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The Sea Wasp (Ryk E. Spoor)
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Thursday, February 3rd, 2011

Time Event
Writer's Block: Heroes and villains
Who was your favorite childhood superhero, and why?

Meant to answer this back when it first appeared (Jan. 15th).

I had to think about this one for a bit, because there didn't seem to be a clear answer. Then a discussion on another subject gave me the answer:

Steve Austin, the Six Million Dollar Man.

I was the Golden Age (11 -12) when that show first came on. It was the first TV show that I can recall "discovering" all by myself. I happened to catch a preview of the upcoming movie, and it happened that the TV was free that night. So I watched it. And then they started the series, and it was MY series.

But it was more than that.

Though not BILLED that way, Steve Austin was a classic superhero in some ways; he had a secret origin, superhuman speed and strength, super sight. But he was played as much more; as an astronaut, it was assumed he was extremely bright, very well trained, with considerable technical skill and knowledge in multiple fields, and they USED these abilities. Steve's problems might end up being solved with the HELP of his bionic parts, but very few of them could have been solved SOLELY by his bionics. More often than not part of his solution was ... who he was.

Steve Austin represented the ideal American, not in some jingoistic sense, but in the sense that he was the very best of who we were. He was a cybernetic Captain America. His choices were often hard because he would be going against prejudice, against fear, and giving trust where other people wouldn't. And because of that, he often ended up with allies instead of enemies. Even his enemies he treated with respect most of the time. He was always willing to show mercy when warranted, but had no overdeveloped sense of guilt at having to permanently remove bad guys from the planet if they forced his hand (though he never, as far as I can recall, killed anyone directly -- set bombs to destroy bases, yes, but not killing people with his bare hands or weapons).

The writers also seemed more open to thought than was common in many shows. This was the height of the Cold War, the peak of the rivalry between the Soviet Union and the United States -- yet the very first time one of the shows involved Russians, it was with them in a sympathetic light, suffering a disaster that required cooperation on both sides. Oh, there were villainous Soviets, but the show almost never showed a villain as one-dimensional Evil. Even those who were clearly villains had their own unique quirks; Dr. Jeffrey Dolenz (AKA Chester Dolenz -- his name got changed in a later episode, alas for continuity) showed up three times and demonstrated an almost unheard-of rationality and detachment in his defeats; to him, it was all about the science of perfection in his simulations, and Steve's interference was in some ways simply a way of learning more about the limits of his robotic inventions.

Even in his Leading Man classic womanizing ways, Steve was always respectful and never gave the impression that the women he was involved with were merely pretty faces, and then went on to become engaged to Jaime Sommers, who would become the Bionic Woman -- an equally All-American heroine (whose memory loss was one of the most painful tragedies ever enacted on TV, in my opinion).

The series has aged startlingly well (despite the fact that many of the stories would have a hard time surviving this era of the cell phone). It has its clear "dated" references -- the ESP episodes, especially -- but even those are very well handled.

So that was my true childhood hero: Steve Austin. Astronaut, test pilot. In my own way I've saluted him already, as the test pilot of Holy Grail, and leader-by-default of the expedition, was Ariane STEPHANIE Austin.

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