Thursday, April 18, 2013

Review: Green Hornet#1

Although I'm very keen on old-time radio programs, the Green Hornet isn't one I'm particularly interested in, even though it was one of the longest-running super hero programs on radio. I suppose my lack of interest is because I found the series to be much the same from episode to episode, nothing in particular which stood out. Although Dynamite have been publishing a ridiculous amount of Green Hornet comic books over the last few years, I didn't pay attention... until they added two magic syllables: "Mark Waid."

Thus, here we have Green Hornet#1 by writer Mark Waid and artist Daniel Indro (with a swell cover above by Paolo Rivera). This series is set in 1941 and features all the vintage cast members found in the original radio program. Mention is made of the Green Hornet's ties to his grand-uncle, the Lone Ranger (who has somehow wound in the hands of a separate copyright office) and all the basics are in place: we have Britt Reid serving as publisher of the Daily Sentinel by day, dressing up as the Green Hornet to fight crime by night. Kato is Reid's butler and the Hornet's chauffeur. Lenore Case is Reid's secretary, while Mike Axford is the hapless Irish reporter who runs a one-man crusade to capture the Hornet, unaware he's after his own boss. If I didn't find this set-up interesting as a radio program, why should I find the comic book any different?

That's where you have to reckon with Mark Waid, who's never content to simply rehash an old formula, but instead is always seeking new angles for worn-out premises. The key to Waid's take comes out during Reid's introductory narration as he takes pains to describe how he set himself up as the Green Hornet, only to subvert our expectations by describing himself as "the world's first super-criminal." On the radio, the Hornet would frequently exploit his status as an outlaw to trick criminals, but here his self-described "sting" operation is the apparent focus of the series.

There's an extremely effective two-page sequence where we see glimpses of how the Hornet's "sting" functions: he meets with his "fellow" criminals, unleashes his (non-lethal) gas gun on police officers and shoots criminals who are enemies of his "allies." Lest we think he's gone too far with act like an amnesiac Sonny Crockett, we also see the Hornet burn down a building (then learn it was owned by Britt Reid) and sink a man in the river (whom Kato secretly rescues). There's no attempt made in this issue to place our sympathies with the criminals, that is see the seduction of crime from Reid's perspective where we might wonder if he'd become a true villain - instead we get our vicarious thrills by witnessing how the Hornet outsmarts his supposed allies while secretly dismantling their operations.

Some space is given over to explaining why Kato doesn't use a codename while wearing a mask; "I don't need a name." is some sort of response, although it's unwieldy to think Kato could get by without needing to be called something. Because it's part of Green Hornet lore that Kato doesn't use an alias, Waid seems trapped into supporting the notion. I would say it's fine to leave Kato without a codename as long as you don't draw attention to it; now that Waid's has drawn attention to it... well, we'll see if it remains a problem.

It's been a while since I seriously sat down with a super hero comic (this is my one-year anniversary of having quit Marvel) and it's pleasing to see how much plot and how many characters factor into this tale compared to what I'd been seeing before; when I gave up working for Marvel, one of my few regrets was being deprived of Waid's Daredevil, which was easily the most entertaining book in the line. As with Daredevil, Waid seems to have fresh perspectives on familiar tropes. After sampling various #1 issues of Dynamite titles which weren't to my liking, I'm pleased to say I intend to be back for Green Hornet#2!

Green Hornet#1 had 11 variant covers. Such is the world we live in.

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