In May 2008, Dynamite Entertainment President and Publisher Nick Barrucci announced that filmmaker/writer Kevin Smith (Clerks) would pen the all-new adventures of the legendary Green Hornet.
Not surprisingly, Smith’s name has been attached to comic book-inspired movies numerous times in his career, including a big screen version of The Green Hornet for Miramax that never materialized (and bears no relation to the Seth Rogan Green Hornet film currently in production). In 2004, Smith told Variety that “I dig the fact that [the Green Hornet] kicked off a run of billionaire playboys who decided to put on a mask and fight crime, and that he was Batman before there was a Batman.”
Now, the fan-favorite filmmaker opens up to Dynamite Publisher Nick Barrucci about the origins of his Green Hornet comic and Smith’s take on the vigilante’s mythos:
NB: It’s been a few years since you wrote your version of the Green Hornet screenplay. How has your view of the property changed since then, and how is this story going to be similar or different than the version you’d planned on filming?
KS: “The similarity is in that it is going to be exactly like the screenplay that I wrote except with additions. I’m going to be able to throw new stuff in there. I’ll probably do a dialogue pass too, because I can’t imagine the 2010 me is very comfortable with the dialogue that I wrote in 2004. I’ll probably be like ‘Ugh, I can do better.’ And I think that will pretty much be it. It’s going to be a straight up adaptation of that script if we do our jobs correctly and Phil and Jonathan are definitely as talented and up for the task as we all assume they are we should see something that’s pretty much going to look like the movie I would have made. And let’s be honest. It’s going to be better because I’m sure Jonathan’s a far better artist than I am a director.” (laughs)
You eventually shelved the movie, saying it was too far outside your comfort zone. Can you walk us through your thinking on that a little?
“Yes, I said it was way too far outside of my comfort zone. That was definitely me acknowledging that point. I would have been way in over my head and it would have been a disaster. It would not have worked. It would not have worked for our hero, I was not J.J. Abrams. There was no way I was going to reinvent that franchise and have people go ‘Great job, Dude!’ I mean, think about it, J.J. Abrams had to climb a way bigger hill because everybody knows and loves Star Trek.
“The core audience for the Green Hornet, at least my version of the Green Hornet that I was being paid to do (not the fun version that Seth and Michel Gondry are doing now), my version the audience for it, they were all in their ‘80s, you know, this was a character created for radio plays and whatnot. Sure some people have a memory of Bruce Lee, have big memory of Bruce Lee playing Kato but they don’t know much more about the show. They didn’t know that the show didn’t really last but one season. They don’t know that the show ultimately just didn’t have a colorful enough rogues gallery to keep going, it was caught somewhere between being campy and being serious. It couldn’t so the campy that the Adam West Batman TV show did but it couldn’t be The Dark Knight because we couldn’t have a Dark Knight for another 30 more years or something like that. At some point it just didn’t make that much of an impression beyond the ‘Oh my God, it’s the first time we’ve seen Bruce Lee in America.’
“So it was this weird wasteland from which to proceed and try to start writing the script because there were so many factors working against it. Its core audience not being anyone the studio would go after with their marketing. They’re not going to make ads, how do you make spots for an 80-year-old who used to like the show when it was on the radio. So they were going after a fresh, young audience who were completely unfamiliar with the Green Hornet, they didn’t know who the Green Hornet was and at that point you want to honor what’s come before but you have to make it palatable for a current audience but how do you do that when they have Batman and Batman is way more interesting visually, way more screwed up in terms that his parents were killed and he’s grappling with this every day and Britt Reid is like ‘Yeah, I own a newspaper and I want to do the right thing.’ So you can’t go as emo as you can with Batman, you just have to find this balance and tone and for me I found it in the story of a dude trying to live up to who his father is.”
The Green Hornet is a guy in a hat and a mask with a nifty car – how do you sell that to today’s readership?
“You know, I would argue that that’s the Batman formula and Batman you can sell quite easily. Green Hornet doesn’t have the rogue’s gallery that Batman does, and that will be the biggest hill that everyone’s going to have to climb with the new Green Hornet books is figuring out how to create that rogues gallery for a character that heretofore had none. I mean there’s almost no Green Hornet villain, I had to create one for the movie because we didn’t have one and in that instance I just went for something, I was like ‘That will look cool in a movie.’
“Once you get that in place, once you have some colorful villains it’s a lot easier to sell but I think you’ve always got – it’s just a cool look, it’s a cool, clean look you look at most comic book characters and it’s dudes in spandex and even Batman who is arguably the baddest of them all is a dude in spandex with a cape. The Green Hornet is literally a dude in a long coat, I can get behind that, been getting behind that my whole career. The Green Hornet makes the fedora work just like Indiana Jones and he rocks a very simple mask. He’s such a pimp he wears an ascot from time to time and he’s got himself a manservant who drives him around and in our version of the books, she’s a very sexy, pretty chick. I mean, I’m sold, then throw the car in there on top of it. What’s not to sell, all three pieces of the pie are there, three huge slices of the American pie right there. Superheroes, billionaire costumed crime fighter, chicks and cars, come on. That’s a NASCAR book.”
Green Hornet is an old pulpy character with a lot of baggage in some ways, but he seems to endure. Why do you think that is? Also, the whole role of Kato has gotten more problematic. Do you think that stands up to modern sensibilities?
“Well, it’s always going to be awkward having this manservant relationship between Green Hornet and Kato. For me, it’s not fraught with complications; the biggest one is just where does Green Hornet sit – in the back seat or the front seat? You put him in the back seat and you’re creating a class system between two characters are supposedly best friends not to mention work partners and homoerotic lovers as well. You know imaginary. You put him in the back seat man, it’s just upholding the old stereotype of ‘Hey, everyone works for the white man or some such [stuff].’ You gotta put him in the front seat, once you do that it’s copasetic.”
What’s the most fun thing about the Green Hornet?
“I think what’s always been fun about the Hornet character is he keeps his own myth going, he pumps his own myth, he’s his own publicist. He owns a newspaper, Britt Reid, so in his newspaper he can lash out at the horrible criminal menace of the Green Hornet, the masked mobster that is taking over the city by one-by-one systematically taking out all other dealers, and then this dude is a hero, he’s just pretending to be a bad guy and that’s how he gets his work done. During his day job, he can hype himself as this bad guy and write editorial about how the Green Hornet should be stopped blah, blah, blah.
“I always thought that was rather clever because he doesn’t have a lot of things going for him some other characters have, he doesn’t have superpowers, he doesn’t have the ten years training that Bruce Wayne had to become the masked crime fighter that he is as Batman. He found a way, he found his way. He was just going to build himself up as this total badass in his newspaper and then at night it was going to make his job easier, going in there and cracking skulls, keeping the city safe.”