Mini-Series Reviews...

cover #1Sting of the Green Hornet

(1992 - four issues, Now Comics)

Writer: Ron Fortier. Pencils/Plot: Jeff Butler. Inks: Butler, David Mowry.

In the 1990s, up-and-coming publisher, Now, had the rights to The Green Hornet -- the enduring (if not always that successful) hero who began life as a 1930s radio series, but over the years has been featured on the small and big screen, and enjoyed periodic (if short-lived) comic book series. Now's approach was to treat the character as a multi-generational hero, the garb passed from father to son (presumably inspired by the fact that the 1930s radio series and the 1960s TV series are equally identified with the character, and that the character -- in the radio show -- was supposed to be a descendant of The Lone Ranger which was from the same creator). Much of Now's comics were focused on a contemporary version of the character -- allowing for occasional flashback issues and mini-series focusing on earlier generations.

Which brings us to Sting of the Green Hornet, a mini-series featuring the original Hornet (and sidekick Kato) and firmly ensconced in the wartime milieu of the 1940s. The story has the Hornet becoming embroiled in the schemes of a Nazi villainess operating a spy ring in the U.S. The Hornet, in his alter ego of publisher Britt Reid, even being recruited by the U.S. intelligence department.

And it's basically okay...but not much more.

It reunited Jeff Butler and Ron Fortier who had worked on Now's first Green Hornet series. Alhough by then Now was publishing a second series by others, Fortier would be reassuming the writing chores. So to some fans it was a reuniting of a "classic" creative team. On the plus side, it trundles along at a decent pace, with requisite running about and cliff hangers between issues. Butler's art isn't especially dynamic, but is pleasantly straightforward and realist (though I think I actually preferred the final issue when he's inked by Mowry).

Part of the gimmick was to work in cheeky nods to other characters that Now didn't have the rights to (they aren't, technically, identified but -- wink-wink -- the reader is supposed to recognize them). This wasn't the first time a comic employed such references, but nonetheless you could argue this was slightly ahead of it becoming the common trend it is today (the old "It's not a rip-off...it's an homage!" idea). So an ersatz Shadow gives them some clues, and Clark Kent and Lois Lane wander by in a panel. I suspect a GI is maybe supposed to evoke Sgt. Fury. More significantly, part of the plot involves a government super soldier project and even meeting a guy named "Steve" (ie: Steve Rogers -- Captain America) with a second, Captain America-like costumed super soldier, dubbed The Yankee Commando, actually playing a significant part in the story! Not to mention Fortier drew some minor characters to look like famous actors, and President Roosevelt gets embroiled in the story (though Roosevelt is a common character in such retro stories -- from "Annie" to The All-Star Squadron).

Funnily, I wonder if the issue of using un-licensed characters applied even to some Green Hornet characters. In a minor scene, we see a couple of the people at Reid's newspaper -- but he doesn't refer to them by their names used in the radio series (though maybe that's just because the characters -- secretary Casey and reporter Axeford -- had been transplanted to the 1960s era character).

But references and in-joke cameos aside, the story itself never fully ignites. It is mainly plot driven, the Green Hornet pursuing the Nazis (with even the characters admitting a lot of the Nazis' actions are just distractions from their true scheme). It does become a little more exciting half-way through, when the real plan kicks in, involving a kidnapping. But not too much especially stands out in terms of plot twists, or unusual story concepts. (One could also argue that the original radio series was often supposed to be kind of realist, even mundane, with The Hornet tackling corruption and con men -- villains who operated "within the law" -- rather than Nazis and super soldiers).

While the Green Hornet and Kato have very little personality -- nor is there much secondary character-focus to pick up the slack. The German villainess is just a German villainess. (And one could devote a whole essay to dissecting the idea of the archetype of the female Nazi villain -- and her counterpart, the Soviet Russian female villain. And whether it's sexist: the idea that the bad guys are feminists when, certainly in the case of the Nazis, I'm pretty sure gender equality was not true to their philosophy! Or maybe it was just an excuse to work in a buxom babe. And whatever the origin, here I suspect it reflects less any subconscious sexism on the part of the creators and merely their desire to use a pulp fiction cliche -- though there's no romantic tension).

Obviously one could argue the Green Hornet in the old radio series wasn't exactly the most emotionally complex personality. But still, for an almost 100 page comic book adventure, serialized over four months, you kind of need a reason to invest in the heroes. Put another way, after reading this, I'm not sure there's any reason you'd feel a need -- or desire -- to revisit the character. It's not that you dislike him -- it's just neither he, nor Kato, make much impression.

At one point a letter writer even suggests the story is "corny" but assumes that's the point. And although that's sort of true (especially with the nods to other comic book characters) it's not fun enough (ie: with witty quips or wild ideas) to coast by as simply a nostalgic romp, without being nuanced or dramatic enough to score as a straight WW II thriller featuring masked heroes.

Ultimately it's a perfectly adequate page-turner, getting a bit more exciting in the second half -- without being anything more. (As an example of contrast you could trackdown the 1988 Crimson Avenger mini-series -- also a period thriller featuring a character who was, literally, a carbon copy of The Green Hornet, but which managed to be both pulpier, more complex...and more thoughtful and character-focused).

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