I never gave a damn about the Green Hornet. Probably my first exposure to character was as a child playing recreational soccer, where every team had its own name “voted on” by the team (and, usually in reality, chosen by the coach and other parents). One year, our team played against another named The Green Hornets; as an eight year old born at the tail end of the 1980s, I didn’t understand the reference, and had it explained by my parents.
That said, I never really pursued the Green Hornet. Even after hearing about his background, I never tracked down the TV series that saw Bruce Lee’s explosion into American media, nor did I even realize that pulp stories starring the character existed. With the advent of the critically panned film a few years back, my interest in the character couldn’t have been more minimal.
And then Bleeding Cool featured the first issue of The Green Hornet by Mark Waid and Daniel Indro for free on the site. And after that, I was hooked.
The year is 1941. Chicago has experienced the rise of organized crime, as the mafia and local gang bosses vie for territory, influence, and profit. Arising in the chaos we find The Green Hornet and Kato, men who take on the roles as the world’s first Super Criminals. But the duo hides a secret: they are, in reality, heroes who work to bring down the mob from the inside by controlling events as they see fit.
When the Green Hornet removes his mantle, he is Britt Reid, wealthy newspaperman and heir to a large fortune. While his alter ego fights gangs and make alliances, Britt uses his paper, the Sentinel, to fight his own war on corruption. Yet the allure of power may be too great for Britt Reid, as he makes alliances and maneuvers that will test his will, his intelligence, and, most of all, his friendships.
The Green Hornet consist of 13 issues and takes place during the closing months of 1941 as the United States is poised to enter the second World War. With this backdrop, readers are treated to tales of intrigue that involve German agents as well as the mafia and local politicians. The wide web of deceit provides an enrapturing tale, as each of Britt Reid’s moves bring him closer to finding the root of the evil threatening his city, while simultaneously placing him on the precipice of his own downfall.
Characters make The Green Hornet compelling. Britt Reid, as the central protagonist, receives the greatest focus and character development. Reid is a young idealistic who sets out to stop evil by playing the role of a criminal, an interesting story dynamic that plays well into the pulp genre of morally questionable heroes. Eventually, he becomes drunk on his own power and celebrity, and ends up alienating some his confidants.
Rather than immediately see the error of his ways, Britt instead becomes convinced of his own infallibility. This drives the wedge further between his allies, and ultimately leads to fulfilling a prophecy where things fall apart. Though Reid tries to manage his life as both The Green Hornet and Britt Reid effectively, it’s questionable to what extent he succeeds; saying that he fails is too narrow a conclusion, though Reid is not a perfect tactician and events he cannot account for or control do end up harming him. Waid provides a very powerful character study of Reid, and the final issue ends with the character making a pivotal choice.
Kato, as Britt Reid’s closest friend and partner, receives the second largest chunk of development. Though mostly a silent hero, Kato is a man whose actions define him. One of the most appealing aspects of Kato’s personality is his unequivocal devotion to justice. When Britt considers less than questionable means to achieve their goals, Kato reminds him of their mission, and indicates why they must be careful of the line they toe between hero and villain.
Furthermore, Kato is Britt’s superior in physical terms. Though Kato was often portrayed as a sidekick in the classic stories, Bruce Lee’s portrayal made it clear that he was the better fighter, an idea which is carried over into this comic. While Britt is adept with his fists and feet, it is Kato who relies solely on the martial arts to win battles while his partner often favors gadgets and guns. This further cements Kato’s character, as his discipline from mastering hand-to-hand combat pours over into his unwavering dedication to their cause.
Lenore “Casey” Case plays a pivotal role in The Green Hornet as well. Initially working as a secretary as The Sentinel, Casey is eventually drafted to join the Green Hornet’s war on crime. Her assignment? To act as a living information repository by using her amazing memory and ability to synthesize data. Casey is given access to a room full of newspaper, audio recordings, and film reels in order to better serve her allies.
Casey, like Kato, feels a strong devotion to their mission and confronts Britt when she feels he’s flying too far off the rails. Casey also provides one of the most important motivations for a choice Britt makes at the end of the series, though I won’t spoil the activity.
The last character with a key arc is Officer Dugan. Starting as the lone honest cop on a corrupt force, The Green Hornet eyes Dugan as a key ally. However, as the two become intertwined, Dugan’s gilded outer shell rubs off and he falls farther than any other character in this comic. His arc is absolutely heartbreaking, but feels all too human. I must admit that I felt a great deal of remorse as I watched Dugan tumble from grace.
Artistically, The Green Hornet features two artistic powerhouses in Daniel Indro and Ronilson Freire. Indro handles the initial arc of six issues, while Freire handles the remaining seven. Though each man has his own distinct take and skill set, their styles are close enough that the shift feels organic.
Indro and Freire clearly did significant research on early 1940s Chicago, evidenced by character clothing, technology, buildings, and vehicles throughout the story. Both men also offer exceptional skill in displaying action scenes and character moments, with facial expressions playing a key piece of the story. In one key scene, it’s evident the horrorific realization creeping through Britt Reid’s brain thanks to Freire’s drawing of the Green Hornet’s eyes behind his mask.
Ultimately, The Green Hornet reveals that any character, handled properly, can be the focus of amazing stories. It’s a testament to Waid that, time and again, he can write a character that very few people have faith in and make the narrative astoundingly deep. Waid and company made me care about Britt Reid, Kato, and company, which is a feat considering, from the outside, I didn’t think they’d be my cup of tea.
It’s a shame the series ended after only 13 issues, which given the conclusion I think was more a function of low sales than the team running out of ideas. Nevertheless, this brief run contains a complete narrative that is well worth picking up.
-creative take on the classic pulp character
-superb period-accurate artwork from Indro and Frere
-excellent narrative thread of how information is gathered and relayed, through a look at the rise of radio and the age when print news was king
-issue #8 noticeably feels like a filler story
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