Recently, Josh Green got the chance to catch up with writer Matt Wagner. In this interview Matt discusses Green Hornet, Zorro, and much more.
Josh Green: How long have you been a fan of Green Hornet? Have you always hoped to write a Green Hornet comic book?
Matt Wagner: I’ve been a fan of the Hornet and these types of characters for many, many years. If you look at my career, I’ve always had an affinity for the masked avenger sort of hero; Batman, the Golden Age Sandman, and Zorro are all characters that I’ve worked with over the years. They bear a certain similarity in many regards, but they’re also individually unique. So, part of the challenge for this type of project is figuring the specific characteristics that make this particular masked avenger different from all the rest. While I DO love the character, I can’t in all honesty really say that I’ve had a burning, unfulfilled yearning to write the Green Hornet since I entered this biz because, let’s face it…I’ve had a pretty satisfying career so far. I’ve gotten to do pretty much whatever I wanted since the earliest days of my professional life. But, when Dynamite secured the rights to the property and the opportunity arose to lend my talents to the tales of the Golden Age Green Hornet — in effect, to redefine his origins from the very beginning — well, considering my history with both these sort of characters and with Dynamite, I just couldn’t say “No” to that!
JG: What is your interpretation of Green Hornet as a character? What traits distinguish him from most other heroes?
MW: Well, as I said, part of the trick to working with so many different variations of this theme is to figure out what makes each and every version of the masked avenger archetype work. With Batman, it’s witnessing his parents’ murder. The Golden Age Sandman suffered from a trapped dream state. And Zorro fights for far more egalitarian purposes. The neat thing about the Hornet is that, to the world at large, he’s a criminal. Now, those other characters I mentioned as well as their various brethren (The Shadow, The Lone Ranger, etc…) operate outside the law, but only the Green Hornet adopts the role of an ersatz criminal as part of his disguise. We’ll get into not only why that factor is part of his alter-ego but also why Britt Reid, a well-connected heir to a newspaper fortune, whose father was a crusading journalist that also fought crime through the power of the press, went this route. Why would such a man choose the path of the masked vigilante?
JG: On the flip side, how do you view Kato?
MW: Kato’s an interesting ball of wax for a number of reasons. First, you’ve got the issue of the “ethnic sidekick”, which was a fairly common motif in the days of the Hornet’s creation (the 1930s) but presents a somewhat sticky and potentially downright insulting sort of reality in a contemporary frame. Additionally, Kato is kind of unique among the ranks of sidekicks in that he’s the one who seems like the utter bad-ass…not the title character! So, I need to answer the questions of Kato’s ethnic origin (his nationality tended to shift in the old days, based on the political winds of the day) and address the question of why this highly trained martial artist would follow and serve this rich, young white guy whose ass he could probably whup without even raising a sweat! For our version of this tale, Kato is Japanese. And his “origin” of how he becomes involved with Britt and flees his native land are based around an actual historical event of the time.
JG: What’s the premise behind Green Hornet: Year One? Who’s the main villain?
MW: Traditionally, the Green Hornet didn’t have a rogue’s gallery of super-villains. His mission was to wipe out organized crime in his home city — taking up the crusade that his father fought for so many years but via different means — and so his main opponents are/were a rotating cast of gangsters. In fact, his old radio intro stated;
“HE HUNTS THE BIGGEST OF ALL GAME…PUBLIC ENEMIES THAT EVEN THE FBI CAN’T REACH!”
Apparently J. Edgar Hoover himself took umbrage at that statement so the secondary phrase was later changed to, “…PUBLIC ENEMIES WHO TRY TO DESTROY OUR AMERICA!” Anyway, that’s why he adopts the masquerade of posing as a villain himself, to disorient his enemies and throw them off their game. Gangsters might hate cops and law enforcement, but they get frothing mad and blinded by rage when they think another crook is muscling in on their territory. So, for now at least, that’s the approach I’m taking…that he’s taking on The Mob. Now, that doesn’t mean that we won’t have some intriguingly cruel, memorably grotesque and downright insane gangsters for him to fight.
JG: Is it exciting working on Green Hornet: Year One during a year when Green Hornet will be a major motion picture?
MW: We really have no connection whatsoever to the movie. I haven’t seen even a scrap of the script or a hint of the storyline. We’re just doing our own thing in trying to redefine the character for a modern readership. That includes, as I said, fleshing out the Hornet and Kato’s mutual origins. Now, if the movie comes out and happens to be a big hit and, due to our confluence of our publishing around the time of the film’s release, we happen to sell a whole mess a’ extras copies… Hey, you’ll get no complaints outta me!
JG: Who is doing the art for Green Hornet: Year One? What has your experience been like working with that artist?
MW: Joining me as the artist on this book is relative newcomer, Aaron Campbell. Many readers might recognize Aaron as the artist on Dynamite’s recent Sherlock Holmes mini-series, which was written by Leah Moore and John Reppion. Aaron’s got a wonderful skill at rendering dynamic and believable characters and a real sharp eye for period detail. He’s doing a fabulous job of translating my scripts! So much so that, when the art comes in I find myself saying, “Geez…that’s exactly how I described that sequence!” I particularly love his version of Kato, for two reasons; 1) he looks like a Japanese man of the appropriate time period, and 2) he doesn’t look like Bruce Lee! Of course, the former’s hard enough to pull off but the latter is a common pitfall for anyone approaching that character — “Oh, look…it’s Bruce Lee!” Not so with this version of Kato. Aaron’s been an absolute joy to work with and his art manages to evoke both a highly detailed reality as well as a really pulpy atmosphere. I couldn’t be happier with the results!
MW: Well, basically, the origin is divided up into two six-issue arcs, which compris
e the titular YEAR ONE. I’m still writing Zorro while working on this, so it’s not like I’ll be “returning” to that title. So far as how long I’ll be involved in either title…there’s just no way to tell at this point. The important thing is to continue as the writer of either book only so long as I have new and fresh ideas on how the stories should progress. Only time will tell, in that regard.
JG: Can you give our readers a preview of the upcoming issues of your Zorro comic book with Dynamite?
MW: The current storyline runs thru issue #20 and is titled “Fox Tales.” It concerns our hero”s adventures first reaching the ears of his ultimate enemy — the governor of Alta California, General Rafael Mancado. Considering the time period and the fact that the government seat in the early 1800s was located in Monterey, nearly 300 miles to the north of Los Angeles, reports of this brash and dramatic highwayman who is haunting the southern length of El Camino Real are slow to become known. Even then, the accounts that Mancado receives are wildly divergent and unreliable. A canny military strategist, he makes sure to gather as much information as he can about this vexing problem to the south, an obstacle that is proving far more obstinate than he would have guessed. The next story arc will see some major changes in the narrative; with Zorro suffering some of the first significant losses in his masked crusade and the ultimate creation of his first “super”-villain!