Go Back to YEAR ONE With GREEN HORNET, Wagner, & Campbell

1st Look: GREEN HORNET YEAR ONE #2 Var.

No sooner has Dynamite’s modern take on the Green Hornet via Kevin Smith and company arrived than we are also being treated to looks at various corners of Reid history.  Matt Wagner (of Grendel, Mage, and Sandman Mystery Theatre fame) and Aaron Campbell helm “Green Hornet: Year One”, which is their take on the original character of radio, television, and yes, comics.  We caught up with the duo for their insights on the characters, how this new approach fits with Smith and Dynamite’s vision, and what will be made of the connection between their character and another Dynamite mainstay, the Lone Ranger.

Newsarama:     With Green Hornet Year One, you appear to be exploring the roots of the original character.  What provided the template for the plot in terms of GH history?

Matt Wagner:  As I’ve mentioned before, I HAVE had some experience with these sorts of narratives in my career; the lone, masked avenger characters are just something towards which I tend to gravitate.  The key to working on different varieties of that theme is trying to determine what makes each of these characters different from one another.  In the case of the GREEN HORNET, I was struck with trying to determine exactly what makes him tick.  His unmasked alter-ego, Britt Reid is the heir to a newspaper fortune and his father was something of a crusading journalist.  So, if Britt’s has access to such a venue to effectively “fight crime” in that manner, what is it that causes him to pursue his crusade as a costumed vigilante?   In the old radio show and the movie serials, there really isn’t any set origin or definition of these motivations.  There may have been an origin in various earlier comic book incarnations, but I deliberately avoided reading those.  I wanted my take to be fresh and innovative.

Nrama:    How much of what you do will tie in with the fondly remembered TV show?

Wagner: Well, actually…very little.  That time period is closer to what Kevin Smith will be handling in his GREEN HORNET title.  As I mentioned, since my tale is set in the ‘30s, its motifs and structures are based on the original radio show and the subsequent movie serials.  Which isn’t to say that there aren’t similarities; the ‘60s TV show was, after all, a modern updating of the same character and the same narrative details.   Readers will still find Britt and Kato fighting crime as their costumed counterparts, they still ride in a sleek custom car called The Black Beauty and, yes…the Beauty has a hidden garage and a secret sliding-wall exit!

Aaron Campbell:  Yeah, and actually while I was working on the character designs for Kato it was really important to us that he not look like Bruce Lee.  As Matt has pointed out in the past, so many of the previous incarnations of The Green Hornet have always ended up with the Bruce Lee Kato.  Now, don’t get me wrong, Bruce was awesome, but it would be sort of like recasting Michael Keaton in Batman Begins.   

Nrama:    What's the Hornet's motivation compared with other masked adventurers?

Wagner: Like I said, that’s what we’re gonna explore.  Why does he go to this effort when he’s got another opportunity to pursue his goal without all the danger and intrigue?  One factor that really separates the Hornet from his costumed brethren is that, while characters like Batman, The Shadow, Zorro, The Sandman, etc…are viewed as criminals by the authorities, only the Green Hornet actively nurtures and adopts the position that he isn’t really a vigilante working outside the law for the cause of justice but is, in fact, an actual criminal himself.  We’ll explore how he comes to that decision and approach as well.

Campbell:  You know the Green Hornet’s motivation was something I struggled with a bit at first, and how you understand that can really alter the way you choose to portray a character.  I knew that the Green Hornet was allowing himself to look like a criminal; I didn’t quite get the extent to which he was fostering this image and how that colored the relationship between himself and Kato.  So I was starting to treat them like equal combatants in a fight.  But something Matt told me really made everything come together.  He said, “Remember that, according to the way these guys are playing their masquerade, The Hornet is the commanding mob boss and Kato is the ass-kicking muscle.”

Nrama:    Will you explore how Kato became GH's partner?  What dynamic makes that relationship work?

Wagner: To my mind, they really are partners…not master and servant.  I wanted Kato to be a vital part of the team and not just the Kung Fu muscle.  In the course of the first six-issue storyline, we’ll see how Britt and Kato’s relationship is formed and how they end up as masked partners against crime.   I needed to define why Kato would follow Britt’s lead as much as he does ‘cause here’s another big difference between The Green Hornet and other masked adventurers;  his “sidekick” is actually the tougher character!  So, why would Kato serve the cause of this rich, Western white guy whose butt he could whup in the blink of an eye?   We get into all of that and I was even able to weave the origin of their friendship in an actual historical event of the time.

Nrama:    Is the connection between Hornet and the Lone Ranger discussed?  To your minds, is that an important part of why Hornet is who he is, or is that just an interesting shade to the story?

Wagner: Ahhh…unlikely that we'll openly discuss it.  As some of our readers may know and some may not, both The Lone Ranger and The Green Hornet were created by radio dramatist Fran Striker back in the 1930s.  In fact, the Hornet is supposed to be the Ranger’s great nephew and, if you really look at and analyze their character traits, they have very much in common!  Still, the reality is that the publishing rights to both characters were sold off to different entities at one point and, thus, a publishing crossover is something that…remains to be negotiated!   At this point, we’re playing any sort of actual connection in a very implied sense; in fact, Lone Ranger scripter Brett Matthews has built up a certain character for the Ranger’s nephew, Daniel Reid, who in turn grows up to become a crusading newspaper publisher—and the father of Britt Reid.  As Brett portrays it, one of Dan’s main interests as a boy is entomology—the scientific study of insects!  I then wove that factor into the opening scene of our first issue.

Campbell:  One of the things that I’m trying to do as the artist is throw in little Easter eggs here and there that could allude to the connection as well.  I haven’t put in anything directly related to the Lone Ranger.  There’s no black mask on display in the background anywhere.  But, for instance, there’s a scene with Daniel Reid at one point where you’ll see a letter opener with a silver horse head handle. 

Nrama:    Are there any villains from the TV show or earlier stories that play a significant role?

Wagner: Traditionally, the Hornet didn’t usually face off with costumed villains…his focus was gangsters and racketeers.  In fact, part of the narrative intro to his radio adventures featured a line that claimed, “He hunts the biggest of all game…public enemies that even the G-Men can’t reach!”   Apparently FBI director J. Edgar Hoover voiced personal objection to that line so it was eventually changed to, “…public enemies who try to destroy our America!”   So, basically, I’m going to be following the Dick Tracy mold for the Hornet’s opponents—violent and deranged gangsters whose names or nicknames tend to define their character.  Batman’s creators followed the same trend but usually added colorful costumes as well.  I’m trying to ground this series in reality just a bit.  His initial adventures will involve a Chicago crime boss who’s inspired by Al Capone but with the volume turned up to “eleven”—Vincent “Skid” Caruso.

Campbell:  And let me just point out that I’m really enjoying drawing all these sleazy characters.  Mobsters with grumbly faces, big hooked noses, greasy mustaches, scars, cock-eyed stares, and a host of other uglinesses is right up my alley. 

Nrama:    In what era would you say the story is set?

Wagner: In the ‘30s.  Britt and Kato meet at a famous historical tragedy that takes place during 1937.  They eventually make their way back to Chicago and begin their crusade in 1938.

Nrama:    Did that influence the approach to the designs?

Wagner: Oh, sure!  John Cassaday, who’s handling the regular cover duties for the series, is an enormous Green Hornet fan and particularly loves the two Republic movie serials that were produced in ’40 and ’41.   He designed the look of the Hornet and Kato’s costumes for this title and based them rather distinctly on how they looked in those serials—even down to the look of the Hornet’s gas-gun.   Actually, that presented me with a bit of a dilemma because I wanted to change the fact that Hornet used a gas-gun, which I’ve never liked for two reasons; 1) he’s not wearing a gas-mask himself so how could use knock-out gas on his opponents in any sort of enclosed space? and 2)  hornets don’t put people to sleep, they sting them!  Luckily, I came up with an idea that solves the problem quite nicely, utilizing the gas capsules seen in the gun design from the serials, and delivering the appropriate sting!  So far as the look of the series goes, we couldn’t ask for a better interior artist than Aaron Campbell!   His attention to detail and historical accuracy really has made this a distinct and classy looking book!  Newsarama  recently ran a feature that showed how Aaron works, taking a page from idea through research and design and finally to fruition. I really think readers are gonna appreciate Aaron’s approach.  He’s just doing a fabulous job on the title!

Campbell:  Ah shucks, thanks Matt! 

Nrama:    If a reader has never experienced the Green Hornet, what do you think should bring them in?

Wagner: Well, aside from the multi-front GREEN HORNET event that Dynamite is coordinating, of course, there’s an increased awareness for the character due to the upcoming movie starring Seth Rogan and directed by Michel Gondry.  Even though none of the Dynamite books bear any relation to that production, the expanded publicity certainly won’t hurt.  Beyond that, I think modern audiences have developed an expanded interest in many types of narratives.  I remember not so long ago, I was trying to pitch a series idea to DC that was set in their universe’s Golden Age (same time period that I’m dealing with here), only to be flatly told, “No one cares what happened in the past.”   Obviously, this is before Vertigo eventually took a chance on my interests, which resulted in a very successful run of Sandman Mystery Theatre.   I think modern audiences have disproved that rather cynical editorial outlook and do, indeed, have a very healthy interest in narratives of many timeframes.   As you mentioned earlier, the ‘60s TV show is a fondly remembered incarnation.  In the pages of GREEN HORNET; YEAR ONE, readers will finally be able to learn the origins, motivations, and earliest adventures for one of popular culture’s best known and longest enduring characters!

Campbell:  Hey, and if none of that does it for ya, it’s written by Matt Wagner, colored by Francesco Francavilla, has covers by Matt, Stephen Segovia, John Cassaday, and Alex Ross, and hopefully I’ve done some justice to it as well!

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