Dynamite Entertainment grabbed the attention of pulp fans and superhero aficionados alike early this month at the Baltimore Comic Con when they announced that Eisner Award-winning writer and artist Matt Wagner would be heading up their first major series with the radio adventure hero the Green Hornet early in 2010. Along with artist Aaron Campbell, Wagner will craft "Green Hornet: Year One" - a period series set to roll out the hero's untold origins and set the tone for Dynamite's forth-coming modern Hornet series headed by writers Brett Matthews and Kevin Smith.
CBR caught up with Wagner to talk about the new series, from what his first connection to the Green Hornet was, to how Dynamite tapped him for the gig, and from his new takes on Britt Reid and Kato's partnership to what exactly he plans for the hidden connections between the Hornet and the Lone Ranger.
So I guess the simplest first question is: how did you connect with the Green Hornet? I know that when Dynamite came upon the rights to Zorro, you actively pitched to work with the character. Did Nick Barrucci and company ask you to continue on with the Hornet, or was it another case of you going after something you wanted to get involved with?
It was actually a little of both, with a bit of synchronicity thrown in for good measure. My involvement in this project began at a convention in Texas, where Dynamite Entertainment publisher Nick Barrucci, John Cassaday and myself were all on a panel spotlighting the recent - and surprisingly successful - wave of Western themed comics that seemed to be permeating the market…most of them published, in fact, by Dynamite. Anyway, in the course of conversation, someone from the audience asked, since Dynamite had such success with "The Lone Ranger," was their any chance of them acquiring the rights to the Green Hornet as well (since both characters were created by radio dramatist, Fran Striker). Nick went on to explain that they had, in fact, been working on securing those rights for some time. It turns out that John Cassaday is a huuuuge GH fan and had also been urging Nick in that direction. The problem to this equation lie in the fact that the rights to both properties had been separated many years ago and were now owned by two different entities; thus, DE couldn't just make a new deal with the same folks who they'd already dealt with on the Ranger rights. Anyway, Nick assured the audience that he was indeed working on this deal and, in fact, had been doing so for the better part of four years. He claimed they were getting close to a resolution. It was then that I spoke up: "Hey Nick…I'd work on that!" Well, Nick's apparently got a long memory and, after the deal was done, he gave me a call.
With a character like the Green Hornet, I've always got to ask what your earliest connection to the character is. Since there have been so many different kinds of media and interpretations surrounding him, it's harder to pin down the one, definitive version. Did you come to him by way of watching the TV series, or did you get drawn to the original radio serials at some point?
I'd have to say my first exposure was probably through the character's two guest appearances on the '60s Batman TV show. I grew up out in the country, and we didn't have access to cable, so my accessibility to either "Batman" or the Hornet's own show were both limited to visits to my parents' friends' houses. But, my parents were from the WWII era, and through them I had a certain inherited nostalgia for the entertainment of that time period. They both used to regale me with tales of listening to weekly radio shows, and so in my early teen years, I used to buy and listen to vinyl disc re-issues of those old shows. I started out with "The Shadow," but soon moved on to "The Lone Ranger," "Superman" and "The Green Hornet." As a result, it's particularly apt that I'm now handling the writing chores on the Golden Age version of the Hornet - "Year One!"
Being a Year One tale, you're really kick-starting Dynamite's entire Hornet franchise and hopefully setting the path in terms of character and continuity that the other books will follow. Looking at this as that kind of cornerstone reinvention, what would you say are the elements that are essential to make the Green Hornet who he is? I mean that in terms of general elements, like Black Beauty and the gas gun and/or "Hornet's Sting," and in terms of the tone the stories should embrace.
Well, those things you mentioned are elements that we'll certainly explore, but they're not what's crucial to the character; they have nothing to do with Britt Reid's motivations and characteristics that drive him to concoct a secret identity and pursue the a path of vigilante justice quite outside the realms of the law. Unlike most of his masked, lone avenger colleagues (The Ranger, Batman, The Sandman, etc…), the Green Hornet is not only wanted by the police for his illegal activities, he actively cultivates the perception that his masked persona is, in fact, a self-serving criminal, little better than the mobsters he opposes. So that odd aspect, combined with the factors that would inspire a young, successful newspaper heir to this unusual life-style are - I feel - the real essential elements of the Green Hornet.
Additionally, I've got a second character to define - one who's also a bit unusual for his archetype. "Sidekicks" are a common factor of these sort of narratives; the Lone Ranger had Tonto, Batman has Robin, Captain America has Bucky, etc…The thing that makes Kato unique is the fact that he is, in fact, more physically tough and dangerous than his titular partner. How does such a partnership form? How do these two people, from vastly divergent backgrounds, unite to fight a common foe…and in such unusual circumstances? All questions that I hope to answer in this series.
And this series will take place back in the "Golden Age," so to speak?
In the late '30s. Since Dynamite is simultaneously launching several different series and versions of the Hornet and since - as I mentioned - I've already got a nostalgia and connection to that time period, I thought it was important to start things off where the character first began.
What's your take on Britt Reid as a character? He's been portrayed before with a lot of the stock "pulp hero" characteristics in terms of being dashing and mysterious, but with his publishing background and his family history, there seems to be a lot to build on that's unique.
Well, as I said, there's the big question of why the hell he does this? Why does he choose the life of a vigilante to fight crime? His father, Daniel Reid, is the publisher of "The Daily Sentinel" and a rigorous opponent of organized crime, spearheading endless exposes of corruption and graft. So, what leads Britt to so dramatically split from his dad in this regard? After he inherits the paper, it'd be very easy for him to just follow in his father's footsteps and pursue his crusade through the printed page. What causes him to choose a different path?
On the Kato side of things, I think one of the most interesting aspects of the character to me is real world changes that have been made to his ethnicity over the years. While it seems a lot of the switches weren't necessarily racially motivated, as some have theorized around WWII, there still is some debate as to what his "true" background is. NOW had their take in the last major comic version of the character. For this new series, where does Kato come from, and how does he get brought into the life of Reid?
In this version…Kato is Japanese. And his back-story revolves around an actual historical event of that time period. How do his and Britt Reid's lives get brought together, forming their unique bond and transforming them into a potent and mysterious crime-fighting twosome? C'mon, dude…that's what the story's all about!!
Will you be rolling Green Hornet's origin out as a slow boil, as you did with Zorro?
Not exactly like Zorro's, since I felt like, y'know…been there, done that. But the story's still gonna involve a mixture of "present day" adventure (1937, that is) and then flashbacks to both Britt's and Kato's respective pasts. The first year's narrative is divvied up into two six-issue story arcs. In the space of those two storylines, all the elements of the original Green Hornet will be laid in place.
What can you say at this stage about the conflict that will drive the Hornet's first major adventure? Who's the villain of the piece?
Another aspect of the Hornet's mythology is that he traditionally doesn't really have any "super-villains," per se. His entire oeuvre consists of combating a more "realistic" class of bad-guy; mobsters, killers, extortionists, etc. This fact puts a bit more pressure on the writer to make sure that the situations are that much more interesting. If your main character isn't going up against "Dr. Devious" of "The Scarlet Blade," then you've got to keep the readers engaged by what sort of danger and adventure they face. That said, I will admit that the main bad guy of the first arc does have some effect on Britt's decision to adopt his masked persona and become the Green Hornet.
A lot has been made of Dynamite having the rights to both the Lone Ranger and the Green Hornet. You talked a little bit in Chicago about how both of Fran Striker's most famous creations were built on the same archetype, in a way, and I was wondering if you could expand on that and tell me why you think that archetype seems to be so potent.
Well, I don't know if the archetype is an overall "universal" one, but it certainly appealed to Mr. Striker! Consider the similarities between the two characters;
--Both wear a hat and a mask.
--Both operate outside of the law to lead their crusade against crime.
--Both operate with the aid and friendship of an ethnic sidekick.
--Both utilize a special weapon with a unique attack.
--Both have a super-speedy manner of transportation that's named after a color.
--Both have an odd and up-tempo piece of classical music as their media theme-songs!
In truth, I don't think this was so much an undeniable and archetypical chord that was struck so much as a successful creator trying to duplicate the formula that had worked for him in the past. Even so, the fact that Fran Striker was able to so successfully and subtly (let's face it, you never thought of the two characters pared down like I just listed above, right?) connect these two narratives and make them part of the same family was a real testimony to his talent. Especially in that time period!
So now to the obvious question: Lone Ranger and Green Hornet. Great uncle and great nephew. How will this legacy element be reflected in this series if at all?
Again, these characters are - at this point - owned by two different entities. I have no idea what the future will yield in regards to how (and if) they will ever interact in the course of their Dynamite publishing realities. That's kinda out of my purview. I'm sure the reading public will hear about any developments in this regards - maybe even before I do!
Will you be working as art director and cover artist in the same way "Zorro" (and "Lone Ranger" with John) has gone?
I'm only the writer this time around, although I will say that Dynamite certainly does value my input on every level. John Cassaday is handling the regular cover chores and acted as costume designer when it came to both the Green Hornet and Kato. As I mentioned, John is a huge fan of those two Republic movie serials and based his designs almost entirely on that hook. He even clung very distinctly to the look of the Green Hornet's gun, which led to a certain challenge for me. One of the thing that's always bugged me about the golden age Green Hornet is that he uses a gas gun, for a variety of reasons.
1) The Hornet doesn't wear a gas mask so why would he be using gas in an enclosed space?
2) Hornets don't put people to sleep…they sting them!
So, I had to come up with a motif that utilized the gas capsule look of the movie serial gun that also achieved what I wanted out of the character and his equipment. After all, the only reason for us to handle the older classical characters (like Zorro) is to add our own spin and, hopefully, make these narratives all the more pertinent to a modern readership. Happily, I think we're doing that.
Have you had any conversations with Dynamite about helping to connect this series with the other books they're working on, like Kevin Smith's series or Brett Matthews'? Is that something you're trying to contribute to, or at this point, is telling a solid, definitive origin all you need to do to get the players in place?
We've really tried to strike a happy medium in this regard as well. We're not going crazy so far as writing a series "bible" that binds each writer to a certain undeniable reality. But we're also - each of us - reading the others pitches and scripts in order to try and integrate these three versions of the Green Hornet in a very coherent and logical fashion. Hey…it always helps when all the creative team gets along and respects each other. So…we're totally good to go! I think readers are really gonna dig this all-new approach to every aspect and incarnation of this especially long-lived and classical character. THE GREEN HORNET STRIKES AGAIN!