As I mentioned in my John Carter first look, I’m somewhat new to Dynamite’s properties; more accurately, their licensed properties. When I attended the Pulp Panel at Baltimore Comic-Con 2014, I was interested in the Green Hornet for the first time. My only previous exposure was the trailer for the Seth Rogan film. I knew it was an old character from the time of the radio serials, but not much else. But after hearing about Mark Waid’s take on it, I flagged it as something to check out.
Luckily for me, this year Dynamite did a Humble Bundle which included Kevin Smith’s Green Hornet. With the current near glut of comic book movies going to the silver screen, it was interesting to learn that Smith’s run on the comic was based on a Miramax movie script he wrote, but which was never produced. As a Kevin Smith fan, this intrigued me. Let’s first take a brief walk through the plot before looking at some of the themes Smith employs as well as any cinema-ness that sticks out compared to traditional comics.
The story open in what, at least to me, appears to be an unspecified time period. Smith seems to be deliberately leaving it open to interpretation whether this takes place in the 1930s of the original Green Hornet stories or a more modern time. The Green Hornet (Britt Reid) takes out the last crime family and retires. Unlike Batman, his appearance does not lead to escalation of ever crazier criminals. Perhaps unrealistically, he has now reach his goal and instead of being corrupted by power, he’s just happy that his city has been rid of all the crime families. His wife knows he’s the Green Hornet, but his son does not.
Fast-forward 20 years or so and we realize the opening must have taken place in the 70s or 80s because it’s now “today” and his son is essentially a male Paris Hilton: hounded by the paparazzi and a layabout living off his father’s money. Britt Reid Reid is then murdered by the Black Hornet. This is revealed to be a revenge killing for having stopped one of the crime families from the opening of the story (Black Hornet is the son of this crime boss). Interestingly, unlike many interpretations of Batman where Commissioner Gordon doesn’t know who Batman is, the DA did know who the Green Hornet was and sold this information to the Black Hornet.
Britt Reid Jr becomes the new Green Hornet to avenge his father and Kato’s daughter, Mulan becomes the new Kato. Things go slightly off the rails in terms of the main themes when it turns out that the Black Hornet didn’t only want revenge on Britt Reid Sr, but also implanted a bug that allows him to assume control of the new awesome airplane for the DOD and things go from revenge (and other themes) to the oft-used movie theme of “don’t develop super weapons lest they fall into the wrong hands”.
Smith isn’t shy about hitting the reader over the head with the main theme as it’s the name of the first volume: Sins of the Father. This trope is at least as old as the Bible, but it also occurs in real life – see the Hatfields and McCoys. What is most interesting about Smith’s use of the trope is the various ways it affects the children in this tale as well as how the adults dealt with it. Unlike other super heroes operating without super powers, Britt Sr does not involve his son in his crime-fighting. In fact, he keeps knowledge of it away from his son in hopes that he will not give his son the passion for following in his father’s footsteps. The legacy he selects for his son, newspaper magnate, is the one his son rejects. Of course, like a Greek Tragedy, this does not prevent the son from becoming the new Green Hornet and arguably pushes him in that direction. His father even had a contingency plan to whisk him out of the country (to China) if the father is ever attacked out of costume because it would mean his identity is compromised. So, for the sins of his father, Britt loses his father and is thrust into a crime fighting life (and probably would have been killed otherwise).
In an example of positive stereotyping, Kato’s daughter, Mulan, has been training her entire life to be the next Green Hornet sidekick. Even if I misread that, we still have the positive stereotype of asians being so amazingly good at martial arts that Britt Jr is not ready to be Green Hornet until he can beat Mulan at a sparring session. Either way, she ends up being the next “Kato”. She gets off the easiest when it comes to consequences of her father’s actions. She gets to be a kick-ass sidekick.
Finally, there’s the Juuma family. In an interesting mirror of his rival, the elder Juuma does not wish for his son to become embroiled in the rivalry. Unlike Reid, he does have his son working in the family business, but older Juuma realizes that revenge often leads to short-sighted thinking. They are planning on stealing a nuclear bomber that would allow them to exact tolls for every country – who cares if he had to be in jail for a while because of the Green Hornet. His sins cause Hirohito to have father gone for part of his childhood (jailed) and to develop an irrational hatred of the Green Hornet that ultimately costs them the most more important prize of the bomber.
The Green Hornet has some superficial similarities with Batman – they’re both rich, white men protecting the city from seedy elements. Smith is a huge Batman fan (he has a podcast called Fat Man on Batman) and has even penned some Batman stories. There are four main differences between the two masked men in Smith’s depiction of The Green Hornet. I think these differences are pretty interesting because we’ve had Batman for just as long as we’ve had the Green Hornet, but the Green Hornet never reached as wide a popularity so we consider the types of stories told with Batman to be more of a natural reflection of what a hero must be like. Green Hornet paints a slightly different picture.
A key part of the modern Batman is his lack of a traditional family and stunted emotional growth when it comes to relationships. In the modern mythology he’s raised by his family’s butler after his parents die. He then goes off into the wilderness to be reborn (a common trope at least as old as the Old Testament). When he returns he begins his suicidal quest against against the evil elements of Gotham City. Until he begins adopting children, he is not grounded and takes more risks. All of his father/son relationships leave something to be desired and his romantic relationships rarely pan out well. Batman never marries and the most compatible relationships to his lifestyle and neurosis are with villains: Talia al Ghul and Selina Kyle – aka Catwoman.
By contrast Britt Reid is depicted in Smith’s incarnation as a family man. He has a wife and a son and day job that requires his presence much more than Batman at Wayne Industries. Batman is often presented to be a child’s emotional response to the death of his parents. Yet Britt who (in this version) has no tragedy to spur him on, also engages in vigilantism. While Batman never wants someone to go through what he went through, Britt wants to clean up the city for his child. Finally, while Batman keeps his caped identity a secret from everyone (including most of those he adopts (until they figure it out)), Britt’s wife knows he’s the Green Hornet. It certainly helps to prevent the Batman Beyond storylines of “where were you last night?”
A common thesis is that Batman is the cause of his super villains. When he brought superior force and thinking to the fight against crime in Gotham he created a darwinistic pressure on the criminals to up their game if they wanted to continue to operate in Gotham. Thus all the common thugs fall away and, except for a crime family or two left in for legacy reasons, everyone works for the smartest (Riddler), most ruthless (Penguin), or most insane (Joker). Interestingly, Smith depicts the only response to the Green Hornet’s success is that some crime families try to team up. No masked villains appear to challenge him. (I am ignoring the Black Hornet of this story because it’s not a response to the Green Hornet, but an attempt to drag the Hornet name through the mud) So Smith reminds us that it’s not inevitable that Batman’s existence would have created his villains.
Another pretty big difference, and one that confused me as someone wasn’t familiar with the Green Hornet mythos, is that the Green Hornet assumes the guise not of a vigilante (like Batman), but that of another gangster. So while the Gotham Underworld knows they’re dealing with a vigilante, Green Hornet’s enemies think he’s merely another one of them who is more effective. Perhaps this is part of what prevents the escalation that occurs in Batman. Interestingly, Britt has his newspapers write editorials confirming that the Green Hornet is a criminal boss and condemning his actions.
The biggest difference, however, is that the Green Hornet actually accomplishes his job. I know on a meta level why this can’t be so in Batman. If Batman were to finally win, there would be no new Batman stories. The enemies need to constantly escape or new ones arise. It would make a nice story along the lines of Whatever Happened to the Man of Tomorrow to see Batman finally able to retire and perhaps raise a family. Although, given his relationship issues (as I quickly mentioned, but have been elaborated all over the net) – there’s a certain truth to the future as depicted in Batman Beyond where Bruce ends up all alone. But in Britt’s instance, he’s able to go back to being a regular family man and business owner.
Moving away from comparisons with his pulp-era contemporary, one of the best reveals near the end is the reveal that Mulan is a lesbian. I thought the reveal was great on a few different levels. First of all, it’s so rare for a male and female lead not to be romantic interests. Second, nothing about Mulan as depicted in these first two volumes conforms to any lesbian stereotypes. The reveal is a surprise and shock to both the main character and the reader. Second only to a need for more characters of color in our media is the need for diverse sexualities. Since the 80s there has been a gradual increase in the number of LGBT characters in media, but only most recently have we started to see them represented in as many variations as there are in real life. While there are certainly people who resemble the stereotypes (or they wouldn’t exist), I’ve found it much more common to only know someone’s sexuality only when they discuss their partner/spouse.
As refreshing as it was not to have the usual male/female sexual tension among the leads, I do think there is a lot of room for authors to explore the dynamics of a hero/sidekick relationship. I’m sure in the nearly 100 years of comics it’s been explored, but it seems really rare. There are definitely some potential stories in the power dynamics there.
Finally, I just wanted to take few words to explore some random things I noticed in these volumes. Smith’s a master of dialogue and so it’s no surprise that the banter during the introductory fight and the banter when Britt Jr and Kato are trapped are pretty classic Smith. Also, his sense of comedy adds a great commentary to the idea of companies needing to update old ideas rather than just sticking to them by having Britt Jr try out a bunch of updated costumes with each having its own drawbacks before he just goes with the classic costume. One of the most interesting bits of trivia any comic fan eventually learns is that Batman used to carry a gun and didn’t even have any issues with killing enemies. Since the Green Hornet is from that same pulp era, I think it’s interesting he shoots a dart gun rather than a regular gun. I wonder if this was a change Smith made or a gimmick the original had.
So that was one man’s take on a classic pulp character; one that was originally to appear on the silver screen. In about a month we’ll take a look at Mark Waid’s take on the Green Hornet to see how he brings this character from the 30s to the 2010s.
Questions or comments? I’d love to have a conversation with you in the comments section!
Green Hornet Volumes 1 and 2 written by Kevin Smith with art by Jonathan Lau and colored by Ivan Nunes. Buy from the following Amazon affiliate links to help support this site: Kevin Smiths Green Hornet TP Vol 01: Sins of the Father
and Kevin Smith’s Green Hornet Vol. 2: The Wearing O’ The Green