Friday, January 21, 2011

My Top Ten Favorite Green Hornet Stories

On January 14, 2011 a brand new superhero-comedy film, The Green Hornet, will be released by Columbia Pictures. By now you may have already seen this film. In conjunction with the release of the new film, I've decided to compile this list of some of my favorite comic books featuring the Green Hornet.
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10. Green Hornet v2 #6
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"The Wall"
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This story is part of Chuck Dixon's run on volume two of the Now Comics Green Hornet series. Dixon is fairly noteworthy among fans as someone who knows how to write action comics. Based on his Punisher and Batman runs, I was actually looking forward to reading his run on the Green Hornet.
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While the run is certainly action-packed, I found the action came at the expense of character development. Ron Fortier, the writer on the original run had set up many underlying elements to this series that featured Paul Reid as the new Green Hornet. In this run I feel as if he comes off as more of a cookie-cutter clone of Britt Reid II. Also I felt the re-introduction of Mishi Kato as a villain of sorts, The Crimson Wasp, was inappropriate to the character's previous appearances. They kind of go all Cassandra Cain on her.
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Having said that, this story about the character called the "Wall" is my favorite of Dixon's run. This features an unstoppable force of nature, a "good ol' boy" from Arkansas on a vendetta against the drug dealers of the city. Very similar to the character of the Russian in Garth Ennis' Punisher run, this character is like a human tank on a rampage, and it's fun to see him go to work on the scum of the city while providing an excellent challenge for our heroes.
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9. Green Hornet: Dark Tomorrow #1-3
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A three issue mini-series that takes place in the late twenty-first century.
I'm a sucker for these sci-fi future versions of characters. Batman Beyond, Spider-Man 2099 or Phantom 2040, it's all Back to the Future type fun to me. Clayton Reid is no exception. Providing a intriguing twist on the well-known concepts behind the Modus Operandi of the Green Hornet, this story finds a Green Hornet who has succumbed to the temptations of the criminal life his ancestors only played at. The name Clayton is taken from the actor best known for playing the Lone Ranger on tv, Clayton Moore.
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The Clayton Reid Hornet also turns the whole relationship with Kato on its head. Here in the future Kato (named Luke after the film serial Kato) has the Caucasian features and fights against the criminal actions of the Future Hornet, who has decidedly Asian features when not covered up by his now holographic face mask.
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It is speculated that Mishi and Paul could be his grandparents, but who knows? Perhaps Hayashi and Diana could be the grandparents as well.
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There are other interesting technological twists, such as instead of people hooked on narcotics they now look for hits of Virtual Reality projection transmitted through specially treated contact lenses. Clayton's deceased father, Gordon Reid (named after film serial Hornet Gordon Jones), visits him in the same VR projections professing his disappointment in Clayton's turn to crime.
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Even though Future Kato opposes Clayton's actions, he still comes to the Future Hornet's rescue on a flying Black Beauty. After all he professes to be the cousin to Clayton Reid and still has hope that Clayton isn't so far gone to come back to the side of the right and just.
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Tom Miller's pencils seem to be a nod to Jack "The King" Kirby and the future world of the Green Hornet looks to also be influenced by Kirby's take on the future from O.M.A.C. with the eerie "dispose-a-dates" that look like a "Build-A-Friend" from that very series or something out of Shirow Masamune's Ghost in The Shell.
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Also major props for the Guy's and Doll's reference in my book!
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8. Green Hornet v2 #26-28
"Heart of the Dragon"
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Mei Li the Daughter of the Black Dragon and her Tong declare war on the entire city. Attacking rival gangs, the top police officials and placing Kato on death's bed when he is struck with a poisonous Tong dart meant for the Paul.
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This story does have a flair for the whole 90's Big Bad thing that was going on in comics at the time. Mei Li's Tong quickly take out Harry Block one of the top racketeer's in the city who had given the Green Hornet a whole lot of trouble throughout the run of volume two. Basically you prove the new Big Bad is a whole lot meaner and nastier by having them kill off the old Big Bad. Usually I tend to dislike this, but honestly Harry Block was no big loss if you ask me.
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I was much happier to see the reunion of Paul and Mishi after the events of
The Odyssey of the Crimson Wasp (which I'll be talking more about later down the list).
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I think this does a good job of balancing great fast-paced action between the Tong and the Green Hornet/Crimson Wasp team and handling character development regarding the relationships between not only Paul and Mishi, but Diana Reid (the District Attorney and daughter of Britt Reid I) and Hasyshi Kato. Seeing Hayashi at death's door makes Dana see the feelings she's had for Hayashi all this time, but never owned up to.
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Unfortunately this was the final issue that Ron Fortier worked on, but at least it ended on a happy note.
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7. Sting of The Hornet #1-4
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The story by Ron Fortier here is basically a love letter to comics and films that were set in the 40's. If you love Indiana Jones, then you'll either find this comic highly derivative or a extremely fun romp through that era from the lens of comic books and classic adventure pieces.
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The Book follows the Green Hornet and Kato as they are conscripted to serve in the war effort by flushing out Nazi spies who have infiltrated the criminal underworld. Led by the villainous minx, Baroness Gretchen Wagemuten, who will of course conjure up comparisons to The Last Crusade's Elsa Schneider, the spies have various plans in motion and it is up to the Hornet and Kato to stop them.
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There are all sorts of clever little cameos if you are looking for them. Kato has an on the sly team up with Captain America himself. Not to mention Lois and Clark trying to score an interview with then President FDR as well as a reference to Namor The Sub-Mariner.
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Between the Baroness being a little hottie and Captain America's stand-in the Yankee Commando, I just had a fun time reading this WWII era story.
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6. Kato II #1-2
"Karthage Must Be Destroyed"
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This short mini-series penned by Mike Baron might come off as a somewhat typical tale. Paul Reid asks Kato to play bodyguard to a spoiled rock star,
Sandy Sragow, as a favor to his friend, Faye Ripien, who manages Sragow and is the president of the record label behind the rock star.
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Kato and Sragow are like oil and vinegar. The star just likes to throw tantrums when he doesn't get his way, indulges in women and narcotics to excess and of course because of racial slights in his music and accusations of songwriting theft there are many who might see him dead including the street gang the Spitting Cobras and Ned Karthage who was Ripien's previous big star.
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Kato the older, wiser and of course better fighter of the two would see that Sragow stop his self-destructive ways. Despite his dislike for Sragow's
lifestyle and habits Kato does his best to protect the man even when the
guy is his own worst enemy. To do so he hides Sragow at a remote
rural monastery for his protection.
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Ripien and Kato seem to hit it off rather well and the threats on Sragow's
life lead Kato to pursuing Ned Karthage, who turns out to be an old boyfriend of Faye's. Karthage a huge brute of a man and Kato eventually face off and mix it up in some of the bloodiest fighting I'd ever seen in a Green Hornet comic. The fight is brutal and unapologetic.
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It ends up that Karthage was actually a red herring for a frame up by Faye and she is the one trying to have him killed. Her new man Rex turns out to be the man who had been targeting Sragow and another blood-filled battle is played out. It turns out that a routine physical revealed Sragow to be
HIV positive and he would eventually no longer be able to tour and she would lose all her finances as this would renege on her pay or play contract.
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The story ends with a quite memorable impact as a meditating Kato has a great deal to ponder on the status of his own health after the brutal bloody fights he's had.
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5. Green Hornet: Year One
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Year One by Matt Wagner is the best offering out there from Dynamite's current line of published comics. It's a wonderful origin story and has the comic noir flare of past works like Sandman Mystery Theatre.
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The Dynamite books, like a lot of licensed properties these days, don't exactly have any strong connection to any previous written versions of the characters, like say the Dell or Now Comics versions, nor do they have much inter-connectivity to one another either. The Year One origin story while not tied to any particular version of the Hornet, takes some of the best elements from all versions of the character and rolls them together in a clever tale with great atmosphere.
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This story set in Chicago in the late 1930's (unlike the Kevin Smith Hornet which is set in Century City, CA in the present day) and has a lot of love and care placed into its design. Reid's discovery of the Green Hornet on his African safari is played out with terrific visuals.
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There's even a funny nod to Keye Luke's performance as Kato from the movie serials.
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In addition, Year One echos the Green Hornet's ancestry to the Lone Ranger in a roundabout way. Similar to the film Legend of the Lone Ranger
(where Tonto is the one who teaches the Ranger how to shoot and fight),
Kato (like Tonto) is responsible for introducing Reid to the concept of stealth fighting (via ninjutsu) and wearing a mask like the Samurai's of old.
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Anyway this comic is real good stuff and I recommend if you check out anything from the Dynamite stable, that this is the one to go with.

4. Tales of the Green Hornet v1 #1-2
"The Burma Horse"
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Here we have the cool advent of Green Hornet tv star Van Williams contributing the story plot to this two-part tale featuring Reid II and Hayshi Kato going up against Hong Kong movie producers drug trafficking in Thailand.
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I enjoyed this story as we get to see Hayashi delve into his career as an action star echoing the man who played him on tv Bruce Lee.
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There's also a tragic romance with the Director's daughter Aiasha
which tugs on all the right heart strings. Eventually Kato is forced to bring in the Hornet and together they put an end to the drug smuggling racket.

3. Green Hornet v2 #12-14
"The Odyssey of the Crimson Wasp"
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I've already sort of mentioned that I disliked the way Mishi Kato was turned into an adversary of the Green Hornet and Kato in the first half of volume two.
However, issue #13 would mark the welcome return of Ron Fortier (the original writer of volume one) back to the series. Lots of wonderful damage control for the character of Mishi Kato was in store for readers. Also the pencils by Sal Velluto in the 3rd part (who DC Comics readers might know from his work on Justice League Task Force) really stand out here as well. And while I didn't like Mishi's turn as the Crimson Wasp when there was no explanation provided and her obsession with killing villain Johnny Dollar was left in mystery, the tale here that reveals the feud between the two is to my surprise handled quite well.
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Some people might think Mishi is refrigerated here, but honestly the way the editors had her written out of the series to bring back the male Kato already seems to have covered that in my book.
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Anyway, a wonderful life in Zurich, Switzerland with a potential new husband, local police inspector, Eric Dietrickson, and 12 year old daughter Katya are set up rather lovingly, only to have Johnny Dollar come in and kill them both (right after the proposal no less!!!). Just when you think it can't get any worse, Mishi wakes up in the hospital room to discover that not only did she lose her husband -to-be and his daughter, but also her own child in the womb which she had no idea she had conceived! Who wouldn't want to see Johnny Dollar dead after that?
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Of course they have Kato and The Hornet (Paul) trying to sway her from killing Johnny Dollar. Of course while I understand that the no killing code is a unflappable staple of modern comic book heroes, I've never really understood it practically. It also seems hypocrictical, Batman doesn't use guns (yippie *twirls finger*), but uses high explosive Bat-a-rangs that could probably kill 20 times as many people as a bullet??!? C'mon!! Superman never kills, but he will send you back to the dawn of time and let the big bang do it for him!? Ooooo-Kay. Anyway I'm glad Mishi killed the son of a bitch and Ikano Kato is too.
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2. Tales of The Green Hornet v3 #1
"Deathhouse"
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Speaking of heroes that kill (an interest of mine to be sure), this story with cover art by a favorite Batman artist of mine, Norm Breyfogle, features a rather extreme life or death situation in which Britt Reid I is forced to kill his opponent.
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Imagine that the guy from the SAW movies (which I've never seen BTW) invites a bunch of rich socialites over to a newly renovated Mansion which turns out to be full of death traps, but among the invitees is one Bruce Wayne. It's like SAW guy didn't know who he was messing with.
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So that in a nutshell, is the basic set up with the Green Hornet in place of Batman. The way they "get around" the whole "Hornet doesn't kill" oath is that when delivering the killing blow, Reid I removes his mask with this awesome rationalization. Dude, just get Superman to send him back to the Big Bang. Then the Big Bang can get all guilty about it for the next 2 issues.

1. Green Hornet v1 #1-7
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"My Last Case"
"An All New Green Hornet! Generation Two!"
"The Origin and End of Green Hornet II"
"A Death In The Family"
"Requiem and Rebirth"
"The New Green Hornet"
"Bloodlines"
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Okay I've mentioned a lot about this story by Ron Fortier in my History of The Green Hornet videos. If you haven't seen them yet, well what are you waiting for!?!?!
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Here we have a both a Watchmen inspired and Starman inspiring piece.
Much like the generational nature of Nite-Owl, this would be the first time that all the various incarnations of the Green Hornet were said to be all part of the same history.
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Reid I was representative of the radio drama and film serial Hornet with the Full-on face mask and the Green Hornet became a Legacy hero whose mantle was passed down to Reid I's namesake nephew Britt Reid II, who represented the television version of the Green Hornet played by Van Williams. Similarly the Kato of the 1st generation (the guy with the Digimon or Starman goggles) was known as Ikano Kato and his son based on the Bruce Lee version was called Hayashi Kato.
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These first 7 issues are pretty much one interchangeable arc that I couldn't see to split up and cover as separate stories. We look back at the past through the eyes of current Hornet, Paul Reid, who is one of two nephews who took up the mantle of the Hornet. In the course of the series, similar to James Robinson's Starman which would follow later, originally Alan Reid was the more interested of the two brothers in following the footsteps of previous Green Hornet's. With Hayashi Kato at his side, Alan took to the streets on his first mission as the Hornet, only to die in a explosion set by the Devane family.
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Like Jack Knight, Paul is the reluctant prodigal son who eventually is forced to don the mantle of the Green Hornet, in lieu of his more artistic pursuits of being a classical pianist.
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Hayashi wallowing in self-pity blaming himself for Alan's death has become an alcoholic and Mishi, his young half-sister picks up where he left off to serve as Paul's Kato as part of this new Green Hornet-Kato pair. Despite any potential misconception, a girl Kato as well as a Black Hornet were not Kevin Smith's ideas first.....
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Eventually the Devane family succeeds in killing the original progenitor of the Reid clan. For some reason this scene and Ikano Kato's reaction to it, even an ocean away sends comic nerd chills up my spine.
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I had hoped Mishi Kato would last, but somewhere along the road it was decided by the powers-that-be that the "original Bruce Lee" Kato was needed and that second half of volume one would not feature the character. She would not return until volume two as The Crimson Wasp.
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Paul I thought of as a conflicted character with a great deal to live up to.
Again he reminds me a lot of Jack Knight from Starman or Rodimus Prime from Transformers Season 3 in these early first volume issues.
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Somewhere along the way around the time volume two started up, they kind of lost track of the burden-bearing and artistic aspects of the character and these would not be addressed much until Ron Fortier returned to writing the title. I thought there was a lot of great things here in the first half of the first volume of the the Now Comics series. A great deal of love and care for all aspects of the history of the Hornet and a nice set up for an interesting new take on the series.
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1 comment:

  1. Thanks! I was looking for a blog like this. Good Job :)

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