Phil Hester & Jonathan Lau Rebuild Bionic Man With Kevin Smith

Bionic Man ComicsGo on, I dare you: take a look at Alex Ross’s excellent covers for Dynamite Entertainment’s new Bionic Man comics without hearing, “Gentlemen: we can rebuild him,” and The Six Million Dollar Man theme song. Go on! I’ll wait here.

The Six Million Dollar Man was an icon of 1970s’ TV, starring Lee Majors as Steve Austin, an astronaut who barely survived a horrific crash and was literally “rebuilt” with cutting-edge bionics, later working as a secret agent for intelligence agency O.S.I. After the series ended, Austin’s adventures continued on in a few TV movies in the ’80s and ’90s (one co-starring a very young Sandra Bullock!), but the concept was ripe for a reboot: enter Kevin Smith (Clerks, Chasing Amy), who wrote a screenplay, titled Bionic Man, a few years ago. After the success of adapting Smith’s Green Hornet screenplay to comics, Dynamite decided to bring Steve Austin into the 21st century with the help of Phil Hester and Jonathan Lau with their new Bionic Man series!

Hester and Lau, of course, also took the helm on Kevin Smith’s Green Hornet comics, which makes them familiar to TFAW readers. We had the chance to interview them about Bionic Man as part of Dynamite Month, and they were nice enough to throw in an exclusive five-page preview to Bionic Man #3, out October 19! Read on: This is the second time both of you have collaborated on a Kevin Smith screenplay–the first time being with Green Hornet, of course. What were the major differences this time, with The Bionic Man?

Phil Hester: The source material is a bit older. Kevin wrote his Bionic Man screenplay quite a long time ago, so there were a lot of technical updates we needed to do, especially regarding computer and cell phone advances. As far as the actual working process goes, very little difference. I adapt the screenplay, Kevin edits my pass, I incorporate his notes, Kevin does a final polish, and then poor Jonathan has to draw it all.

Bionic Man #3 Page 1Jonathan Lau: Yes, very much so–at least poor Jonathan is glad to be on this team. Phil knows what I enjoy working on and allowed me to have at it. The only thing missing is the live-action movie that coincides with the comic book, as with Green Hornet. I’m a huge fan of the original Six Million Dollar Man and the Bionic Woman–were you familiar with the shows before you started on the project?

PH: Sure. I was a kid when both shows originally aired. I spent many a recess running in slow motion and lifting imaginary cars off of imaginary trapped grandmas while humming “nuh-nuh-nuh-nuh!”

JL: I have vague memories of the show, so I couldn’t say I am a die-hard fan. But Lee Majors will always be the Six Million Dollar Man for me. And very similar to Phil, I did those things too. It’s just that when leaping off high cabinets, gravity isn’t in slow motion for me, so I go “nuh-nuh-nuh-n-OWWW!” I was holding my breath waiting to see what the name of Steve’s girlfriend (who happens to be blond, athletic-looking, and a grade-school teacher) was, and was happy when it turned out to be [SPOILER ALERT!] Jaime! Does that mean there’s a Bionic Woman comic in our future?

PH: Mmmmmmm–could be.

Bionic Man #3 Page Besides some of the minor changes, such as Steve being a test pilot instead of an astronaut, I would think the most important changes would involve how quickly technology has advanced since the 1970s. Do you think that helps or hinders the story?

PH: I think it helps, especially with all the Iraq and Afghanistan wars producing so many wounded vets who utilize prosthetic technology. A character struggling with adjusting to a largely artificial body, even one that gives him tremendous physical advantages, has a deep resonance with what’s happening today. There’s also the whole issue of just how closely humans will want to integrate with artificial intelligence. The Bionic Man is a great book for playing with those concepts. What are some other major changes from the television series that fans will notice?

PH: No holds barred. For the most part, the show was hindered by the special effects technology and television budgets of the ’70s. We can do anything with Steve’s powers, as long as Jonathan can draw it . . . and he can draw anything. You’ll see a lot more widescreen action in this book than we ever saw on the show, and some adversaries that are Steve’s equal in the super-human abilities department. Who is Margaret, and what is her role in the O.S.I.?

Bionic Man #3 Page 3PH: Margaret Carlisle is the cold, calculating head of O.S.I. She’s the kind of level headed, but lethal power player you are secretly glad is on your side. But as Steve and Oscar learn, one can never be 100 percent sure she is on your side. At this point in the story, there’s already one rogue “Bionic Man” running around, destroying technology and actually eating people. What triggered this maniac?

PH: I don’t want to spoil any plot points, but I think it’s safe to say this rogue cyborg has a legitimate beef with O.S.I. How he tries to resolve this conflict is where things get sticky. There seems to be a clear man-versus machine dynamic here–for example, one character is disgusted when better, more efficient machines put people out of work. Margaret believes that her “Bionic Men” should be treated like machines rather than people, and turned off when not working. What are your thoughts on this matter?

PH: Well, that’s the heart of the whole thing, isn’t it? At what point in the union of man and machine does the man disappear? This is Steve’s daily existence. His new body has given him incredible powers, but by definition, it has distanced himself from the rest of humanity. I think what he chooses to do with his abilities makes him a true hero, as he comes to value the humanity he maintains beneath the plastic and titanium more than he ever did when he was flesh and blood. When you and Jonathan got to the end of Kevin’s storyline for Green Hornet, you continued the comics yourself. Do you see that happening with The Bionic Man?

Bionic Man #3 Page 4PH: I hope so, but that’s for the reading public to decide. You’ve done several books with Dynamite now. What are the advantages to working with them?

PH: They never stop moving. Too many companies are paralyzed by success. I mean, they find a formula that works and stick with it even after if stops working. Nick Barrucci and Joseph Rybandt are never content to rest on past success. They’re always tinkering, always looking for new opportunities. Also, they pay on time, every time. Jonathan–some of the characters, like Steve, somewhat resemble their television counterparts, while others, like Rudy, look quite a bit different. What kind of guidelines were you given?

JL: Phil usually gives detailed descriptions or actor references for the casts. And whenever supporting characters are open to interpretation, I still look for actor references myself. It helps to have distinguishable facial features, and the more eccentric the better. The main character, however, is designed by Alex Ross. How do you approach drawing the bionics? Are you basing them on real-world technology, or getting creative?

JL: I really appreciate Alex’s design–the glowing muscle fibers of Steve’s bionics is really an impressive idea. Some people are really good at designing robots and mechanical parts extravagantly out from their noggins, whereas I have to Google ideas. The rest of the characters I get to design. For Hull, Steve’s counterpart and predecessor, I made him look duller in color to contrast with Steve’s upgraded, shiny, sophisticated look. Meanwhile, the Naga (Hull’s henchmen) have the crudest technology of all of the bionic men. This is to show the differing levels of technology. It’s more realistic that way.

Bionic Man #3 Page How does The Bionic Man compare to when you were drawing Green Hornet?

JL: It’s like comparing an elephant to a gazelle. Readers familiar with my Green Hornet work may remember the flow and grace of the action scenes, the moves of a martial artist–but martial artists can’t punch through walls or lift heavy objects. That’s where the fun in Bionic Man comes in. I’d say Green Hornet will always be special to me, not only because of the cape and kung fu that I love, but it also kicked me up a notch in the comics industry (and I’m still waiting for a Green Hornet/Batman crossover). In any case, as long as there are gratuitous action scenes, I’m along for the ride. In addition, I get to draw covers for the two titles. What’s been your favorite part of The Bionic Man thus far?

JL: That would be the most current issue I’m working on, which is issue #4, where we finally see Steve exercising his bionics. But what I’m highly anticipating are issues #5 and #6, where I finally get to do some bionic brawls! It’s about time, I’d say. What do you have coming up next?

JL: Other than doing alternate covers of different titles, Nick Barrucci and I often talk about what other titles I would like to work on (PSP Chapter 3?) Hopefully it’ll come about. But for the moment I’ll take one bionic step at a time.

Our thanks to Phil and Jonathan for answering all of our questions–we can’t wait to see the rest of Bionic Man #3! You can order all of Dynamite’s Bionic Man comics right here on our site. Plus, remember that you’ll save 35% on all of Dynamite Entertainment’s October catalog comics and graphic novels this month only!



Are you a Steve Austin and O.S.I. fan? Have you checked out Bionic Man yet? Post your comments below!