Writer: Mark Waid
Illustrator: Daniel Indro
Cover: Paolo Rivera
Colors: Marcio Menyz
Letters: Troy Peteri
Review by Scott Bachman
The Green Hornet has always been a unique perspective. A hero masquerading as a crime boss. Modern day hero/villains like the Thunderbolts, Secret Six, Superior Spider-man, and Red Hood all owe their lineage to the Hornet. The Hornet’s real name is Britt Reid, and runs the Daily Sentinel, the most powerful newspaper in Chicago – the polar opposite of Clark Kent or Peter Parker because they only cover the news while Britt makes it.
The 1940s time period of the Hornet is a crucial perspective as well. Our age of information works against every part of how a Hornet story works. The death of newspapers is only part of the temporal issue because the Hornet’s ‘gang’ is only Britt and his martial artist/driver/side kick Kato. Making a two man gang seem like an army takes some trickery that the Information Age would easily debunk. Trying to modernize the Green Hornet rips away the very fabric that makes the green suit work *cough* the Green Hornet movie *cough*.
These differences in setting and tone make Green Hornet difficult for modern audiences to grasp. The stories have to spend quite a bit of time explaining history, and historical limitations, all the while breaking them with gadgets in the Hornet’s car, and in the Hornet’s gas gun. Imagine slowing down Spider-man to explain how cellphones work when he checks in with one of his girlfriends?
Mark Waid makes these difficulties and limitations not only look trivial he makes them part of what makes the Hornet wonderful. Chicago is as much a character in the story as the Hornet. The story is pulpy and gritty in both tone and style, and it smells like a noir hard boiled film. You expect Edward G. Robinson to step into the smoke filled room. The story is smart too. The Hornet is portrayed as wickedly clever, manipulating everyone, and thinking on his feet when things go awry. The Hornet is a master at taking any situation and turning it to his advantage not only to escape, but to further his reputation as a crime lord. Cornered by the police? Bribe the only good cop left in Chicago. Prove a suspicion? Barge into the suspects office and claim you know what’s going on, and you want in on the deal as your cut for operating in your city.
The Hornet is a master of Machiavellian manipulation, and by issue three it takes it’s toll. Britt begins to think his ends always justify his means, and that he’s the judge, jury and executioner – because he can. This brings us to the theme of this tight series, those in power should be good care takers to those without power, and inevitably, they are not. The police are corrupt, the politicians corrupt, men of industry… you guessed it, corrupt. Those who seem to be fighting for the week, turn out to be devious liars who are doing the opposite. The Green Hornet is the crusader for them, and Kato his disciple, but when Britt starts going to far, even Kato can’t abide by him. It’s not a message of absolute power corrupting absolutely, it’s that those seeking more power do so at the cost of their souls and corrupt themselves. Watching Britt in action, you can believe he is the monstrous Green Hornet that keeps Chicago terrorized. Britt is as pushy in his publisher persona as he is as the Hornet. Kato alone is the man who knows there is a third persona driving the Hornet, a good man who’s only acting at being bad. So when Kato doubts the act, we know the train has really left the track.
Heavy stuff. It’s all mixed in with great action pieces and the very real understanding that bullets kill, people don’t fly if they fall, and super cars can get towed away and impounded. Despite the need for “teaching” us the Hornet’s world – the setting, the dozens of supporting characters, the three sides to Britt Reid – Waid manages to dance the exposition masterfully so that the story moves briskly. Plots reveal deeper plots, motives hide deeper mysteries, and every aspect of the story leads deeper into a structure that makes Britt Reid’s triple life impossible while paradoxically being successful at it. It’s a house of cards waiting to fall. Waid carefully makes sure we see it shake and then Waid’s slight of hand saves it. Our expectations are being played with by a three-card-monty street hustler, and we’re amazed by every minute of it.
Paolo Rivera’s covers have been clean and striking, while Daniel Indro’s interior art is detailed and dark. The contrast works well because the Hornet is all about subverting perception. Is the Hornet a clean cut four color comic, or the two fisted dark noir pulp? It’s both.
I’ve been reading the series on Comixology, and the digital editions include bonuses like scripts and raw pencils. The new half page mode of Comixology lets you read on a tablet so that half the comic page is shown at a a time in landscape mode, and a slight scroll reveals the bottom half of the page. Two page spreads fill the entire screen. The effect is reading a comic at a size larger than print, plus you can still zoom in and see Indro’s detailed backgrounds. With Maricio Menyz smart color palette, the story feels noirish, even with the brighter iPad screen. I’d argue this series is BETTER on the iPad than in print.
Waid’s series assumes you know nothing about the 40s or the Hornet, and issue 1 gives you all the supporting backstory you need, down to the trivia of his Lone Ranger relative. When this series is collected into a trade paper back, it will be a perfect standalone graphic novel.
I can only hope in a few years they try to make a new Green Hornet movie using this story. Seeing how much the new Superman movie borrowed from Waid’s story Birthright, maybe Hollywood has gotten smart enough to learn to steal their ideas from the best sources. If not, the comic is still a great Reid – pun intended.
Scott is a contributing writer for Drunk On Comics. You can follow him on Twitter at @ScottABachman