The Six Million Dollar Man: Fall of Man comic sees its trade go on sale today from Dynamite Entertainment. Written by Van Jensen with art by Ron Salas, the series has many high points but none so talked about by fans and pros alike as Issue #3 which is, in effect, one loooooong panel.
I don't always start with a story. Sometimes, I'll have a concept or framing mechanism or some goofy notion, then figure out a way to bring it to life. Six Million Dollar Man #3 is one of those. I had this idea a while back, about writing a comic book that was just one long panel, an homage to Michael Allred's massive one-panel Madman story that reads like an epic sidescroller.
As I thought about it, I tried to think of a good framing device, a setting that works as one ultra-long horizontal image. That's what led me to the train. I grew up in rural Nebraska, with coal trains always rumbling past our house. A train would be perfect. I just didn't have a book that worked for this crazy idea.
When Dynamite approached me about SMDM, I immediately thought that this was the right place. An all-action story with a weird conceptual approach would fit with the adventures of Steve Austin, which were ground-breaking television back in the day.
I pitched the idea to the editorial team of Matt Idelson, Anthony Marques and Kevin Ketner, and they made the solid point that one massive panel, while fun, would read super fast and might disappoint readers. I also, first thing, called Ron Salas, our artist, and asked if he was up for it. I didn't want to push him into something he'd hate. (Ron gave me the green light, but Ron is also a saint.)
Rather than explain it all, I just decided it'd be easier to thumbnail the issue out myself. I started with a rough sketch in my notebook, then I taped together a bunch of sheets of copy paper and drew out a to-scale version of the story.
I decided to have a second story set inside the train as a way to build up the narrative complexity, so it became kind of an engineering challenge, having the stories intersect, building up tension and challenges, crafting some environmental shifts to vary up the visuals. I didn't really write a script, just submitted the thumbnails and then wrote up dialogue later.
Page 1: Start at the beginning. Or, for us, at the caboose. Steve is chasing Barney, pursuing a device that could free him of his cyborg parts. Inside the train, Holly Green (named for a friend of mine) fights some rogue O.S.I. agents.
Pages 2-3: I came up with this approach of dividing the story into spreads and having each one still read from the upper left to the lower right. This one, the action starts up there, has Steve thrown over the side and almost falling. The inset panels help to maintain that flow.
Pages 6-7: And here you see the reveal. The Soviet tentacle monster dropping onto Steve. Then there's the cool detail of the train roof collapsing, and Holly supporting it, which was one of the little clues at the later reveal of her being a robot.
Pages 8-9: A sequence of fighting up top, leading into the tunnel. Of course there had to be a tunnel! Which ends up decapitating the poor tentacle monster.
Pages 10-11: I wanted to give Holly a real gauntlet to fight through, so this sequence becomes a bit of an homage to the famous hallway fight in Oldboy (much imitated, never equaled).
Pages 12-13: Out of the tunnel, the helicopter is back, which is a bit of a nod to Mission Impossible. I liked the idea of a guy rappelling out of the helicopter with a gun. If that guy has an eyepatch and is secretly a cyborg? Bonus.
Pages 14-15: But then that tether becomes really dangerous, as Steve grabs it and swings it around a signal post, leading to…
Pages 16-17: It's like the action movie version of Chekov's Gun. If a helicopter appears in the first act (page 4), it's going to blow up in act two. Right?
Pages 18-19: Barney is injured and about to explode (nuclear core!), so Steve decides to lead him away from the rest of the train, potentially sacrificing himself. Holly decouples the train engine, creating space between them.
Pages 20-21: Barney, damaged from the helicopter, explodes, sending the train engine toppling. Steve dives for the device…
Page 22: And Steve walks away. Victorious. Behind him, the engine, the front of the train, is destroyed.