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The Six Million Dollar Man was an irregularly-released comic book publlished by Charlton Comics. It debuted in June 1976, and released its ninth and final book in June of 1978.
While there were several comic representations of Steve Austin worldwide, this was the only one which could be properly called an "American comic book". It is sometimes confused with the Charlton magazine of the same name. In fact, though, the two books are distinct and aimed at slightly different age groups.
The comic was produced in standard modern American size (6 ⅝" × 10 ¼"). With one exception, issues 2-9 had one dominant, 22-page comic story, and a 3-page illustrated text story in the back. Issue 1 had essentially the same format, although the first seven pages comprised the origin tale, while the next 15 detailed Steve's first mission for the OSI. Issue 7, however, consisted of two 11-page comic stories plus the text story. The publication had color exteriors and interiors. The first issue includes a small photograph of Lee Majors on the top left corner (it was customary in the 1970s for American comic books to include a small icon of the lead character in the top left corner of every cover so as to facilitate quick identification of a comic series by buyers); beginning with issue 2, this was replaced by a small comic-style rendering of the actor's face.
The illustrations that accompanied the text stories were usually art recycled from previously published comic book stories.
The comic utilized the opening credits logo of the TV series, although only the first issue presents it as it appears on screen; due to the cover format from issue 2 onwards the "THE" part of the logo is relocated off to the side for the remainder of the series.
Issues 1-4 originally sold for 30¢ US | 10p UK. The price increase at issue 5 put the comic at 35¢ US | 12p UK for the remainder of the run.
Charlton maintained an erratic publishing schedule for the comic book. The first four issues were issued between June and December 1976 (this is based upon cover dates; the comics themselves were likely on sale as long as two months prior to the actual cover date). After that, only one issue was published in 1977 (October), with issues 6 through 9 being published between February and June 1978.
As in the series, the main characters are Oscar and Steve, with occasional appearances by Rudy. While Steve and Oscar are reasonable likenesses of Lee Majors and Richard Anderson, Rudy bears no obvious similarity to any of the three actors who portrayed him on screen, nor was his character model here maintained in Charlton's adaptation of The Bionic Woman. Despite Charlton publishing Bionic Woman concurrently, Jaime Sommers did not appear in any Charlton issue.
The comic world of Steve Austin
Though the comic outing of Steve Austin was a brief one, it did attempt to establish a continuity of its own, distinct from the television series. This is made clear from the very first issue, which gives a somewhat different retelling of Steve's crash — and a wholly different initial mission from that described in the original telemovie.
A part of the reason for this slightly different take on Austin may come from the credit which appeared in every issue. The comic was "based on the The Six Million Dollar Man television series taken from the novel Cyborg by Martin Caidin". There were thus elements that seemed to owe their existence more to the novels than the series. For example, in addition to the bionics displayed in the television series, "situational" Bionic powers are introduced as a particular story warrants them, and then quickly forgotten. For instance, in the first issue Steve's eye has the capacity to emit a poweful laser beam (coincidentally, this ability would later be given to Austin's bionic son on television, Michael Austin). Likewise, Caidin tended to introduce a new bionic feature in each of his novels. Occasionally, the comics ignored TV continuity completely, such as one issue that improbably had Austin use his bionic eye to locate and spot a specific man standing on a street in downtown Las Vegas from the countryside many miles away.
On the other hand, some stories were written with a clear view towards supporting the revenue stream of the television show. "The Effigy", from the second issue, revolves around a doll created in Steve's image. It even has certain bionic-like abilities of its own including a bionic eye that somehow becomes linked with Austin's. At the conclusion of the story, Steve breaks the fourth wall and reminds readers they can get the new Steve Austin doll by Kenner.
Stories were sometimes influenced by their media as well, occasionally giving in to standard comic book cliché in a way that was atypical of the realism established by the novels and early episodes. Steve's first mission, for example, involves fighting giant Chinese robots. In issue 3, Steve's new experimental aircraft inexplicably allows for time travel, which results in him encountering Oscar Goldman and Rudy Wells just prior to his accident. This issue establishes that in the continuity of the comic book, both Goldman and Wells were made aware that Austin's crash was going to happen before it occurred (it also follows the lead of the television series by ignoring the absence of Oscar in the pilot TV movie). The cover of issue 6 depicted Austin with a moustache similar to that briefly adopted by Lee Majors on the show, while the ninth and final issue pitted Austin against several new bionic men and women created for evil purposes.
George Wildman was the editor of all nine issues, While Joe Gill wrote the majority of the issues, Nicola Cuti penned issues 2 and 3. Joe Statton was the regular artist for the first four issues, after which major artistic duties rotated amongst artists such as Demetrio, Fred Himes, and Pat Boyette. Cover artists were in the main specially commissioned, which allowed famous names like Neal Adams, Hector Castellon, and Jack Sparling to render Steve Austin in ways atypical of the interior art. However, for the last three issues, the covers were illustrated by the regular story artists in pen and ink.
The exact reason for the short run of the book is well understood. While it might be believed that cancellation was caused by the television series themselves failing to be renewed for the 1978-79 season, many comic adaptations actually outlive their parent products by a number of years. Instead, the reason was that Charlton Comics had itself begun to grind to a halt in 1978. Following a massive exodus of artistic talent — in which every artist known to be connected to the "bionic books" left Charlton for DC — Charlton found itself in an untenable business situation. According to Comic Book Artist, Charlton "management ordered the comics line in 1978 to stop accepting new material".  Thus, The Six Million Dollar Man was no more because Charlton had effectively become a reprint-only comic house. This also resulted in the cancellation of the Bionic Woman comic book, the Six Million Dollar Man magazine, and most of Charlton's other licensed publications including comics and magazines based upon Space: 1999 and Emergency!. Charlton Comics survived until 1986 before disappearing from the scene altogether. By coincidence, the final issue of The Six Million Dollar Man was cover-dated June 1978, more or less coinciding with the final broadcast of the series.
A new attempt at a comic book adaptation entitled Bionix, was planned in the 1990s, but ultimately cancelled before any issues were published. In the early 2010s, Dynamite Comics obtained the rights to the characters and published The Bionic Man, a reimagined version of the story. After this title was cancelled in 2014, Dynamite launched The Six Million Dollar Man Series Six, a continuation of the original series that returned the SMDM name to comics for the first time since 1978.
Here is a brief description of the contents of each issue. Dates given are the cover dates for the issues, but in reality they would have been actually on newsstands one to two months before the cover date.
|1||June 1976|| The Beginning of The Six Million Dollar Man - abbreviated adaptation of Cyborg|
The Secret Web - It is in this story that Austin is shown firing a laser out of his bionic eye.
No Way Out - text short story
|2||August 1976|| The Effigy - features a "guest appearance" by the Kenner Steve Austin action figure and ends with a panel advertising the doll. This story includes a reference that Austin generally closes his real eye when he uses his bionic one (which contradicts a few of the TV episodes, such as The Pal-Mir Escort).|
Win a Few - text short story
|3||October 1976|| Second Chance - In this story, a test flight by Austin sends him back in time to just before his original accident. He attempts to stop it from happening but is prevented from doing so by Rudy Wells and Oscar Goldman. If this story were to be considered actual continuity, it would mean that not only were Wells and Goldman aware of the accident and bionic rebuild before they occurred, but they were also made aware that time travel was possible. Goldman's presence prior to the accident supports the opening credits of the Wine, Women and War telefilm that show Goldman communicating with Austin prior to the crash. Elements of this story are similar to The Deadly Replay.|
Forbidden Reef - text short story
|4||December 1976|| A Lovely Assignment - comic story|
The Ransom - text short story
|5||October 1977|| The Man Who Isn't There - comic story|
Counter Punch -text short story
|6||February 1978|| Spy in the Sky - comic story|
Wall of Fire - text short story
Note: cover depicts Austin with his fourth-season mustache, but the stories within do not
|7||March 1978|| Hostage - comic story|
The Deadly Image - comic story
The Escape - text short story
|8||May 1978|| The Final Test - comic story|
Crash Dive - text short story
Note: This issue and #9 were published after the series aired its final episode
|9||June 1978|| Match-Up - comic story - Austin finds himself battling two newly created cyborgs, a man and a woman, who plan to use their abilities for evil. Some elements of the story (specifically the revelation that more bionic people exist than the three known) would later be reflected in Bionic Showdown.|
Bait - text short story
- ↑ Cooke, Jon B. and Christopher Irving. "The Charlton Empire: A Brief History of the Derby, Connecticut Publisher. Comic Book Artist #9.
- Grand Comics Database cover gallery (includes some individual episode detail)