Book review: The Bionic Man

Ah, the seventies: flared trousers, flammable nylon, in-your-face racism and school custard with the consistency of skimmed milk. But you know what; it wasn’t all bad, because on Saturday nights (having spend the day bouncing off the walls after Tiswas) we had the Six Million Dollar Man: the story of Steve Austin, astronaut and test pilot, horrifically injured in a plane crash and rebuilt as a cyborg to be better than he was before; better, faster, stron—anyway, even if you don’t remember it I’m sure you get the idea. As entertaining as it was ridiculous, the Six Million Dollar Man ran for five seasons and spawned a reasonably successful spinoff (The Bionic Woman) that ran for another three. It was also the forerunner for just about every cyborg-related super-hero/villain you’ll see today; some we love (Inspector Gadget), and some we hate (The Terminator). Over the years, there’s been talk of a movie revival (I think Will Smith was mooted to play Austin one point), but nothing every came of it.

Well, actually it did: not a movie, but a comic series – and I had no idea. It’s been out for a couple of years, and I only found out when I stumbled across a picture from one of the comics on the interweb:

And on the strength of that, I bought the first omnibus, and I can tell you, it’s been an absolute treat. Kevin Smith (is that the same guy with the baseball cap?) deserves a comic oscar or something for this.

It’s not a social commentary or a complete gorefest, but it’s entertaining, surprisingly human with some genuinely funny nods to the original TV series:

So that’s what that was . . . Wait, he has an onboard phone?

And the whole six-million dollars thing? That’s not a lot in today’s money, but they’ve fixed that too:

And the writers took the opportunity to clean up some of the science that the nerdy kids, like me, jumped on – even back then. For a start, we get that he’s got the bionic arm and the bionic legs, but that wouldn’t be enough.

His pelvis would shatter when he landed from a hundred-foot jump, and you can’t rip the engine out of a car with a single bionic arm! What would happen to your shoulder! What about your back! Your whole skeleton and remaining musculature would need reinforcing! Fortunately, Smith makes sure that Colonel Austin makes the necessary sacrifices so that the story stays together, leaving us with a superhero who’s more machine than man – and yet, still manages to be a bit of a dick.

Yes, as heroes go, the colonel is one of life’s triers: he desperately wants to do the right thing, but his ego, his misplaced belief in his own ability (he receives several sound thrashings throughout the omnibus which require serious bodywork repairs), and his inability to deal with emotional stress means he stumbles a lot more than your average superhuman. It’s refreshing to see (if you’ve read my take on Superman, you probably know that I prefer my heroes flawed). We also get an insight into his family life which, again, makes for a sad but well-executed interlude.

The pace is more like a novel than a comic book, giving plenty of time to build characters and friendships. Some may find it a little slow; I’m not one of them.

If I had to make a complaint it would be a technical one. The conversion from book to Apple Books could have been better. Some of the pages are cut off near the top and bottom, which means the occasional bit of missing dialogue. Aside from this small glitch, the Bionic Man is near perfect for a couple of rainy day reads. I picked it up from here:

And if you’re a Kindle bod:

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