The "heroes posing as villains" partnership embodied by the Green Hornet and Kato may date back to the Golden Age of radio dramas, but that doesn't mean the characters haven't continued to receive a 21st Century facelift at Dynamite Entertainment. While the publisher launched a new "Green Hornet" ongoing this year under writer Mark Waid, its original eponymous series featuring Britt Reid has continued as "Green Hornet Legacy" by writer Jai Nitz and artist Jethro Morales.
Recently, the "Legacy" team has shaken the foundations of the superhero world built by Kevin Smith, Phil Hester and Ande Parks by destroying Britt Reid's mansion, replacing him with a technologically superior but mentally unstable Hornet, effectively breaking apart the core of characters readers have followed since issue #1. With this week's issue #36, Reid starts his climb back towards being Century City's slightly tarnished white knight, but he'll have some trouble along the way in the form of snowbound zombies, new supervillains and a complicated romance with his AWOL partner Kato.
"For me, it means exploring the roots of the book," Nitz told CBR News of the "Legacy" rebranding. "What has made Green Hornet an enduring character? How can I flip that on its head and take the reader on a rich journey? I’m not interested in cut-and-dried stories where the hero is right and the ending is always pre-ordained. I like asking uncomfortable questions and seeing what happens next. So that’s where I’m going and how I’m writing the stories. Many people who read the book have bought into what I’m doing and let me know about it online. My biggest complaint/suggestion is 'more kung fu.' I can accommodate that."
The writer explained that overall, he's hoping to keep the central premise of the Hornet as a hero who's viewed as a villain in mind even as he continues to amp up the super portion of superheroing. "That’s the trick with Green Hornet; he isn’t Batman. You can’t write him like Batman," Nitz said. "With that said, you have to play with the character like he’s the bad guy...but he’ll only go so far. Kevin Smith, Phil Hester, and Ande Parks all carried the idea of the costumed villain as far as it could go without getting ridiculous. I decided to change the focus of the book and not go down that path one more time. Also, I learned from the Tarantino School of writing: take the most basic idea and turn it on its head. So I did a story about a villain trying to usurp the Hornet as the king of Century City crime. Then I replaced Hornet with his sidekick (an old trope in comics). Then I had new costumed villains show up to make things crazier. And while things were getting crazier in the city, Britt Reid was becoming more grounded."
Keeping that grounded feeling may be tougher as the Hornet faces an army of the undead. The two-part story kicking off this week see the recently deceased rise from the Century City morgue as a terrible winter storm blankets the city, but the writer promised that he won't lose focus of the human side of the story. "That’s the key to this arc. Britt realizes he could take all the money he’s been sinking into a secret hideout, stealth mode car, and crazy gadgets into helping people. What if you took all that money and gave blankets and clothing to the homeless instead? You’d make a bigger impact that way on the well being of the city than if you beat up purse snatchers or pyromaniacs or politicians. So Britt gets a lot more serious about his mission. At the same time, the threats on the streets get incredibly out of hand. A superHERO is needed to save the day. Can Britt be that guy? Well, if he can’t someone else will.
"I love 'Walking Dead' more than the next guy. I’ve been reading that book since issue one. I’ve always wanted to do a zombie story without doing a full-blown apocalypse story," Nitz explained. "So I got the best of both worlds and I got to advance the story I wanted to tell. While the zombies are a fun diversion, the guy who creates the zombies wants to bring justice to the streets of Century City. So he’s really sympathetic from the get go. Will he be an ally or another villain?"
After that, issues #38 and 39 will ramp up the villain side of this world with the return of femme fatale Nikki Stripez and the debut of underground fight club kingpin El Gato Rojo. "El Gato Rojo and Nikki Stripez both came from me getting the chance to expand the Green Hornet universe on a highwire," the writer said. "We thought 'Green Hornet Legacy' was going to get cancelled when Mark Waid took over the Golden Age 'Green Hornet.' So the zombie story was going to be my last hurrah. Then I was given one more issue, then another. So I was writing a bunch of one-and-done stories not knowing which one would be my last. Then we got the word that we’d be continuing for the foreseeable future and I needed to have a plan. Through a bunch of dumb luck, every story I’d written fit into a tapestry that pretty much said everything I wanted to say about Green Hornet. So now I’m writing with the long term in mind and still crafting a bunch of fun one-and-done stories that will culminate in all the storylines and loose threads getting tied together.
"It will seem like I knew what I was doing from the beginning when you read all my issues back to back, but I just lucked out. I just turned in an issue with and can’t wait to start the next one. I love cranking this book up to 11 and getting to do my spin on popular comics that I enjoy like 'Walking Dead' and 'Kick-Ass.' Throw in a Mexican MMA anti-hero and a sexy/deadly supervillainess and I’m in hog heaven."
Of course, costumed threats are only one of the issues left dangling in the upcoming issues. Reid also has to figure out exactly what his relationship will be with Mulan Kato -- his partner/lover. "One of my first decisions I made as a writer was to solve the whole would-they-or-wouldn’t-they question between Britt and Mulan. The idea of the hero having sex with his sidekick is salacious and taboo. So I wanted them to hook up; it isn’t the best decision for either of them, but who makes the best choices when it comes to the heart and naughty bits? Then, once they had, the world came down around them. So know Britt is beaten almost to death and Mulan is presumed dead. Then Britt comes back, has time to mourn/adjust, and meets a sexy supervillainess. Again, a superhero having raunchy sex with a supervillain is salacious and taboo. It isn’t exactly a recipe for success and happiness, but who cares? We’ve all fallen for the wrong person for the right reasons. Green Hornet is no different than the rest of us.
Ultimately, there has been a gray area at work in the "Legacy" series of late that will factor into everything right down to the Easter Eggs Nitz has thrown in such as an appearance by "Game of Thrones" show runner David Benioff's novel "City of Thieves." "I don’t read very much prose fiction anymore," the writer explained of the nod. "There are some notable exceptions (Michael Chabon, Alex Grecian, etc.) but Benioff’s 'City of Thieves' is one of my favorite books. The title of the book was a play on that particular Green Hornet storyline where there were lots of supervillains moving into the vacuum of power in Century City. There was a literal city of thieves. But I also love the plot of the book and the ironic loss in depicts. I’d love to make a comic half as impactful as Benioff. He’s one of those rare heroes of mine that I’ll probably never meet. Too bad. Love that guy."
But Nitz's journey continues apace as this week also sees the release of "Dream Thief" #1 -- his creator-owned Dark Horse project. The writer said that the projects stand on their own, but ultimately both start the same way. "The parameters are the same: 22 pages, write to the artist’s strengths, entertain the reader. But the differences can be monumental," he said. "With 'Green Hornet' I get the crutch that the reader already knows who the characters are and how they behave. But that crutch works against me that I can’t repeat the stories or the emotional notes that previous writers have hit. If I do that, I’m cheating the reader out of his/her money, and that’s not cool. I don’t want to give people something they’ve read before. That carries over to a creator-owned book like 'Dream Thief.' I want to give readers a story they’ve never heard before. But also, there are challenges to telling people a new story. I have to lay a lot of groundwork while retaining clarity and entertaining the reader.
"James Ellroy spoke to my screenwriting class at KU. He told me that instead of writing what you know, you should write what you want to read. Because what you know can be boring, but what you want to read is always exciting to you. You can’t worry about writing for this group or that guy; you should write for an audience of one -- yourself. If you write what you want to read, your audience will always be entertained. I don’t know if that’s myopic or the best advice I’ve ever received. The proof will be in 'Dream Thief.'"
CBR Staff Writer Daniel Glendening contributed to this story.