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CSBG Archive

Into the back issue box #13

This week: a beloved pop culture figure gets updated for the late 1980s/early 1990s … and the results are less than stellar, to say the least.  Read on!

As I do every week, I point you to the ground rules for these posts.  It’s all about the ground rules!

The Green Hornet #8 (“On the Pad”) by Ron Fortier, Jeff Butler, and David Mowry.  Published by Now Comics, June 1990.

01-14-2007 03;34;43PM.JPG

I have very little knowledge about the television series starring the Green Hornet.  Bruce Lee was in it.  That’s about it.  But I know about it, and if you were a pop culture gadabout in 1990 looking for a shot of nostalgia, maybe you would pick this comic book up in the hope that it would be something akin to the TV show.  Or maybe you, like me, had never seen the show but thought the idea of a man dressed in green calling himself the Green Hornet and dispensing justice with the help of his Asian sidekick would make a good comic book.

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Well, it might make a good comic book, but this one is not it.  I was always under the impression that the television show wasn’t played exactly straight, but had a bit of a wry sense of humor about itself.  Even if it didn’t, I think that would be a good tone for a comic book to take – lots of action and adventure, but never taking itself too seriously.  Like Errol Flynn in The Adventures of Robin Hood!  Unfortunately, this book takes itself way too seriously, and therefore it becomes just another lousy comic book trying to be “relevant.”

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We’ll start with our hero and his sidekick, who is Asian but is also female.  That’s fine.  Mr. Hornet (“Paul” is his real name, so that’s what I’ll call him) is at a bar, telling the bartender that he will pay him good money if “Bud” (the bartender) keeps his eyes and ears open in the neighborhood.  Bud objects briefly because he “ain’t no stoolie for no one,” but then Paul gives him a Benjamin and Bud says he’ll do what he can.  Here’s the funny part – Bud tells Paul this in front of all the patrons in his bar, who look somewhat surly and, well, criminal.  They all heard it!  How is Bud going to collect any information when everyone knows he’s working for the ‘Net?  We get some decent exposition about Kato, who studied at MIT and grew up with three older brothers.  We also learn that “Kato” is the family name, something I didn’t know.  Was it that way in the TV show, or did we not learn that much about the enigmatic sidekick?

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The scene shifts to a police operation, as the cops are about to bust into a small house in a crappy part of town.  A few of the cops go around back, where a Miami Vice reject and two henchmen are waiting with automatic weapons.  They open fire on the cops, and the two out front wonder why their partners went in early.  A bad guy shoots one of them down, and then a woman comes out of the house with a gun and maniacally blows the last cop away.  Oh dear.

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The next day, Diana Reid, the district attorney, who is recovering from a near-fatal gunshot wound (as the narration helpfully tells us), returns to work.  We get some character development, as her co-workers have bought her a first edition Yeats for “her rare book collection.”  She gets a phone call about the massacre the night before.  “Mike,” who is a lieutenant in the police force, says he’s at Mount Mercy General Hospital.  She asks why, and Mr. Sensitive, says, “Keeping company with three cops … Three dead cops!”  What a weird way to put it, Mike!  That’s why the ladies love him, apparently!  Diana isn’t much better: when she gets to the hospital, Mike tells her it was supposed to be a routine narcotics raid, and that the cops were the best in the department.  Diana replies, “You have your tense right, Lieutenant.  Were!”  Shit, Diana, you and Mike should take your act on the road!  The only survivor was Sandra Maloney, one of the cops who went around the back.  Diana doesn’t know where to turn, so she calls Paul, her nephew.

                   01-14-2007 03;42;39PM.JPG

This is a surreal little scene between Diana and Paul.  She calls him on a fancy wrist-phone, and catches him playing the piano.  In the first panel, he’s playing with both hands as his watch rings.  In the next panel, when he answers it, he’s holding a piece of bread and chewing on a bite he just took.  So he was playing the piano when his watch rang, he stopped, picked up the bread, took a bite, then answered it while his mouth was full.  Huh?  He continues to eat while he talks to her, as in another panel, more of the bread is gone.  Someone needs to teach Paul some manners!  She asks if they can meet “at the mansion” later in the afternoon, and they set it up.  Then, in a completely extraneous page, Paul thinks for a moment, snaps his fingers, says “Back to the Mazurka” while clutching the piece bread in his mouth (needless to say, much of it is restored – is it a different piece?), then plays while chewing.  On the piano is a newspaper with the headline “War on Drugs Escalates” and a picture of Paul and another man outside of a mansion – the same mansion where he’s meeting Diana.  The final panel focuses in on the photograph, and the narration is weird – “Chopin is the most popular of the piano composers.  Like a jeweller, he polished his pieces until they were as perfect as he could make them.”  What the crap is that supposed to mean?

                    01-14-2007 03;43;47PM.JPG

We catch up with Paul and Diana having a picnic lunch outside of the mansion, which is being restored, I suppose (lots of scaffolding and workers).  Diana mentions two cops besides the ones on the raid knew about it, so Diana asks if the Green Hornet could check them out to find the leak.  We’re not sure if Diana knows that Paul and the Hornet are the same person – the implication is that she does know, but it’s never stated.  We learn that Kato’s name is Mishi, and she’s looking for an apartment.  We switch scenes to … Mishi’s apartment-hunting!  Seriously.  We get three pages of her meeting the landlord, Jon, who runs an auto repair shop, and checking out the place.  Jon says he can tell that she’s only part Japanese, because, he says, “There are few tall Orientals” and she has “a similar uniqueness [to his son] about you that often results from the mixing of ethnic cultures.”  That’s just a weird conversation all around.  Mishi likes the apartment, and takes it.  Jon better turn out to be a super-villain or a love interest, because three pages of her finding an apartment?  Really?

               01-14-2007 03;45;01PM.JPG

That night the ’Net and Mishi followed one of the cops who might be crooked.  Mishi drives while Paul does research on his computer, and he finds out that Thornston – the cop – is married with two children, one of whom attends Harvard.  Mishi says that might be a good tell that he’s crooked, but Paul points out that his wife is one of the top five real estate brokers on the East Coast, so they’re loaded.  As they follow the car, three motorcyclists pass them – and one of them is the Miami Vice reject who shot the cops!  Up ahead is a pick-up truck, and two bad-looking dudes with guns are standing in it.  Yes, it’s an ambush, as our hero (and Thornston, the cop) suddenly realize.  One bad guy says, “It’s payback time, cop!” and when the Hornet says that it’s an ambush, Mishi says, “Bingo!”  The issue, to state the obvious, is to be continued.  What the hell?  Payback for what, bad guy?  And why does Mishi say something as stupid as “Bingo”?  So many mysteries!!!!!

                        01-14-2007 03;46;27PM.JPG

In case you haven’t figured it out, this is pretty dumb.  We’re obviously in the middle of a story, and Fortier makes some effort to keep us up to speed, but the storytelling is so disjointed that anyone picking this up on a lark would have no interest in getting another.  I mean, Paul doesn’t do much in the issue except bribe a bartender and follow a cop (oh, and play piano, of course), and the extraneous stuff – Mishi finding an apartment, for instance – is so incongruous that it puts us off.  The issue just doesn’t really have much of a flow, which means we can’t just go along with it.  We’re always taken out of the story to wonder why stuff is happening, like why Paul has such poor manners on the phone.

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Butler’s art is pretty bad, too.  Didn’t he draw some issues of Badger in the Eighties, as well?  I’ve heard of him, I think, from there.  His figures are stiff and look vaguely like posed action figures, and everything has kind of a boxy look to it – he doesn’t like the curves, man!  In a few panels, he has a really weird sense of perspective – this shot of the bad guys shooting the cops is strange, because the cops are supposed to be in front of them, yet they appear to be shooting to the side:

             01-14-2007 03;50;47PM.JPG

This is not a very good comic book, but more than that, it doesn’t show off why comics are cool.  It’s dull and rather ugly and doesn’t allow a pretty visually cool character like the Green Hornet to really do anything.  Again, I get that it’s in the middle of a story, and in issue #9, perhaps, our hero flies into action and kicks ass, but there’s no real reason for us to return to see it.

In the back of the issue, the Associate Editor of Now Comics, Katherine Llewellyn, writes that the first four issues of the series “sold out,” which we all know means jack, really.  She also announces that Van Williams, who played the Green Hornet in the television series, is plotting an upcoming mini-series.  Wow.  I bet that rocked!

                          01-14-2007 03;48;15PM.JPG

                                Amen to that, GH.  Amen to that.

9 Comments

What is with Kato’s hair? I mean, she must have a serious styling gel budget, or else a small portable Van de Graaf generator in her mask. Either way, it’s messed up.

OK, to make things even worse… the 60s Hornet rode around in a customized Chrysler Imperial limo.

THESE rejects are riding around in a ripoff of the “Knight 4000″ from the “Knight Rider 2000″ movie.

Who ordered extra cheese?

Excuse me, but why is Hal Jordan running around in a green trenchcoat and a hat? It’s not a good look, and hides your best asset (heh heh)

And what kind of sicko eats while playing the piano?

You guys make me feel really ancient sometimes. I actually bought this book when it came out; the idea was that this was the third generation of the Green Hornet. First was Britt Reid and Ikano Kato, in the 1940′s (radio show) the second was Britt Reid II and Hayashi Kato (60′s TV show) and the third was the comic book.

The book coasted for about a year on the goodwill of those of us who loved the Hornet and wanted a comic to succeed, and also because the book had amazing, amazing covers. Greg managed to bird-dog one of the few really awful ones here, but mostly you had extraordinary paintings from guys like Dave Dorman and Steranko and Neal Adams. The licensor threw a fit about Mishi Kato, by the way, saying the new Kato couldn’t be a girl, and so she was promptly written out and her new male cousin introduced. So the apartment thing went nowhere… but it probably was supposed to.

It was canceled a couple of months after this, then revived with Chuck Dixon writing. He did a much better job, and one of the first things he did was get rid of that horrible car. But I think Now comics had the same kind of gladly-pay-you-Tuesday attitude that a lot of new comics companies seem to suffer from and as soon as people stopped getting paid the talented folks all fled.

Believe it or not, I think the Hornet was their biggest hit. Mostly because of idiots like me that kept hoping it would get good. I’ve learned since then to only actually spend the money if I LIKE a book. But I was young and foolish then.

I feel ancient, too. These were not great comics. Worse than that, they kept me from reading a really great comic for over a year, namely the Jack Knight Starman. Why? Because in the Green Hornet update was full of Legacy Hero stuff that was like catnip to me: The original Green Hornet was a descendant of the (unnamed but shown) Lone Ranger; his son (nephew?) was the cool sixties TV version, and the piano-playing Paul was the next generation. But Paul was the sensitive, piano-playing kid who wanted nothing to do with the legacy, and who had a gung-ho older brother who couldn’t wait to take on the heroic mantle. The brother gets blown away his first time out, and Paul reluctantly takes over the family business.

Sound familiar? But remember, this all was written before James Robinson and Tony Harris gave us their Starman. The Green Hornet reboot wasn’t written well, but it was written first. SO…when, in a few panels in Zero Hour: Crisis in Time, the weak, injured Ted Knight passes the cosmic baton…

Ted: I’m done. You’ll have to take over for me, David.
David: Hot Diggety!
Jack: Better you than me, bro’.

…I knew where they were going to go with it. When Starman issue #0 came out, and featured David Knight getting plugged in the first few pages, I put it back on the shelf, thinking, “Why would I want to read THAT again?”

Just goes to show: execution (not meaning David’s) is everything. I started reading Starman from around #18, and kicked myself for having to play catch-up through back issues and trades.

Where does one find a green trenchcoat? Probably where the Joker shops also, eh?

I just can’t get past how incredibly stiff the art is. Like, Greg Land-ian stiff, without the excuse of obvious tracing.

I think you’re confusing Jeff Butler (the artist on this Green Hornet comic) with Steven Butler (the artist on Badger. Steven is much more talented, although he also produced some crappy work on books like Marvel’s Silver Sable.

The thing I always hated about Now comics was their awful coloring. It’s that watercolor style that just washes out all the detail in the inks.

Yeah, Dara, I realized that a while after I posted this, but I didn’t feel like going back and changing it. Thanks for keeping me honest, though!

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