I thought Aaron Campbell did some solid artwork on Dynamite’s “Sherlock Holmes” series, but he’s reinvented himself on “The Green Hornet: Year One” with moody art that has a retro feel that plays into the comic well. On “Sherlock Holmes,” he had a realistic style that was lush in its line work, but, here, it’s much looser in its effort to convey strong, powerful lines. It’s surprising how much he’s changed and how well it works with Matt Wagner’s script, set in the mid- to late-1930s.
While the comic is titled “Year One,” it jumps between the pre-vigilante days of both Britt Reid and Kato, and their first year operating as vigilantes. That structure keeps the issue moving as we see Britt in Kenya in 1936 trying to set up a free press and being forced to flee for his life after a friend is killed by those operating on behalf of local warlords. He shows a resourcefulness in his escape and also encounters the insect that would provide his alter-ego in two years.
Kato, on the other hand, is a soldier in the Emperor’s army as it invades China and he is forced to kill innocents. Prior to the invasion, there’s a fun scene where Kato is mocked by his fellow soldiers for practicing his swordplay, but that’s quickly juxtaposed with a letter home discussing the horrors that he’s seen — and committed. Giving Kato equal time in the backstory makes him feel like less a sidekick and more a partner.
Meanwhile, in 1938 Chicago, the Green Hornet and his sidekick are taking on the mob, stopping a shipment of weapons. Compared to the brutality of both characters’ pasts, their adventures in Chicago have a noticeably lighter feeling with jokes and a sense of fun. That contrast is smart by Wagner, shedding some light on why they’re doing what they’re doing. Obviously, both men have seen their share of death and tragedy, making it essential that they have a bit of fun with their crimefighting. It would be tempting to make the characters sullen and dark, and I’m glad Wagner resists it.
As I said, Campbell’s art really sells Wagner’s writing, but Francesco Francavilla’s colors add to the mood of Campbell’s pencils. Francavilla does spotty colors, with backgrounds colored uniformly and doesn’t use many computer effects. This broader coloring technique adds to the classic, retro feel of the art. Take the opening scene with the criminals as Campbell makes great use of light and shadow, while Francavilla uses a very limited range of colors to give a sense of the time and the mood of the scene. Immediately, the art jumps off the page, distinguishing itself from other superhero books.
“The Green Hornet: Year One” is shaping up to be a better read than Dynamite’s pumping out of Green Hornet titles would suggest. Matt Wagner is treading similar ground to his excellent work on “Sandman Mystery Theater,” while Aaron Campbell has raised his art to a whole new level.