking forward to an opportunity to walk up to Alex with a copy of The Six Million Dollar Man #1 and get his autograph. I may not even tell him who I am, and just enjoy that for the pure fan moment it will be.
The Six Million Dollar Man Season Six #1 is scheduled to ship in February 2014.