Review–Bionic Man, Volume 1: Some Assembly Required

By C.J. Bunce

As much as I want to jump ahead and discuss the current story of The Bionic Man in Issue #12, which features a character we all have wanted to see since the series started, let’s catch up with the first compilation of Dynamite Comics’ adaptation of the original Six Million Dollar Man that started last year.  The Bionic Man Volume 1: Some Assembly Required collects the first ten issues of The Bionic Man.  These ten issues were billed as “Kevin Smith’s” Bionic Man as the origin story was adapted into an unused screenplay by Smith, then writer Phil Hester re-wrote it, blocking it into chapter/issues, then Smith ran a dialogue pass and Jonathan Lau made it all look good with the visuals.  After Issue #10, the real excitement begins as Hester takes Steve Austin into new, and sometimes nostalgic, directions.  The ongoing series is currently at Issue #12, and we will discuss Hester’s Bionic Man here at soon.

We previously discussed here Issue #1, Issue # 2 , and Issue #3 and 4 (chapters 1-4 of the new trade edition).  Basically, Issues #1-4 recount the origin story from the original TV series, as opposed to Martin Caidin’s original novel Cyborg, on which the TV series was based.  It’s a good adaptation with no surprises, and the writers and artist basically let the great imagery from the original opener of each episode speak for itself–Steve Austin, astronaut, the crash, and rebuilding him into the borg he would become.  We noted the dialogue and Alex Ross’s spectacular cover art as high points of these initial chapters.

It’s in chapter 5, however, where Smith, Hester and Lau bring Steve Austin into the 21st century.  Data “apps” were unheard of in the 1970s, and Austin becomes something like the spies from the Mission Impossible movies.  He has a computer-tapping mind that allows him to speak foreign languages without thinking about it, and it’s feats like this where the character expands from the man with a little bionic circuitry he originally was, to something closer to the android Data in Star Trek: The Next Generation.  But it’s not without some glitches, as good science fiction stories often address.  Look forward to dialogue with some clever lines derived from the 1970s, like the old CB radio radio-check “breaker, breaker one-nine” Austin uses to report back to OSI on his mission status.

In chapter 6, Steve uncovers secrets, secrets that OSI could have disclosed, but didn’t, revealing a menace that gives the Bionic Man a foe on equal footing.  Lau gets to exercise his action panel work extensively here.

This trade edition allows readers new to the Bionic Man mythos an easy path into what made Steve Austin so popular in the 1970s–so popular that pretty much every kid had a Six Million Dollar Man action figure, where millions were sold, making the Bionic Man the biggest selling action doll of its day.  The new comic book series also gives fans who watched the series the nostalgia we want, and we happily didn’t have to wait too long to revisit Jamie Sommers crossing paths with Steve again.  The Bionic Woman crossover episodes were the most popular episodes in the TV series, so getting Sommers into this book was a welcome sight, although she later splinters off into her own comic book series, a series we reviewed here previously.  With Chapter 7 Austin encounters Sommers again, and Smith and Hester add something else–mention of the menace Austin met in chapter 6 as “a real-life G.I. Joe” (although Lau makes him look more like Stretch Armstrong) and it seems what we witnessed may really have been inspired by Smith or Hester playing with the 12-inch Six Million Dollar Man action figure as a kid along with their 12-inch G.I. Joes, just as I ands millions of other kids did (along with battling Stretch Armstrong).  It’s subtle but it’s a fun connection.

With chapter eight we begin to understand the real menace here may not be the Terminator-like being OSI created before Steve, but the very person behind the bionics project itself.   A major attack is launched on Washington, DC in chapter nine, and in chapter ten, Austin faces the end of his first mission and the culmination of his first real challenge.  And this allows Steve to move forward as Phil Hester takes on the story in Issue #11.

So you really can’t miss with the trade paperback of The Bionic Man Volume 1: Some Assembly Required.  It’s full of nostalgia, a great classic character, and a familiarity that sets the character on his new path for the next ten issues of the ongoing series.  The trade edition also includes some good extras.  You’ll find a full cover gallery, including both Alex Ross and Jonathan Lau’s variant covers.  A sketch gallery includes some of Alex Ross’s inspiration for the look of the new Steve Austin, including the use of colors to emphasize Austin’s bionics, how he envisioned Austin’s artificial skin, Austin’s signature red tracksuit, and a look at a possible future Maskatron.

The Bionic Man Volume 1: Some Assembly Required  is available in comic book stores, other book stores, and online retailers and lists for $29.99.

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