It’s happens all the time in Hollywood. A hot indie director gets signed to a big-budget action extravaganza. Scripts are written. Casting choices are rumored. And then, one day…poof! The project goes away. For whatever reason, the grand idea never makes it out of development hell and into production, and eventually the whole project disappears, never to be thought of again.
However, in the world of writer and director Kevin Smith, those forgotten projects have a way of not remaining forgotten. With legions of fans who have followed the ups, downs, ins and outs of his “New Jersey Trilogy” characters, from multiplexes to animation to comic books and beyond, even the slightest inkling of a future Smith project is remembered and asked after years after it fell by the wayside. And with his background as a comics writer as well as film director, perhaps no other Kevin Smith project has gotten asked about as much as his 2004 attempt at helming a big screen adaptation of classic radio, TV and comic superhero the Green Hornet.
While Smith may sometimes balk at the frequency with which he is asked about lost projects, in this cas,e a fan carrying the torch for his Green Hornet tale helped to resurrect it. That fan? Dynamite Entertainment publisher Nick Barrucci, who, after locking down the rights to the legendary property just in time to capitalize on the new Hornet film starring Seth Rogen, went straight to Smith to help reintroduce the hero to comic fans. Now, with a ten-part series by Smith and artist Jonathan Lau ready to land in comic shops this March, CBR caught up with the writer/director/actor to talk about the process by which his original Green Hornet screenplay was turned into a Dynamite comic, his own personal history with Britt Reid and his now right hand gal Kato and what exactly the draw for audiences is to a character who’s existed for so long on the periphery of pop culture.
CBR News: Between your “Batman: Cacophony” and “The Widening Gyre” series and now the “Green Hornet,” fans are getting a regular dose of you in comics form for the first time in quite a while. Was there something specifically that’s drawn you back to doing comics work right now, or is it more a matter of a few “right project, right time” scenarios lining up at once?
Kevin Smith: It was really a right time, right place scenario. It all kicked off with “Cacophony,” and that kicked off with seeing some billboards for “Dark Knight” and getting really amped up about [Christopher] Nolan’s “Dark Knight” movie before it came out, and then working with Walter Flanigan -Â the guy who introduced me to comic books and my long time friend. So that kind of got me back into it. Then from “Cacophony,” I was drawn right into “The Widening Gyre” because we were having so much fun with it and scheduled it correctly so I wasn’t fucking up in terms of being late or whatever this time. Then, Nick got in touch with me and said “Hey man, Dynamite picked up the license for the Green Hornet,” and I’m sitting there thinking “Oh, fucking not Green Hornet! Green Hornet fucking haunts me. I can’t get away from the fucking Green Hornet, man.” I was like, “That’s awesome, good for you man, that’s fantastic, what’s my part?” And he said, “Would you like to work on a book?” And I said “Nick, I just can’t. It’s impossible. There’s no time to do it. I’d say yes, and you wouldn’t get a script for six to eight months and then you’d miss deadlines. You’re going to get screwed if I do that. You don’t want to get involved with me – I’m a loner, I’m a rebel.” That kind of shit. Then he said “What about…isn’t there a script for a movie you had written. And I said “Oh my God, yeah! That might be interesting actually. In a Gus Van Sant remakes ‘Psycho’ sort of way.”
The idea of taking the script for the movie that didn’t happen and turning it into a straight comic book story, I was way for it. I mean, look, we got a great Green Hornet movie coming from Michel Gondry with Seth Rogen as the hero. The movie’s happening. Let’s take this movie that’s never going to happen, and turn it into a comic book. So, suddenly I got way behind that, and I was like “What a great idea. I could totally do that. Take the script, God bless, let me know how it goes.” Then they send me the breakdown and I was like “Oh, I can’t do this from the sidelines. I need to be more intimately involved.” So here we are.
I was a little struck that it didn’t occur to you to adapt the original screenplay you’d done right off the bat. Do you just usually figure that projects that didn’t come together have to stay that way?
It would never occur to me to adapt my screenplay into a script because, in that world, I got paid handsomely to write a Green Hornet script. They own the Green Hornet script at that point. It’s not mine to do with as I please. Even if it doesn’t get made, it doesn’t come back to you. They paid me a shit load of money to write a script, so they keep it. S,o in that instance, the likelihood of them going, “Yeah, sure, take it and turn it into a comic book after we paid hundreds of thousands if not millions for it” – it’s just not realistic. What we had here was a situation, a perfect situation, where they had the script. It had been around for a while. It wasn’t happening because they had lost the rights to make the movie, even thought they still owned the script. Somebody else had picked up the character and they were going to make a movie, but they were starting from scratch with their own script. So Miramax had something that was just going to sit in a fucking drawer and do nothing. We approached them and said “Hey man, would you mind if we took it and turned it into a comic book series?” and they were so down with it. They were really cool.
The only thing they asked was for, they said “Look, we did pay you to write it, so don’t get paid to write it again.” I said “I think you are absolutely right, everything I make from the book you guys have.” So I’m not making a fucking dime to write the comic book. My page rate, what I would have gotten, is going right back to Miramax to offset whatever they paid for that other script. Which, it’s not like I owe them for that other script – they paid me to write it, they just never made that movie. But still, they should recoup a little bit, if I was going to get paid to write the script they should get that money, I got paid already. Some people, I’m sure, are like, “What a fucking sick, vulgar cash grab.” Well, it’s like, good luck dude; I ain’t making any fucking money off it. It’s not vulgar at all…it’s manufacture for use. I wrote a script, let’s see it. We might as well put in out there. Let’s have somebody visually realize it. And you’re covering both audiences. People that like me get to see one more thing that I said I was going to do and didn’t…you know, Captain Blowhard. And people who hate my guts can go like “Ugh, I knew it, I knew it. I knew his movie would have fucking sucked, everything he does is crap.” So, boom: everyone’s covered. It’s happy. It’s win, win. It’s epic win.
A lot of people who know the character come to him by way of the ’60s TV show. What was your first introduction to the character and what past iterations made the strongest impression on you?
I guess the first place I saw Green Hornet would be the Batman TV show. Hands down, it would be the Adam West Batman TV show. I mean, we didn’t have Wikipedia in those days -Â you’re talking 1976 -Â let alone the internet, so you couldn’t be “Who is this Green Hornet?” You couldn’t fucking Google him and say “Holy shit! I like this Green Hornet!” At first I was just like “Wow, how come I’ve never seen the Green Hornet in the Batman universe in the DC Comics and shit?” And then, I think it was my father who said “Green Hornet, I used to listen to him on the radio.” And I was like “What?” and he was like “Yeah, he was a radio guy, Green Hornet and Kato,” and I was like “Yeah, who’s Kato.” And he was like “Oh, that’s Bruce Lee.” And I was like, “Who’s Bruce Lee???” One of those conversations with my father. So I’m imagining myself as being six years old and seeing it as I saw. I watched the Batman TV show every day after school. They ran from like 3:30 ’til 4:00 PM in my kitchen on a little black and white TV. And there were only so many of those Batman TV shows; I think they only did it for three seasons. So if you’re running it as a daily strip you see them multiple times over the course of a year.
I would get amped for the fucking Green Hornet episode because it was, for all intents and purposes for the Adam West TV show, a crossover. It was a classic, comic book crossover. Granted, it was kind of dopey – I mean they turned them into stamps and shit like that – but it was just badass to watch Batman and Robin interacting with other superheroes or costumed avengers. You never saw that in the Batman TV show. You always saw them like beating on the rogues gallery, but aside from Batgirl, you never saw him interact with other people. So seeing them interact with Kato and Green Hornet – and they made him kind of pimp, in as much as they could hold their own against Batman and Robin in that show – instantly captured my imagination. You know, Green Hornet is kind of like the Boba Fett of the comic book world. I’m not talking the other Fett; I’m talking true, classic Boba Fett circa “Empire Strikes Back” and “Return of the Jedi.” A character who captured the – he didn’t do much in that series, but really captures everybody’s imagination based on his look and based on what he can do and that rocket pack on his back and fucking “He’s no good to me dead.” Just little bits, you know, even though when you look at it as a whole you think “That character kind of blows.” It’s just, there’s enough cool factor there for you to get into it.
Same thing with Green Hornet, he’s always had that going for him. You can’t pinpoint one thing and be like, “Oh, everyone loves the Green Hornet because his parents were killed in the alleyway and he swore he’d never let people be killed again” and “Yes I will become a bat.” There’s no emotion, cool, romanticism to it. But, they just like it. The idea of a dude in a fedora and long coat and shit and he puts on that little mask…you know, how pimp and fucking self assured he is. He doesn’t cowl it up with a headpiece; he literally puts on a Domino mask, which is almost like daring people to recognize him as Britt Reid, publisher of the city’s biggest paper, the only paper in the city. So, for me, as I’m sure it is for a lot of people, there’s just enough cool elements, that’s it’s more the parts that make up the whole in the case of the Green Hornet. I think my Boba Fett analogy is apt.
It’s been a few years since you wrote your version of the Green Hornet screenplay. How has your view of the property changed since then, and how is this story going to be similar or different than the version you’d planned on filming?
The similarity is in that it is going to be exactly like the fucking screenplay that I wrote except with additions. I’m going to be able to throw new stuff in there. I’ll probably do a dialogue pass, too, because I can’t imagine the 2010 me is very comfortable with the dialogue that I wrote in 2004. I’ll probably be like “Ugh, I can do better.” And I think that will pretty much be it. It’s going to be a straight up adaptation of that script if we do our jobs correctly, and [editor] Phil [Hester] and Jonathan [Lau] are definitely as talented as can be and up for the task as we all assume they are. We should see something that’s pretty much going to look like the movie I would have made. And let’s be honest. It’s going to be better, because I’m sure Jonathan’s a far better artist than I am a director. [Laughs]
One big piece of the Green Hornet world that is sometimes used and sometimes set aside is the idea of the Hornet as a legacy character. How are you dealing with that in your book? Is this Britt Reed going to be struggling to take his place in a line of heroes, or is your take on the character more of a standalone player?
I would say probably a standalone player. He’ll have Kato, so he’ll never quite be standing alone, but I’m not looking to make him part of a larger universe. At the same time, that’s not my call to make. Once I’m done with my story, those dudes are going to have to continue on with the universe, so they might want to build a larger universe for the character to play in.
As you mentioned, the Green Hornet never literally stands alone thanks to Kato being such a big part of the series. The right-hand man has gone through his own levels of changes and iterations throughout the Hornet’s comic life, and now we’re looking at Kato being a right-hand woman. What are you doing to make this Kato stick out this time around as compared to the classic Bruce Lee model?
I don’t know. They had done a female Kato in the Now! comic books back in the ’90s, and I always enjoyed that. I always thought “What a great idea.” And so we did it for the feature. Now, since we’re taking the feature script and turning it into a comic book instead, it’s going to wind up there, and I guess Nick was happy with the idea that…they’ve got like three different Green Hornet books that they’ll be going in. One is set in the Golden Age in the past, one is kind of our version and one is like a quasi-futuristic version. Or one is a classic version that’s kind of Britt Reid and Kato, and mine takes over from Britt Reid and Kato and it’s the next generation. So, I think that Nick must feel like “Look we got enough boy Katos in the mix. Let’s let the girl Kato in the mix.” What’s the worst that could happen? She gets laid? And that’s a good thing. It gives you a lot of different stories to tell that you won’t be able to tell if it’s just two dudes. You could never do the like, you know, “In the Heat of the Moment, We Accidentally Fucked” storyline with Batman and Robin. I mean, you can, but DC would sue you. You can do that with Green Hornet if it’s a male Green Hornet and a female Kato.
While TV and film versions of the character usually keep things very pared down and “street level” for budget reasons, will you be pulling in some more big action or maybe even sci-fi superhero elements since this is a comic?
Yeah. I mean, since it was written as a feature and a big, bombastic feature, Miramax wanted to spend like $70/$80 million dollars. It was written to be “mainstream-y” which would include less of the guy at street level and more of the “Oh my God, there are jets in this fucking picture which you normally you wouldn’t associate so much with the Green Hornet.” It was a movie, so they wanted it to be larger than life. So yeah, there will be more sci-fi-ish elements to our miniseries since it’s based on the script, which was meant to be a more of a quasi-comic affair in terms of how you can’t just do comic book storytelling. For a mainstream audience, you have to include elements that they are very familiar with in sci-fi/action movies.
“Green Hornet” #1 hits comic shops in March with covers by Alex Ross, John Cassaday, Stephen Segovia and J. Scott Campbell and interior art by Jonathan Lau.