Nostalgia’s a tricky thing. Memory is notoriously unreliable, and therefore your memories of a beloved film or television show from your childhood can blind you to the fact that maybe what you loved was never as good as you thought it was. The Six Million Dollar Man – Fall of Man #1 is awash in nostalgia for the classic 1970s action-adventure series that starred Lee Majors as Col Steve Austin. After Austin’s test flight ended with a crash that left his body horrifically damaged. Scientists rebuilt Austin using bionic parts that made him (all together now) better…stronger..faster. Now he works as a secret agent, keeping the world safe as the Six Million Dollar Man.
And while writer Van Jensen clearly has some love for the source material, it’s fair to say that the source material was pretty darn hokey. Jensen’s opening issue straddles fidelity to that show with updating the concept to the modern age by setting up a plot dealing with Steve Austin both beginning to hear a voice that may or may not be real while also discovering the dark past of the creation of the technology that saved his life. That kind of continuity-heavy, character-delving conspiracy is very much the defining trait of modern comics storytelling, and while I would say that Jensen executes this in perfectly serviceable way, this plot so far offers nothing that I haven’t seen many times before. This issue could easily be transplanted to say, Captain America or any other government sponsored agent we’ve seen in comics. And while I think that Jensen accurately captures Austin, it must be said that Steve Austin is probably not the most multifaceted character to begin with.
And this is where the creative teams of licensed books like this often hit trouble. You want to embrace the warm feelings of nostalgia from casual fans and devoted ones alike, but to do that you can’t take the story or its world into genuinely new or innovative directions. The main plot of Steve uncovering that men may have died to create his bionics is hardly original, even if it is a darker turn than the TV series would have done. The subplot of the mysterious voice that Steve is hearing in his head is more intriguing, definitely, but at this point it’s too early to tell if that’s going to wind up being actually a new direction for the franchise.
As it stands, the book moves from beat to beat efficiently and effectively, but it never surprised me. From Steve’s early unsettled questioning, to the introduction of shadowy government types, to Steve then going rogue, it’s been seen before in a lot of secret agent stories, and Jensen doesn’t do anything at this point to really make it new. He does throw in ninjas, and who doesn’t love ninjas, but their dialogue is an irritating style that rubbed me the wrong way. There is no reason to call Austin “Yankee Robot Man” or another character “Mister Cool Sun-Glasses” unless you’re making fun of the Japanese translations that sound ridiculous to our English ears, and that seems cheap to me.
The art by Ron Salas is nice, though. It echoes the TV show, right down to Austin looking a lot like Lee Majors, and there’s a nice sunlit style that recalls someone like Chris Spouse. Salas does handle the bionic stuff well, with a few sequences that show Austin in action in ways the TV show simply couldn’t have managed. The story is paced well and clearly laid out.
At the end of the day, the familiar narrative of a rogue agent on the run from the agency he feels has lied to him is just too tired to generate a huge amount of excitement. It’s certainly not as if Van Jensen doesn’t execute the plot in a well-structured and pleasing way, but I can’t escape the feeling that I’ve seen too much of this too many times before, and nostalgia for the property isn’t enough to let me forget that. So, while it’s a diverting and enjoyable enough read, its derivative quality means I’m giving The Six Million Dollar Man – Fall of Man #1 a 6/10.
The Six Million Dollar Man – Fall of Man #1 will be released July 13, 2016.