The question, What comic book series should become a television series?, is a GREAT question, because, from looking at my own comic book collection, too many times the question really is, How soon are we starting a comic book series based on this film or television series? I have to admit that one of the first comic books I read was Star Wars. I was reading Batman, Spider-Man and Superman; but after SEEING Star Wars, I wanted to READ Star Wars as well. The same was true for Star Trek, Battlestar Galactica, Indiana Jones and The A-Team from Marvel; Star Trek from DC, and now IDW, as well as CSI, 24, The Lone Ranger from Dynamite and Green Hornet from Now, Dynamite and Moonstone and Die Hard: Year One from Boom! I've followed Batman's animated series in the comic, along with Superman, Spider-Man, the Justice League, Teen Titans and now Young Justice. So, it really isn't any wonder that when actor William Katt got the late Stephen J. Cannell's blessing in 2008 to revive The Greatest American Hero after twenty-five years as a comic book, I was there for the first issue.
The story is pretty much the same today as it was in 1981, with only a few details changed. A young, idealistic high school special education teacher - Hinkley- is given a super suit by aliens and is joined on his crime fighting adventures by a gruff, cynical, old school FBI agent - Maxwell.
The first issue opens pretty much the same way as the pilot episode did. Bill Maxwell's partner, John Plame, is discovered as an infiltrator by a white supremacist cult. He is escaping the cult across the desert on a motorcycle here, where in the pilot it was all three-wheel dune buggies. Maxwell is waiting to meet his partner at a diner in town. He gets a text message but since he can't figure out how to work his cell phone, a waitress has to help him open the message.
This is the big, major difference of twenty-five years: the cell phone boom. Old school Bill Maxwell is more a fish out of water in the modern age. His cell phone is just one of the signs. At school, every student has a cell phone and Ralph has to start the field trip bus ride by collecting them all. After he saves Tony from certain discipline, when another teacher accuses him of blowing up a toilet in the boy's bathroom, with the teacher in the very next stall. Ralph tells Tony that he should NOT be the kind guy people come to when bad things happen.
While the cult leader disciplines his lieutenant for his error in trusting John Plame, Maxwell tracks his missing partner to Castaic Lake, where Ralph and his class are on field trip learning about aplliance safety testing. Maxwell grills them about his partner's whereabouts. Later, on their way back into town from the desert, the school bus breaks down, and they're all stuck without even cell service. Ralph decides to go for help, and is nearly run down by Maxwell before his car breaks down. An alien ship descends over them, and communicates to them through the car radio. Bill's partner is transported down from the ship and gives them a suit for Ralph to use and tells them that they've been selected to make a difference, together. The suit will only work for Ralph; and, If he decides not to use it, it will self-destruct in two weeks. He leaves them, still gaping in Bill's car.
This is a great nostalgia piece. The Greatest American Hero is one of those shows, almost like Firefly, that was on television; bounced from one time slot to another to find an audience, and then cancelled. Reruns are few and far between. Maybe on the SyFy channel. Maybe on Comedy Central. Maybe streaming on Netflix. It developed a cult following on its original run, that has only deepened over time. Clint Hillinski's art is spot on. Ralph and Bill look exactly like the actors that played them. But all the other characters look flat and undefined, except the cult leader - who looks like Billy Bob Thornton from Armageddon. Ralph's class, which were stereotypes on the television show are given even less attention to detail here. There is an opportunity here to fully and completely tell this story, and with three other writers helping adapt the pilot script, it looks like William Katt could do just that. Unfortunately this is just a straight-forward adaption, with a few cosmetic updates to make it seem as if it were happening now, rather than 1981. What would have been cool to see in this story is how the aliens picked Ralph and Bill. Maybe THAT would have been to close to the Hal Jordan origin to go into. DC sued unsuccessfully for character infringement. The Greatest American Hero is enough of a combination of Superman, the Shazam! Captain Marvel and Green Lantern, with a little Welcome Back Kotter and The Odd Couple thrown in. The basic story is Ralph, The Suit and Bill and wackiness ensues. The details don't matter. Which is a shame for The Greatest American Hero, that's a pretty tight formula and dynamic to be stuck in, leaving the surrounding details undefined.
But, there is a curiosity to see what happens next...believe it or not.