You probably know Brett Matthews from his comic book takes on “Firefly/Serenity” or his acclaimed run on “The Lone Ranger” at Dynamite. Now, Matthews gets to combine both of those facets in a way by taking the Lone Ranger’s descendant, the Green Hornet, into the future. Coming in May, “The Green Hornet Strikes!” is another entry in Dynamite’s swiftly building franchise. We caught up with Matthews for the low-down.
Newsarama: Brett, with Green Hornet books covering the past and present, why is it important to also do one that takes place in a future setting?
Brett Matthews: I don't know that it's -- important! -- so much as it makes a lot of sense. Past, present, and future. It allows each book to be its own thing, and for the different versions of the character not to step on one another. Legacy has always been a big aspect of The Green Hornet, and so this approach also speaks to that and keeps that idea central to all the books. We really wanted each of the core books to have a reason for existing, not just be more of the same.
For me personally, I liked the idea of being outside the status quo from the very beginning. I wanted to do some different things with the character and mythology, things which would have been much harder to implement during the course of the canonical timelines. The near-future setting frees me from that concern. You know this is going to be a slightly different version from the moment you see the first cover. It makes it part of the agreement between the writer and the reader if you will, and opens up the playbook a bit.
I wanted to do something pretty original, but at the same time, steeped in the mythology and history of The Green Hornet.
Nrama: Why Chicago as the setting? Is there something particular about the city thematically that lends itself to being the right locale?
Matthews: The Green Hornet has always been about corruption on some level. If forced to place it into one genre, I'd say it's a Crime story. You'd be hard pressed to do better than Chicago as a backdrop for that genre. We wanted to call on the city's unique history. And visually, it's an interesting and diverse place. We also knew we needed a big city, and every other book takes place in New York. Chicago was just the right fit on a lot of levels. We settled on it very quick.
Nrama: One obvious thing to note would be that, as writer of the Lone Ranger, you’d included a couple of Easter eggs that hint at the relationship between that character and the later Green Hornet. Is there an establishment of how this character connects to either Ranger or Hornet legacy?
Matthews: I don't want to get into specifics, but you've seen what I've done in The Lone Ranger, and it's fair to expect that sort of connection to continue in GHS! It's not the focus of the book, to be certain, but I'm pretty sure I won't be able to resist given my love of the two characters...
Maybe eventually, we'll do a big Lone Ranger-Green Hornet event if the logistics work out. But that's down the road, when it can be done right and made really special. When all of these books are up and running and doing well on their own.
Nrama: The solicitation for the book mentions “financial crisis”. Are you using the opportunity to make speculative fiction reflect on current social situations, and in what way?
Matthews: The financial crisis we're dealing with today didn't resolve as neatly as we hope in the mythology of GHS! The rich have gotten even richer, the poor poorer. Society is extremely stratified in Chicago. It's not some massive shift from where we are today, because I want it to feel plausible. It's just a situation we're all dealing with reflected and extrapolated, turned ten or so degrees off of center. I think when you do something that has a little bit of a futuristic feel, it becomes important to give the reader elements that ground them and that they can hold on to and recognize and relate with.
Nrama: Kevin Smith and others have noted the basic similarities that Green Hornet shares with Batman in terms of mythos. Taking on a futuristic Green Hornet puts me in mind of Batman Beyond. Are there any alternative future tales that have had an influence on this interpretation of the character?
Matthews: Not really. Blade Runner is always part of the conversation when you're talking about a dystopian near-future metropolis, and with good reason. It's definitive in a lot of ways. But we're nowhere near that far into the future in GHS! -- no flying cars or anything like that, sadly -- and we're in what is still a recognizable city that we know from today. The last thing I'd want to do is make GHS! just like something else, when the whole reason for the setting was to allow me the freedom to do something different and original with the character.
Nrama: Dynamite is launching essentially five Green Hornet related titles pretty close together. What about the character and concept lends itself to all of these different takes, and what do you think will draw readers to this particular vision?
Matthews: I couldn't answer the first part. Really, that's for the creators of all the different books to tell you, and I can only speak to mine. Iconic characters often do lend themselves well to different interpretations, however, and I think The Green Hornet is fairly iconic. So it makes sense.
I think the draw with mine is that it's a little bit different than what you might expect from a book with its title. It probably skews a little younger, is a little more abstract. It's different, but at the same time, can definitely serve as a gateway into The Green Hornet for someone who's not familiar with the character, which would be awesome. I do think it will be a comfortable vision for most comics readers, something they'll get very quickly and respond to. I've also really tried to make it rewarding and a worthy addition for long-term fans of The Hornet who can keep just a little bit of an open mind, much the same as my approach on The Lone Ranger, though that's obviously a more classical interpretation than this.
Nrama: As a writer, how process-oriented are you? How do you approach this series in a way that’s different from the Lone Ranger (time periods aside)?
Matthews: It's not very different in terms of process. You get the idea, you do the research, you beat it into shape and then you write it the best you can. It's really about having that eureka moment at the outset and understanding what the book is about, what the core element or elements are. With both The Ranger and The Hornet, those things were crystal clear to me from the jump, I knew what I wanted to do with the characters in the macro, what the books would be about. In a lot of ways, it's about staying the course and not moving too far away from the misson statement as you go, not burying what's most important with other ideas.
Nrama: Tell us about artist Ariel Padilla.
Matthews: I think he's a good fit. We've gone back-and-forth a lot, trying to define exactly what the look of the book is. He can draw in a ton of different styles, which really helps. But more than anything, I wanted him to find a style that is uniquely his own for this book. I think he's done that at this point, and look forward to seeing the places it will take us.
Nrama: Knowing that some readers will seek out this book simply for the Green Hornet “brand”, how do you go about giving this one its own distinct flavor?
Matthews: Well, everything we've just discussed goes toward giving this book its own flavor and identity. I don't think that's a problem this book faces, because that was part of its mission statement and I think the point is made very clearly up front. GHS! is definitely not just another riff, it's its own thing, while at the same time being tied directly into the mythology of The Green Hornet as we all know and love it. It's not an 'Elseworlds' title.
Nrama: Why do readers and viewers continue to gravitate to things like the Lone Ranger and Green Hornet after all this time?
Matthews: Because people like great stories.
The Lone Ranger and The Green Hornet are GREAT characters in my opinion. They are classic, timeless, and in many ways everything we wish our heroes to be. That magical mix, that special sauce. Iconic, visually interesting characters that have touched on something fairly universal, something that resonates with a lot of different people. They have great origin stories which can be summed up fairly quickly, which I think helps immensely. They operate in specific genres, which aids in clarity. They have neat 'tech' for their time periods, and everyone likes the toys. I mean, one rides a massive white horse and the other a killer black sedan, and they both wear masks and just look cool. Never discount the power of that...
But more than anything, they're heroes in the classic sense. They are good people who fight evil and risk their lives to do it. The minute we all stop responding to that, we've got a big problem.