December 20, 2004

The Green Hornet!

"He hunts the biggest of all game....public enemies out to destroy our America!"

He's a character in pop culture who, in this blogger's opinion, never really got his due, much like the Shadow and Doc Savage. He has been featured in two movie serials, a television series, a radio show that ran 16 years, and comics (including an interesting take in the late 80's/early 90's. His theme song was even revived by Quentin Tarantino in Kill Bill. However, the Green Hornet has never received his due, not only as an interesting character, but also as one of the critical links from pulps to pop culture.

He started off as a radio character, created by George W. Trendle as a latter-day Lone fact, this is probably one of the first examples of the "intergenerational" hero ever presented. (Both the Lone Ranger and Green Hornet are separate "franchises", if you will, owned by different companies, so any acknowledgment of one in the other is unlikely). Britt Reid was the great nephew of John Reid, the Lone Ranger, inheriting not only the "mantle of justice" (for lack of a better term), but also a modus operandi. As a masked man, he would often be distrusted, but whereas the Lone Ranger asserted his essential "goodness", the Green Hornet used it as a way to insinuate himself in the criminal underworld, destroying it from within. (As a newspaper editor, I wonder if Britt Reid ever used his influence to kill "bad" stories about the Green Hornet?) His only weapons were a non-lethal gas gun and a car whose engine buzzed - granted, he was no Batman or Doc Savage, but he also was no slouch, either.

As always, the Green Hornet had an assistant - Kato, his Asian valet/driver (although there is an urban myth about Kato's background, to my knowledge, it was never specified on the radio). Early on, he served as a sounding board for the Green Hornet - almost a way for the audience to know what our hero was thinking at any time. (Almost a precursor to Doctor Who's assistant). Later, in the television show, Kato - as portrayed by Bruce Lee - served as a one-man "enforcer", if you will. (Pick up the Green Hornet DVD from Brentwood Video- the closest you will get to an "official" Green Hornet DVD - for more examples). Rounding out the cast were crotchety reporter Mike Axeford and secretary Lenore Case - in short, an almost extended family, some who were in on the secret, at least one (Axeford) who was not.

Speaking of the television series, it is hard to believe that the man who brought us the Green Hornet also brought us the Adam West Batman. (In fact, one episode of the latter included a team-up between Batman and the Green Hornet, with Robin "taking on" Kato. Poor Robin). The tone of the Green Hornet is reminiscent more of crime dramas than campy comic books - in fact, it was a tone that the Batman series should have taken. (In fact, the television Green Hornet had a "friend" in the District Attorney's office, like all good heroes should - none of this "whose side are you on?" nonsense). Whereas Adam West was droll, Van Williams held a steady ground; whereas Adam West gave it a slight twist, Van Williams (as Britt Reid/Green Hornet) played it absolutely wonder it only lasted for one season. People didn't want their action heroes with any sense of realism; they wanted goofball scripts, slightly off-kilter humor, and guest stars as villains. The only other concession to the 1960's was the Black Beauty (a sleek, almost stealthy car with several cool features) and "the Hornet's sting", a combination walking stick/taser/whatever-the-script needed. (Sadly, rumor has it the original films of the Hornet series are gone, and it's doubtful that Fox would even release a complete DVD set of the series).

Why, then, do I think the Green Hornet is such an important character? Like I mentioned, he helped make the link from the pulp adventurers to pop culture. (Although the pulps were an important part, the Green Hornet helped make the leap - if you think I'm joking, just see the Alec Baldwin Shadow movie). He was one of the first truly "multimedia" characters, appearing in mulitple media, and able to carry every one. He is one of the first modern heroes (and I'm willing to take other proposals) to be related to, and perhaps part of, a greater legacy - an idea that eventually filtered its way through modern comics. (JSA, anyone?)

In short, he is the ultimate hero - a crusader willing to bend the line (without breaking it) in order to insure justice. We need the Hornet, now more than ever.

But how do you reconcile a 1960's Green Hornet with a 1930's Green Hornet? The now-defunct Now Comics came up with a clever solution - one was the other's father. Building upon the intergenerational nature of the hero, they suggested that the Hornet mantle was passed down, with newer generations taking up the mantle, putting their own "spin" on the Hornet, etc. (It was an ingenious use of continuity that many comics could learn from). It's also why Kevin Smith is such an appropriate choice for writing the screenplay: unlike Burton's Batman, the Green Hornet isn't necessarily an angst-y character. Smith's tendency towards more dialogue-driven, relationship-based plots seem to fit a hero whose world is defined by his relationships - within and outside the law, his "family" (both extended and biological), and especially with the Kato family. (The comic had a great in-joke relating to the infamous urban myth related above). It's one of those series that is worth browsing through the bargain bins of your local comic store - it may not have been the greatest series, but is a great example of continuity and history being used in the service of the character.

Something most comic companies could learn a lesson from.

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