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Jai Nitz Chronicles “Kato Origins: Way of the Ninja”

by  in Comic News Comment
Jai Nitz Chronicles “Kato Origins: Way of the Ninja”

The original Kato’s life is explored in “Kato Origins: Way of the Ninja”

This May, Dynamite Entertainment will release “Kato Origins: Way of the Ninja,” a martial arts action story featuring the adventures of the original Kato from the classic Green Hornet TV and radio series. Serving as a companion book to Matt Wagner’s “Green Hornet: Year One,” “Way of the Ninja” is written by Jai Nitz of “El Diablo” fame and promises to flesh out the popular sidekick’s history while also building the new Green Hornet universe alongside Wagner’s title.

CBR News spoke with Nitz about scripting the newest chapter in Kato’s storied history, the character’s link to Matt Wagner’s “Green Hornet: Year One,” and the mysterious editorial connection that links the various creative teams of Dynamite’s “Green Hornet” titles.

CBR News: Jai, tell us a little bit about what’s happening in the pages of “Kato Origins: Way of the Ninja.”

Jai Nitz: I’m shooting for a martial arts action tale with a strong story scaffold and a deeper commentary on human nature. Aim high, right? I might not get there, but that’s what I’m shooting for. I tried to tie together all the things that got me excited about Kato at Dynamite. First and foremost was Matt Wagner. Matt is an amazing storyteller (see: “Zorro” and “Madame Xanadu,” not to mention “Grendel” or “Mage”), so I’m glad to work in his shadow. Second was the Bruce Lee/Shaw Brothers/Jackie Chan bootleg movie education I had. Third was telling a period story with the backdrop of racism in America toward Asians. That’s what got me excited, so that’s what I tried to bring to the table. Luckily Nick Barrucci and Joe Rybandt agreed, so they brought me on board to write it. 

Before we get to anything else, I have to ask – are you a big Green Hornet fan? Were you before you began this project?
Green Hornet, like most non-Marvel/non-DC heroes, was in the background of my comic book fan tastes. I had a similar experience to most people my age: I knew Bruce Lee was Kato, and I knew Green Hornet crossed over with Adam West’s Batman. That said, Matt Wagner got me excited about the radio program through sheer force of enthusiasm. We talked about the Green Hornet radio program before I ever landed the Kato gig.

How will this book connect, if at all, to the “Green Hornet: Year One” book that Dynamite is also publishing? Have you and Matt Wagner been collaborating at all in terms of story?
My book is spun directly out of Matt’s continuity, so I defer to his genius. I was given access to Matt’s outline and scripts for his “Green Hornet: Year One story.” Wow. Getting the behind-the-scenes look at his story sense is very educational. I haven’t worked directly with Matt on the story. Our editor, Joe Rybandt, is handling all the editorial traffic to make sure we aren’t stepping on the other’s creative toes.

What about Kevin Smith’s “Green Hornet” and the “Kato” series written by Ande Parks?
Ande is one of my oldest friends in comics, so we’ve talked several times about what we’re doing. I know his story is coming from a different place than mine, so we’re not covering the same ground by any means. I’m really excited to see where Kevin Smith, Phil Hester, and Ande take the “Kevin Smith’s Green Hornet” Universe. Both of us working on Kato at the same time is fun and inspiring without being weird at all. 
It’s really fun, actually. It’s fun being in our own little club at Dynamite. But the craziest thing is our Nachie Castro connection. Nachie used to be our editor at DC (“Green Arrow,” “Nightwing,” “Supergirl,” “El Diablo”) before he moved to book editing for Disney. Get this…Nachie was the editor for Kevin Smith, Matt Wagner, Phil Hester, Ande Parks, Ale Garza, and me. How crazy is it that we all worked for Nachie at DC and now we’re all working on Green Hornet and Kato at Dynamite? So it’s only fitting that I give a big shout-out to my buddy Nachie. 

What appeals to you the most about the character of Kato?
In a nutshell? Bruce Lee. Bruce Lee, like so many tragic figures in pop culture, died too young. So he will forever be remembered as the young dragon that captured the world’s imagination. Bruce Lee is cool, so Kato is cool by proxy. That said, Kato was pretty cool before Bruce Lee. Kato is one of the first martial artists to enter American pop culture (if not the first). That’s cool.

As a writer, did you appreciate the challenge in writing a whole story around a character who wasn’t really explored in depth during the original radio series? Were there any other specific challenges that were unique to “Way of the Ninja” beyond that?
That was part of the fun. The history of Kato isn’t convoluted it’s just…vague. So I had a lot of leeway to put my stamp on the character. Of course, I also had a great assist from Matt. His notes on Kato’s origin and motivation are smart and engaging. Matt made it really easy for me to build a good story off his foundation.
Writing for period pieces require a shift in thinking, and “Kato Origins: Way of the Ninja” is set in the early 1940s, so I had to get my brain in the right place. You have to worry about how people talked, what they thought, and how society was different then. That was a big challenge. Also, living up to Matt Wagner is a huge challenge. He nailed the period-writing mentality on books like “Sandman Mystery Theatre,” and he’s doing it on “Green Hornet: Year One.” Not disappointing the readers by living up to that talent is probably my biggest challenge.

What do you feel was rewarding about writing this series?
Researching the differences in thinking was a challenge, but it was also very rewarding. I dug up a lot of historical facts that weren’t the kind of thing you learned in history class. One of most rewarding things so far was the notes I got back from editor Joe Rybandt about some of my plot points. He’d say, “Did this really happen? This is crazy!” Getting to add those moments of incredible-but-authentic to “Kato Origins: Way of the Ninja” made it more fun for me to write.

How exactly is Kato’s story important to the Green Hornet universe that Dynamite is crafting?

Great question. The internet was already buzzing about the over-saturation of Green Hornet titles before any hit the stands. That’s flawed thinking. You can enjoy “Kevin Smith’s Green Hornet” and “Green Hornet: Year One” independently. I did. Good comics by good creators are worth checking out. Who cares if they star the same character in different continuities? I never heard anyone complain about buying Johns/Morrison Superman titles in different continuities. You know why? Because the comics were well done. I’ve seen what Kevin, Phil, Ande, Matt, and I have in store for you, so it’s easy for me to tell you each title is important. 

What do you think Green Hornet fans should get most excited about for this book?
People should be psyched about Colton Worley, the artist. He’s freaking amazing. I’ve seen his covers and interior pages, and they blew me away. I’m really lucky to have him. But from the writing side, “Kato Origins: Way of the Ninja” has all the martial arts action you would expect in a Kato comic, but it also has accurate history and social commentary. Doing a historic-period story of any kind is tough, so when it’s done well (“Lone Ranger,” “Zorro,” “Green Hornet: Year One”), it stands out. I want to be in that club of outstanding books. 

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