A decade ago, Mark Waid was thinking about "The Green Hornet" as he drove from Florida to his new home of Los Angeles. Circumstances had him serving as an informal consultant to a screenwriter working on one of the many dead end attempts to revive the radio hero as a major film, but by the time he arrived in LA, the comics writer had filed away the contradictions and conflicts he saw inherent in the masked vigilantes mythos to a back corner of his mind. After all, no Green Hornet movie was on the way, and the character hadn't appeared in comics for years.
Things are much different now.
This March, Dynamite Entertainment is relaunching their four-color efforts for Green Hornet and his right-hand man Kato with a new eponymous ongoing series written by Waid and drawn by Daniel Indro. The opportunity to write a Hornet series set in the character's original 1940s period reignited the ideas the writer dreamed up on that cross-country drive, but as Waid explained to CBR News, making the story work today was a challenge in more ways than one.
"It's one thing to pontificate about, 'This would be a cool moment,' or, 'This would be a cool idea.' But when I say I have a story in mind, that's not the same as saying I have a script in mind," he said. "The story is just rise and fall and rise again of Britt Reid. Now I'm sitting down and trying to make that work within a context, and I write differently now than I did ten years ago. I write not substantially differently, but I hope I'm a better writer now. There are different themes I'm more interested in exploring about what hubris is like and how it affects people."
Overall, Waid's "Green Hornet" series will focus on how the character's dual role as a powerful newspaperman and a vigilante masquerading as a criminal will slowly break down alter ego Britt Reid's own moral code. But while that conflict is somewhat timeless, Waid noted that the setup surrounding it has to work for a modern reader first and foremost. "I think people's perception of the way the press works has changed a lot over the last ten years. Britt Reid is a newspaper publisher. That was a little more immediate and easy to get a handle on ten years ago than it is today. I have to spend the first page of the first issue just explaining to younger readers why this would have been a major public opinion-shaping job in the 1940s. I have to show why this is the equivalent of Bill O'Reily or Glenn Beck back then. It's not something I can take for granted that younger readers would even know what the power of the press was back then."
The series is firmly a period piece, but don't expect that to mean a throwback story even though the writer admits he writes comics set in the past "very, very rarely. I've done a couple of Justice Society stories over the years and a couple of Golden Age DC characters in one-shots, but in terms of lengthy period pieces, it wasn't until I got into 'Rocketeer' last year that I started playing in that field. I feel that I've done the occasional story where I can draw upon the images of the day, but doing something as a long-form ongoing period piece is a different challenge.
"'Ruse' was a period piece, but it was written in a very contemporary style, where as 'The Green Hornet' is different," Waid said. "It's hard to explain. It's difficult to latch onto that period and make it really relevant today. I think with 'Ruse,' it was such an alien world to the 21st Century with its late 1800s setting that I wasn't worried about the audience connecting to that world. I could focus on them connecting to the characters because that world may well have been another planet. But with Green Hornet, it's not terribly unlike the world outside your window today. In that sense, I have to work harder to make it not seemed old fashioned."
At the core of that challenge is the character of Britt Reid, and whether his actions will cast him as hero or villain. The Green Hornet's targeting of criminals while the "Daily Sentinel" paper targets corruption can lead to a situation bordering on propaganda for Reid's own ends. "There's totally a thin line between advocacy and propaganda," Waid explained. "There's a very thing line between MSNBC and Fox News, if you will. And it's very easy -- especially given that there's not a lot of other people using the bully pulpit of the newspaper to put bad guys away like Britt Reid does in his time -- it's very easy for him to get swept away in that power. He can get swept up between his role as a publisher and as the Green Hornet in the idea that he's cleaning up the city and that he needs to do more. He wants to do more, and so the more success he has, the more brazen and ballsy he gets. But all it takes is for him to start persecuting people who he believes are guilty that may not be as guilty.
"It was easy early on for Britt to persecute the right people because he went after the very black and white cases. He went after the guys who were obviously bad. But what happens when you put all those guys away and you're still on that train? Then you start to get into the grey area. Then as a newspaper publisher, you're starting to attack people who are not as easily classified as villains. Their not necessarily black hats. The longer he's at this, the more of a grey area his opponents are in, and the more dangerous it is for him to say the things he's saying. He's going to end up sicking his dogs on the wrong guy."
Along for the ride will be Kato who will not only up the action of the book as normal but will also find himself in a position of Jiminy Cricket, ever trying to avoid being squashed while dolling out advice to Reid. "He stays the right hand of the Hornet as long as he can, but the problem with being Jiminy Cricket to a rich, arrogant billionaire is that it tends to be a very thankless job after a while. That creates some friction."
Waid spoke highly of Daniel Indro's work on the series, saying that Dynamite worked to find an artist who could meet those challenges of crafting a period piece with modern relevance. "He's been great. I was worried that it was going to be hard to find someone who could draw with vitality but at the same time give it the real period feel that it needs. We needed a guy who knows not to draw 1960s cars and 1970s telephones -- someone who could give it that noir feel. Daniel is absolutely doing that. The pages I've seen so far -- two or three issues worth -- shows that he's on the money. I think this guy is going to be a major talent."
In the end, what's surprised the writer the most is what kind of story this ongoing series has morphed into since inception. "The fact that I really expected this to be a superhero story and it's not really surprised me," Waid said. "It'll surprise quite a lot of people. I realized as I was writing the first issues that this is not a superhero book. This is a crime book. Green Hornet does not save kittens from burning buildings or stop bank robbers. He would if he was called on to do so, but I don't like as a writer putting him in those situations. I like putting him up against hard boiled gangsters, and it's really a very tense crime story overall."
"The Green Hornet" #1 ships on March 20 from Dynamite Entertainment.