Steve Austin is dead, long live the Six Million Dollar Man


Review by C.J. Bunce


Steve Austin is dead.  At least that is how the secret military organization called O.S.I. has classified him at the beginning of Issue #3 of Kevin Smith and Phil Hester’s Bionic Man series.  In actuality his right arm and both legs are gone, lost because of the crash of his test jet the Daedalus in Issues #1 and #2.

Austin feels like anyone immediately after a crash this bad, he screams at friend Oscar Goldman and his personal physician Doctor Wells, “Why didn’t you let me die?”

Despite working on the secret military project involving advanced bionics that resulted in the creation of a Frankensteinesque cyborg from a man named Hull, it doesn’t occur to Goldman that the government may have a spare $6 million per day to try to build another cybernetic human.  His director at O.S.I. tells him it’s a done deal, Goldman just need to get Austin on-board.  He’s classified as dead right now, but “we can rebuild him.”

Meanwhile Hull is rampaging across Korea, hell bent to destroy anything in his path, on his way to take out O.S.I. for creating him, or at least failing to re-create him right.  For now, despite the coaxing, Austin isn’t playing along.  But the ramifications are distilled into the one key reason to hold on for Steve, the thought of being with his fiancee Jaime Sommers again.

Smith and Hester continue to pepper the Bionic Man’s creation story with nostalgia and clever updates, such as the obvious problem with a 1975 bionic man that made sense at six million dollars, but with inflation today he’s costing the military $6 million per day.  Alex Ross’s cover work continues to be impressive for Issue #3 and Jonathan Lau’s depiction of the battle scarred, destroyed test pilot is realistic and gritty.

But the real payoff comes with Issue #4, the part of the story everyone has been waiting for, the climax of the TV pilot for the original series, and what would become one of the best classic introductions for a TV series of all time.

To begin with, Alex Ross’s cover is one of his best-ever covers, and Lau’s tryptich incentive cover is also top-notch.

And Issue #4 begins with one of the coolest ideas so far, a bionic German Shepherd–rebuilt from a heroic police dog nearly killed in the line of duty.  And he’s as normal as any dog, lifting his leg on Steve’s bed.  The dog is meant to help convince Austin to go through with the surgery to add bionic devices to his own, to create another cyborg.

The remainder of the issue is a scene by scene account of why we loved the Bionic Man in the 1970s and why we love him today.  What must have been a dream job for any artist is undertaken nicely by Jonathan Lau.  There’s not a lot for Smith and Hester by way of writing duties, however, in this issue as the classic story takes over.  Lau doesn’t miss the opportunity to keep Austin’s first test run in his trademark red track suit, instead of trying something new.

And Austin gets to learn the “why” of all this attention and investment of millions of dollars.  The tradeoff is he must come to work for O.S.I., to go after bad guys.  And with a virtually unnoticeable new body in place, Austin happily agrees.

What more could anyone want?

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