Sometimes it takes longer for a plan to come together than expected. In 2004, writer and director Kevin Smith was expecting to make a movie based on the Green Hornet. Contracted by Miramax to draft a screenplay for a big-budget, superheroic take on the radio character turned '60s TV icon, Smith completed a draft of the story before the deal fell apart, but last year that story saw new life as an ongoing series from Dynamite Entertainment – a series whose tenth issue (Smith's last) ships to comic shops today.
Produced with the aid of artist/writer Phil Hester and artist Jonathan Lau, Dynamite's marquee "Green Hornet" ongoing has flipped the mythology of the character around while adding a number of new pieces to the superhero's world, from a generational passing of the mantle to Britt Reid, Jr. and a new female Kato to the introduction of the Hornet's first major supervillain in the Black Hornet. And Smith has been just as surprised as his readers to find that the changes he envisioned for the movie that never was have helped Dynamite build a franchise out of the script.
"They've done all these tie-ins and spin-offs, and they've been so kind in using my script as the bible to launch their whole Green Hornet universe," Smith told CBR News. "At one point, I remember saying, 'You don't want to do that. This is a movie, not a comic,' but I think Nick [Barrucci, Dynamite President] saw the layers in the Green Hornet script. He said 'You didn't intend to write a comic book series, but you accidentally did.' He saw it from the jump, and I never understood that until I started seeing the pencils. The further and deeper you go into that story, the more entrenched you become in a kind of comic book reality. You can have jets and exploding cars and a dude popping out of the back trunk with a gatling gun. You'd never see that in the real world, but it works fantastically in the four-color universe. That's what you want. You want to open up a comic book and see stuff like that.
"As much as I worked on it, I was a fan of the ongoing Green Hornet book this was becoming. Every month, I'd go 'What's it going to look like.' Like, I couldn't wait to see the shot of him popping up out of the back of a car with that fucking gun. There's stuff that I wrote into the script back in the day because I really wanted to shoot it, and the key sequence for me that I always wanted to do was when Britt Jr. makes his first appearances as the Green Hornet when Kato attacks the club but gets cornered, then they go down the stairs with all the Rob Zombie music. It was so fun for me to see that on the page because it was exactly what I wanted it to look like."
The writer explained that even back in 2004 when he first started building what eventually became this comic, he knew that making the Green Hornet's world more like a comic book than a radio or TV show was key to making it successful. "Going into the story as an enthusiast of the character, the question kind of was 'How deep could this be?'" he said. "There's not a lot of mythology to grab onto, and that's what I felt was key. We had to do something to make it more like a comic book. At the time, I was thinking this was going to be the closest to a comic book movie I was ever going to get, so I needed a garish villain. The Green Hornet doesn't have any of that. He doesn't even have a city identified or anything. I felt like, as long as we stayed true to what everyone does know about the character after all these years, we could add this stuff. I thought the Black Hornet would be an interesting visual, and it's nice that this ended up being strictly a comic book because now you can do all those spinoff books and have it make sense and be part of that universe as opposed to it being a comic book publisher having to be a slave to what a movie studio did with a character. This will never be a movie, so now it's this.
"I think some of the complaints I've seen about the Green Hornet movie trailer that's now online is that the bad guy is just a guy. I think in a world of comic book movies, people love to see two masks going at it. The other guy can't just be a guy, so people have had a hard time going into something like the Superman reboot because Superman is dressed in these amazing colors. He looks like fantasy comes to life, and his biggest foe is a bald fucker with a real estate scam. I felt, when I was writing this to be a movie, we had to get a guy in there who looked like a comic book villain, and that was the Black Hornet. I wish I had kind of nudged Seth [Rogen] and have said 'Put your dude in a mask. It'll make all the difference.'"
Initially, Smith had little interest in getting directly involved in the "Green Hornet" comic's creation, but fate had other ideas for him. "For me, I was delighted from top to bottom. The project started as, I wouldn't call it a nuisance, but I was busy doing nineteen other things, and Nick was like 'Hey, we want to turn your Green Hornet into a comic book series.' I said, 'Does this require my attention at all? Can you do this without me?' and he said 'Yeah! Just get the deal done.' So all I had to do was step in and vouch for them to Miramax or to Disney really, because this is when Disney owned Miramax.
"I said, 'Hey, they want to take that script I wrote and turn it into a comic book. Would you let it go? It's never going to be produced. Seth [Rogen] is making a Green Hornet flick now, so this is just going to sit in the fucking drawer and die, but these guys would like to bring it to life. Can they do it?' And they said, 'Yeah, as long as whatever you were going to get paid to write it you don't get since you've already been paid to write a script. We'll take that money.' And I said, 'Great!'"
Once Hester (who previously worked as an artist for Smith's run on DC Comics' "Green Arrow") and Lau came on board, the director's view of the project changed. "I thought that would be my only role in the book, and we all know that would probably have been for the best because I have a terrible time with lateness in comics. But then they sent me the first issue of pencils and I hadn't really talked to Phil in advance. I knew he was going to work off the script and break it down into panels. I was fine with that. I've worked with Phil before, and he's totally trustworthy. But when I saw Jonathan's pencils, I got insanely enthused. Suddenly, everything else I was working on, no matter what, would get put down so I could go back to this. Once I saw what it looked like, I went 'Oh my God, this would have worked! The opening and the scene with his wife and these transitions would have worked!' That, for something that I wrote as a screenplay years and years ago, was exhilarating. It makes you feel smart. It makes you feel like 'I wasn't so dumb and that the movie might have actually worked if I would have had a little more confidence in myself. Maybe I could have accomplished that movie.'
"Each issue was like that. As I looked at the first issue in pencils, I immediately wrote Nick back and said, 'Let me see the letters as soon as you can because maybe I can do what I do with Batman.' As I was working on 'Widening Gyre' for DC, we had this process down where I wrote the first scripts months and months out, then Walter [Flanagan] caught up on the art. At that point, they would take Walter's pencils and immediately do a lettering pass to send to me so I could tweak the lettering right there. I'd do notes like 'Page 3, Panel 2: Let's break this balloon into two and lose this other shit because it sounds too much like a writer wrote it.' And so I asked Nick if I could do it on 'Green Hornet.'"
Even though his tweaks didn't alter the course of the movie scripts story in any drastic way, that involvement helped tap Smith further and further into the entire comic process. "It's not like I wanted to cheat and change it from the movie. I'm a little ambitious when I'm writing my stuff, but I'm lazy at heart so the idea of rewriting the whole thing never came into play, but the idea of tweaking the dialogue because the references were a little dated in some places was something I was way into. From that point forward, that's how the book worked. Phil had taken my script from the get-go and broke it down into the first four or five issues, and it was my initial screenplay and screen direction literally broken down into panel direction, but then Phil had the additional language skills to tell Jonathan 'We're looking at a tits up shot' or 'Looking down on these guys from this direction,' and it was actually an education for me because these dudes speak in a far more visual language than I could ever speak in – and that's sad because I work directing films."
From its debut to the final issue shipping today, Smith set out time each month to play in the comic world, even when his time was stretched thin as he directed his upcoming horror movie "Red State." "It didn't matter if I was in pre-production or production or on tour or anything," Smith said. "Whenever those pages came, it was so much fun for me as a guy who wrote it a long time ago and then walked away from it because I was afraid I couldn't pull it off. Seeing it come together in real life was a thrill for me to say, 'Wow! This would have worked!' But it became really collaborative as well where I ended up working on that book far more than I anticipated because I was doing a dialogue pass every time an issue came though. It wasn't as simple as what I wanted it to be, which was me going, 'Here's the script. Fuck off and leave me alone because I'm busy.' I just couldn't get away from how good the book was. Lau was crushing it from the moment I started looking at the pencils, and it was clear that Phil understood the script top to bottom and could communicate the fun to Jonathan, and in the early issues I'd see him include a page broken down into panels with stick figures. It made the workflow on the book incredible.
"I had written a film script, not a comic book script. A comic books script is packed with fucking detail, but my screenplays never are since I intend to direct them myself so there's not a lot of screen direction. It's just shit ton of dialogue. So Phil had to go in and explain to Jonathan rather than have him imagine the whole movie in his head from the screenplay. Essentially what Phil did was be the storyboard artist. It was a nice step and necessary in making the book what it was. And Joe Rybandt, who was one of our editors, was my point man any time I had to do a rewrite, and he was a fucking ninja and a taskmaster at the same time. He kept that book on time. Any time I'd write him back and go, 'Sorry I haven't gotten you a script, just give me a couple of days,' he'd be the guy who went 'You don't want to get a reputation' and would be the haunting voice of my past. Hats off to him."
The director compared the goals Dynamite and he eventually had for the project to trying to beat your personal best time while jogging. While the main focus was to make a comic project they could be proud of, the publisher had other designs in getting ten issues of a Kevin Smith comic to ship monthly. "Nick had that in mind from the jump with this project. His side goal in this whole thing was 'Let's clean up your horrible fucking reputation amongst the comic book community,' and I was all for that. So Joe and Nick are the guys to thank the most for us hitting every delivery date. We're able to get issue #10 out within weeks of #9."
And with the successful series continuing on under Hester's guidance, could there be more Green Hornet comics in Smith's future? "In a heartbeat," he said. "I had such a good time, and the way we leave it off in the very last issue is something that's really enticing to me. It's something that if I'd done at the beginning, people would have gone 'I fucking hate Kevin Smith,' but where it lands now is something where we've earned the good will to do it. I've seen nothing but good will for the book, even from people who just want to hate the book because they can't stand me or because I made Batman pee or some shit. But talking about the book, they go, 'It's a fun book!' And it could have been a fun movie, but the fact that it's a book feels great to me. I'm so happy to see it on the page, and I'd love to come back and play in that universe any time."
Most importantly, Smith explained that future stories set in the world he built in his screenplay will be able to spin new ideas and concepts out that they couldn't do while building the mega-arc of the "movie that wasn't" which he's excited to try. "Now that it's all been established, it's different. Because working on this book was a bit like working with the cuffs on where we couldn't deviate from the source material. Part of the whole gimmick for the series was that this is the movie. I may go in and polish the dialogue, but this is what the movie would be. I didn't go in and say 'Fuck it, let's change all this' or 'Let's drop this act.' There was a certain integrity to it where we wanted to honor the script. Not that it was such a great script, but that's how we sold the project: this is what the movie could have been. So for me the idea of going back into that universe without those constraints? Just to tell a story? That would be fun, and as soon as shit gets clear, I'd love to do it. But I've got to finish the second half of 'Gyre' first."
Dynamite's tenth issue of "Kevin Smith's Green Hornet" is in comic shops today. Check backwithto CBR later this month for a special interview with Smith about his work on DC's "Batman: The Widening Gyre."