Comic book readers may be more prone than any entertainment consumers when it comes to accepting outlandish physical action as part of the reality of a story. From the high-flying superheroes that populate most monthly comics to the rugged adventure types who still manage to escape the laws of physical reality along with deadly traps and attacks, accepting a world that’s more than real is par for the course when it comes to the funny books. But this April, writer Matt Wagner and the team of interior artist Aaron Campbell and cover creator/designer John Cassaday plan on peeling back the layers of pulp to deliver a ground level take on classic crime fighting with Dynamite Entertainment’s “Green Hornet: Year One.”
Set in the 1930s, when the famed radio (and later movie, TV and comic) hero made his real world debut, “Year One” will set itself apart from the highly publicized “Green Hornet” series helmed by film director Kevin Smith by embracing the period nature of its existence. “Anyone who’s familiar with my work will know that I like to include a sense of history in whatever tale I’m telling,” Wagner told CBR News. “That’s definitely true in this case as well. I’ve grounded Britt Reid in the world of the 1930s and have even centered his and Kato’s first meeting around a significant real-world event. And, as you said, the classic Hornet stories always had a certain grounded quality to them; he didn’t fight outlandish supervillains and such, but rather took on the organized crime scene as a whole. I don’t find the melding of that aspect and the more pulp-y elements very difficult to reconcile. I know that Kevin Smith’s series is going for a much more superheroic/cinematic sort of approach, so I’m pretty happy to keep the approach for ‘Year One’ to a much more realistic level.”
The first step in creating the right tone for the book came with Cassaday’s character designs. The artist explained that he came to this Dynamite assignment with an added level of fan excitement all his own. “[Green Hornet] was just sorta sitting on the shelf. No one had done anything with him in so long, and he’s such a cool character. I liked him well enough in the various comics interpretations, but always felt he’d been best portrayed on film and television. I wanted to read a great Green Hornet comic. And I wanted to do the covers,” the artist said.
Cassaday took his primary inspiration in drawing this Hornet from the 1930s Universal movie serials where, unlike the more widely seen TV series of the ’60s, the hero wore a full facemask to hide his identity. “What I always liked most about the look of the Green Hornet was that he could blend in with anyone else in the room, except for a mask. Take that away and he’s just another mobster in a fedora and coat. He’s a mystery, not clearly a hero or good guy. I love the 1939 Universal serial, and I think it best represents this idea of the mystery man who blends into the underworld while tearing it down, so Matt’s book is a perfect fit in that sense.”
Wagner agreed that the design elements from the actual time period help separate the ’30s Britt Reid from his modern heroic brethren. “I was fully onboard with that design element because I’m also a big fan of that look. It’s got such a wonderful pulp flavor, and I’ve always loved that approach. These days, we’re so used to seeing superheroic outfits that look like they were designed and molded in the latest NASA labs; its kinda hard to believe that these characters could be acting on their own impetus. This version of the Hornet’s outfit (and Kato’s of course) really evokes the idea that these are homemade costumes and these guys are on a mission all by themselves, alone against all odds. That whole aspect brings a certain drama and moodiness to the narrative, and I just love that kinda stuff.”
At the heart of “Green Hornet: Year One” is the growing relationship between the young Britt Reid and his partner Kato. Wagner explained that fans of his acclaimed Vertigo series “Sandman Mystery Theater” may see a twist on that formula in his new work. “Aside from the obvious visual similarities (our hero wears a mask, trenchcoat and fedora and carries a special type of handgun), the most significant comparison comes in the sense of relationship. As you say, the real core of ‘SMT’ was the relationship between Wesley Dodds and Dian Belmont. The same is true for ‘Green Hornet: Year One,’ but whereas the former dealt with a developing romance, the latter deals with what will become a lifelong friendship. From the beginning, I wanted to establish that Britt and Kato aren’t master and servant; they’re a team. In fact, Kato is highly instrumental in formulating both the concept and method of how they’ll pursue their common crusade against crime.”
The tale of the pair will pick up very early in their careers. “When we first step into the story, both Britt and Kato are around ten years old!” teased Wagner. “I wanted to show how their youth, the way they were both raised and, most importantly, how their respective relationships with their fathers formed the type of men that they both ultimately become. Britt’s dad is indeed a successful and crusading journalist, which has an enormous effect on Britt’s sense of civic duty and sense of right and wrong. From his earliest days, we see that Britt is a pretty pro-active kind of guy, that he wants to have some effect on making the world a better place. The question is why, then, doesn’t he just follow in his father’s footsteps? If he wants to fight crime, he ultimately finds himself as the head of a vast organization set up to pretty much do just that! Why does he choose to put on a mask and pursue that goal on such a different level? Again, Kato plays a huge role in the how and the why of their crusade.”
Cassaday summed up the Hornet’s rough appeal saying, “[Green Hornet has] a commitment to fighting the criminal element in non-traditional heroic fashion. He’ll fight dirty. He’ll blend in, lie and cheat…but to the bad guys.” The artist also compared the 20th Century Reid to his great uncle The Lone Ranger, who Cassaday has also had a heavy hand in reintroducing through Dynamite. “I like both in that they are men of their time with masks and a mission. That’s it. No special powers. Just a mask and a mission. And guns! Their stories aren’t that far fetched in terms of the world of masked heroes. Something I pointed out to the people at Dynamite was that, though they were created by the same man and actually family-related, never have both the Lone Ranger and Green Hornet been published by the same comic publisher. I think that opens up a lot of fun possibilities.”
For now, Wagner is keeping his book’s focus on the early years of the Hornet’s solo work, busting up graft, corruption, racketeering and other old timey crimes. “We do have one big bad guy who’s the mob boss at the time,” the writer said. “Under him, of course, there’s a long litany of creeps, hoods and felons that the Hornet will have to wade through in order to get to the boss. As with my approach to ‘Zorro,’ I want to portray that this is a big endeavor our hero has undertaken. It’s basically just two guys against the entire criminal establishment that’s fairly entrenched and powerful. This isn’t a battle he’s gonna win overnight.”
Aaron Campbell’s interior work helps to complete the realistic puzzle, Wagner enthused. “As I mentioned earlier, modern depictions of costumed heroes often feel a bit too seamless and somewhat robotic, like their costumes are all but grafted onto their skin. Not so with Aaron’s depiction of the Green Hornet. And his version of Kato is simply awesome! He not only feels like a Japanese man of his era, he doesn’t look like Bruce Lee! Inevitably, it seems, all depictions of Kato seem to echo the features of Bruce Lee -Â which, of course, is a testimony to how powerful and memorable his portrayal of the character truly was. But Aaron’s taken a different approach and his Kato stands alone as his own character. Aaron’s work is so beautifully rendered that we were really concerned with the coloring as well -Â we didn’t want someone who would feel compelled to overdo the airbrush effects or basically try to over-color his art. Luckily, we were able to convince my ‘Zorro’ co-collaborator, Francesco Francavilla, to handle the color chores. Fran’s been coloring his own work on the latest ‘Zorro’ run, and I just love his color sense and his restrained approach to applying his tones and hues. The results perfectly compliment Aaron’s work, and we couldn’t be more thrilled with how it all looks!”
“Green Hornet: Year One” #1 hits comic shops in April with covers by Wagner, Cassaday, Alex Ross and Stephen Segovia.