Greatest American Hero - The Return: Comics, Toon & Film

Greatest American Hero - The Return

Believe it or not, the Greatest American Hero is back in the air.

As teased in a video news release this weekend, the fan-favorite '80s superhero show will see a revival during the next year as it not only hits comic book shelves, but is in the midst of being developed for a series of animated shorts and a live action movie.

"Nostalgia being what it is," series creator Stephen J. Cannell told Newsarama, "as time goes by and you look back on those things that you treasured years ago when you were younger, there's a tendency to want to revisit these things. That's what produces these retrospectives and movies and graphic novels that are being done. And that's what you're seeing with Greatest American Hero."

The Greatest American Hero franchise will start its resurgence this fall with a six-issue comic book series from Arcana Studios in conjunction with Catastrophic Comics, the publishing company recently launched by the TV show's star, William Katt.

"No one comic book company can do something this big. We need two of us," Katt laughed as he spoke about the new Greatest American Hero comic.

The six-issue series will be drawn by artist Clint Hilinski and written by Katt with Christopher Folino and Sean O'Reilly. "The initial three books will be a re-telling of the origin story from the two-hour pilot, although we've taken some liberties," Katt said. "We've truncated some of the storyline with the kids. And we changed a little bit of the bad guys, giving them more of a role in it. We wanted a recurring villain in it -- kind of like a Lex Luthor.

"After the initial three issues, we're going to explore some new stories, probably picking up where the seasons left off. We'd like to play with it a little bit and branch it off a little bit. There will be other villains in subsequent stories. And we might have some guest writers in the future," Katt said. "And the first six issues will be collected into a graphic novel, with the hopes of maybe doing another volume in the future."

Based on a teacher named Ralph Hinkley being given a powerful supersuit -- for which he clumsily loses the instruction manual -- the comedic Greatest American Hero TV show ran for three seasons from 1981-1984. Starring Katt as Ralph, with Robert Culp and Connie Sellecca playing supporting characters, the series was released on DVD in 2005.

"We put it out as a DVD and it flew out of the store," Cannell said. "So I think that the interest in this project has sustained itself over the years and is actually going to be very good for this comic book."

Cannell should know about sustaining interest in nostalgic TV series. The writer and television mogul is currently in pre-production on a live action movie version of another of his hit series from the '80s, The A-Team, with director John Singleton attached to the project. And although he couldn't confirm rumors of actors like Bruce Willis and Ice Cube joining the A-Team cast, he did tell us he's close to sealing the deal on a movie version of Greatest American Hero.

"I'm actually pursuing it vigorously," Cannell said of the film. "I have a screenplay, I have a director, and we're moving forward with it. I have financing. I'm working to get distribution. So yeah, I'm trying to make it happen."

Stephen Herek (Mr. Holland's Opus, Bill and Ted's Excellent Adventure) is slated to direct the movie, with a screenplay written by Chris Matheson and Ryan Rowe.

"It's Ralph Hinckley and Pam Davidson and Bill Maxwell," Cannell said, indicating that the original three characters from the TV show would still be the focus of the movie. "We rehung it slightly in the screenplay. And with most action movies, you'd try to get an MPAA rating on it of PG-13. But this movie script we've got is a PG. I want it to be something that kids can go and see. So it has a lot of humor in it; it's got a lot of effects. But basically, it's still Ralph with the suit destroying his life, and Maxwell's the Fed he can't control, and all those elements that were in the last story were rehung slightly. You don't want to do just a cookie-cutter reproduction of the pilot. You want to bring it to life for a new audience and a new generation."

Katt said that, as the movie deal is in the works, the comic book could serve as a sort of "litmus test" for the Greatest American Hero concept. "If the comic goes out and does really well, it's just another example that this franchise has interest to people," Cannell agreed.

Creator of shows like Hunter and Quincy M.E., Cannell is best remembered by TV viewers as the "guy with the typewriter" – all his shows ended with a bumper showing him pulling a paper from a typewriter that transformed into his logo.

"We had a lot of fun doing all that television over the years," he said. "Over 40 shows. But one of the ones that I most enjoyed doing was Hero because of the humor in it and the fact that the actors who were playing the parts took to the humor in the script and were delivering so beautifully on it.

"I don't know the comic book business at all, but Bill has been involving himself in it in the last few years," Cannell continued. "So if I'm going to trust anybody with this, it's going to be Bill Katt. He loves the character and he knows exactly what it is that we want to accomplish. I know he'll protect the characters and what is great about this series. So that's why, when he came to me and said that he wanted to bring this out as a comic book, I thought, man, what a perfect opportunity to do it. I feel good with Bill running the whole thing and keeping it the way we want it to be."

"Stephen is the godfather," Katt said. "He is the man. He's the creator, and without his putting his arms out and embracing us and giving us the go-ahead, this comic would not have happened.

"Of course, I have to pay him back all my past residuals," Katt joked.

Also announced in San Diego will be a series of four-minute animated shorts for the web and cell phones that will tell stories from the Greatest American Hero. The Flash animation will differ from the comic books because it will fill in a gap between the first two seasons. "We have Connie, Bob and Bill on board [to do voices] and we will do our best to get the supporting roles," said Christopher Folino, Katt's partner at Catastrophic Comics.

Katt and Cannell told Newsarama that the creative forces behind the television show are also hoping to get the cast and crew together for a question and answer session in Los Angeles in September to promote the new animation and comic book series. "I'm looking forward to that and hooking up with everybody again," Cannell said.

"With Greatest American Hero, we put together a perfect cast. We got probably the best theme song ever for a TV show with a hit record that was a number 1 record, and it ended up being the number 2 record of all of 1981, with ‘Bette Davis Eyes’ being number 1. But 'Believe It or Not' was a huge, huge hit," Cannell said. "We had great writers working on the script. We had a concept that had tremendous legs. So all of the things came together and produced more than what my original pilot script was. And that's always what you're looking for. You want the script to be the ground floor on the project and then you want it to get better with all of the things that you add. And that's exactly what happened with Hero. And it happened in a spectacular way."

For those attending San Diego Comic-Con, the original cast of the “Greatest American Hero” television series, including William Katt, Robert Culp and Connie Sellecca, will be featured in a panel on Thursday, July 24 at 12:30-1:30pm in Room 7AB. The Panel will be hosted by Justin Tyler, Pete LePage and Alex Zalben from the comic book show “The Stack.”

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