The Six Million Dollar Man was made in Wyandotte.
“My dad passed away there when mom was eight months’ pregnant with me,” explains iconic actor Lee Majors, who is best known — depending upon your generation — as nuclear-powered ex-test pilot Col. Steve Austin in the classic ’70s action series, hunky illegitimate heir Heath Barkley in the ’60s western The Big Valley, or Hollywood stuntman-slash-bounty hunter Colt Seavers in the ’80s hit The Fall Guy. “Then when I was 16 months old, my mom was hit by a drunk driver and killed while she was waiting to go to work as a nurse. So I was immediately kind of shipped away to distant relatives in Kentucky.
“The only time I went back [to Detroit] was three, four years ago, because I never knew where they were buried and we found them. But they didn’t have markers so I came back and had some markers put in,” Majors says. “It brought a little closure. So those are the only Detroit stories I have. I’ve been twice, and neither of them were too happy times.”
His third visit is almost guaranteed to be the charm — or at least considerably more charming. This time Majors is venturing into the wide-open spaces of the Suburban Collection Showplace in Novi between May 16-18 to help Detroit celebrate the 25th anniversary of the most illustrious of our pop culture traditions: the Motor City Comic Con.
In case you haven’t been paying attention since Mom sold your Spider-Man collection at a garage sale, Comic Con has become an incredible hulk of entertainment over the decades. Worlds apart from the stereotypic gaggle of pasty geeks attacking boxes of musty pulp fiction, today’s comic convention is a multimedia whirl of graphic art and artists, elaborately costumed fans saluting their favorite characters through “cosplay” (costume play), movie and TV collectibles, and celebrity guests galore.
Motor City founder and convention promoter Michael Goldman and event director Miriam Kruger say at least 200 exhibitors will descend upon Novi for the three-day spectacle, and expect attendance to soar past the 32,000 who flew through the turnstiles last year, attracted by the festivities.
And for their silver (surfer) jubilee, they appear to be soaring to new heights. In addition to Majors, the superhero RSVP list includes:
The Six Million Dollar Man’s distaff half, former Bionic Woman heroine Lindsay Wagner.
Karl Urban, who stars as Det. John Kennex in the Fox TV hit Almost Human and can list Dr. “Bones” McCoy in the new Star Trek movies and Eomer in two of the Lord of the Rings films among his sci-fi/fantasy credentials.
Andrew McCarthy, the eclectic actor who has appeared in 40-plus films, including Weekend at Bernie’s, St. Elmo’s Fire, and The Spiderwick Chronicles.
Christopher Sarandon, whose impressive credits includes Dog Day Afternoon (which earned him an Oscar nomination) and The Princess Bride.
Burt Young, the classic character actor best known as Sylvester Stallone’s brother-in-law, Paulie, in each of the Rocky movies.
Pro wrestling legend Bret “Hitman” Hart.
A who’s who of comic book creativity, featuring such best-in-the-business names as Chris Claremont (X-Men), Mark Waid (Kingdom Come), Frank Brunner (Marvel Comics), and Detroit’s very own Arvell Jones (Kobalt).
And … and … William Shatner.
Can a quarter-century celebration of pop-culture kitsch get any kitschier than to have its most iconic figure, Star Trek Capt. James Tiberius Kirk, boldly go to Detroit’s Comic Con for the first time? Clearly, the stars aligned to make it so.
“We actually were looking at booking William last year, but he had already committed to another convention,” explains Goldman, who has nurtured the Comic Con from its relatively modest beginnings at the Dearborn Civic Center.
“Last year we had [Marvel Comics’] Stan Lee, but we feel like William Shatner is that kind of pop culture icon that really draws even from people who would not normally attend our kind of convention,” Goldman says. “I think we’re going to have, overall, the best guest list we’ve ever had this year.”
Goldman acknowledges that the San Diego Comic Con, with its proximity to Hollywood and massive size, may be better known (“When they doubled the size of their convention center, they had so much floor space the big companies started coming in,” he says). But Detroit is more than worthy of superhero worship. He says that per capita, southeast Michigan boasts the largest number of comic book shops in America. What’s more, in the epitome of the little-known fact, “Detroit had the first comic book show 50 years ago,” Goldman contends.
“Now, New Yorkers like to fight about it and say that they had the first, but in fact what was first considered a comic book show, an organized event where maybe 100 people showed up, was in a hotel banquet room here I believe in the spring of 1964,” Goldman says. “About a month later they had the first one in New York.”
Goldman started collecting comics as a kid, gave up the pastime in high school — “Girls and other things became more interesting,” he says. But he picked it up again when his father, Art, who owned Victory Hardware in Detroit, bought a huge stockpile of magazines from a customer for $100.
“I thought, ‘What am I going to do with the thousands of comics my dad bought that I don’t want?’ ” Goldman recalls. “In 1986, I set up my first table in Royal Oak at one of those little one-day shows that still run today. A couple of years later, the guy who ran those shows decided he wanted to open up a comic book store and sold the local shows to me.”
And that bionic guy? He’s looking forward to this year’s show. “You know, I only started doing a few of them here in the last couple of years,” Majors says. “I’d never done them before, but I found that I had a little more time and they were kind of fun. They’re hard work, but you get to meet a lot of nice people and say hello to a lot of fans, so it’s gratifying in one way. Plus, you get to travel around the country, you know, some places you haven’t been.”
Or at least haven’t been for a while.