Dynamite has sent over David Liss’ writer’s commentary for Green Hornet: Reign of the Demon #1, which is on sale now. The cover is by Ken Lashley with interiors by Kewber Baal.
I’ve been writing pulp comics for a number of years now, but when I took on this Green Hornet assignment, I realized it was the first time I’d be writing a classic pulp character in the original historical setting – my work on the Shadow and the Spider involved bringing both characters into the modern era. Dynamite has had multiple iterations of Green Hornet, but I thought it would be best to pick up where Mark Waid’s excellent run left off. The end of that run had a tone of finality – a major criminal taken down and a major ally having sacrificed herself to keep Green Hornet in the game. From the get go, I wanted to open this story with a sense of this being a transitional period.
Power, as we all know, spends much of its free time abhorring vacuums, so it made perfect sense to me that with a major crime lord having gone down, someone else would come along to take his place. I wanted to get back in the action right away, with the implication that the city’s falling apart. Clearly, Green Hornet has got to do something about it, especially since this is a mess of his own making. I get things warmed up with a quick montage here to let people know this new crime boss, Demone, isn’t someone who messes around. We see him enforcing his rule though cruel, excessive violence. Hopefully by the end of page 2, the reader gets that the stakes are high.
One of the things I most enjoy about writing Green Hornet is the emotional pull of depicting a good guy who is trying act like a bad guy in order to get good things done. There were lots of ways I wanted to explore this, and the Hornet’s interactions with Dwight the janitor is the first instance of this in this arc. Here’s a guy who clearly hates what he sees going on around him but continues to work for Demone because of economic necessity. He’s only too eager to join forces with Green Hornet, who he sees as the devil he knows, so to speak. By the end of this page, Dwight has agreed to do the right thing – stop Demone – for the wrong reason – a big old wad of cash. The Green Hornet, in other words, for all the good he does, must grapple with being a corrupting influence.
Pages 4 – 5
At the end of Waid’s run, Casey had allowed herself to be caught robbing a bank as part of a scheme to force Britt to rethink his plans to give up being Green Hornet. There was no way I was going to let Casey stay behind bars for this story, so I had to figure out how I was going to get her out of jail. The clown suit switcheroo felt like fun way of getting the job done. Stories like this can sometimes become a little too dark, so I like to add light touches where I can.
One of the things I like about Casey is her struggle to find agency in a world in which women are so drastically limited. I didn’t want her to see Britt as her knight of shining armor for getting her out of jail. It may have been a bad choice, but it was hers, and for a powerful man to come along and sweep all of her efforts away must make her feel diminished. Here I wanted to establish the complexity of her feelings, her relationship with Britt, and also get them back on good terms.
Yet another new element. There’s a new police chief in town. Is he the reformer he claims to be? It’s not yet clear, but he does kind of look like a movie star.
We’ve got a pretty good number of balls in the air now, so we return to Dwight the janitor, trying to spy on Demone. Green Hornet demonstrates his power by being able to learn secrets and manipulate people, but we see right away that Demone is not to be underestimated. We also get our first real look at the man himself. I haven’t yet talked about Kewber Baal’s awesome art, so this seems like a good place to do so. One of the things I enjoy about working in comics is getting to see an artist’s interpretation of ideas. There are three characters in this script I was looking forward to seeing rendered visually. I love how Kewber combines the insane demon mask with the suit.
Casey may be free from the legal system, but it isn’t so easy to escape the grasping hand of patriarchy.
Things have gone bad for Dwight pretty quickly, and Britt is conflicted about being Green Hornet. His efforts to save lives have resulted in innocent life being lost. Kato, however, perceives things a little less emotionally. To his mind, they haven’t brought these conditions into being, but they can play a part in reshaping them. I tend to see Britt as operating more from the heart, Kato from the head. Their conflicts during this story are going to stem from these conflicting positions. The banter about the car at the end, however, is meant to show that even when they are at odds, their relationship remains close.
Pages 12 – 13
I wanted to make sure I took Kato’s Asian heritage seriously in this story. Being an Asian guy in a period of undisguised racism would surely have exerted his own pressures on him. It seemed to me probable that he would feel a certain amount of kinship toward other oppressed Asians, such as the sex-worker Lien Hua. Rather than forcing a guy like Dwight to risk his life to work as a mole, Kato wants to help get someone to safety so they can get information from her.
Pages 14 – 15
I fully admit I like writing the plain-clothes character-driven sequences as much as the crime-fighting action sequences. There are a bunch of things I wanted to get done at this party. First, we have Casey admiring Chief Cline’s Hollywood good looks. How is Britt going to feel about this? Secondly, we are introduced to Linda Travis, a character who first appeared in the Green Hornet radio show. She’s a daring reporter and one who, in the original stories, learns the Green Hornet’s true identity. This is both a new dramatic element and something fun for the fans. Britt is, of course, kind of a jerk to her. Maybe if he was listening instead of talking, he could save himself some trouble down the road.
Pages 16 – 17
The relationship with Cline gets a little deeper here, as the chief discusses his concerns about an alliance between gangsters and foreign powers. In particular, he’s worried about Giusto Gareri. This is another great Kewber Baal moment. I can’t sufficiently express how much I love that beard!
Pages 18 – 19
Greet Hornet and Demone meet face-to face. I wanted to establish how Demone’s ruthlessness is going to present real challenges for the Hornet. He’s dealing with a guy who has no problem stabbing a woman in the chest. He’s also come prepared. I loved having him figured out a way to shrug off the shock gun. The Hornet’s standard arsenal is not going to be enough.
The last big reveal of the issue. Maybe Britt should have been listening to Linda Travis when she was talking about the masked hero. The Swashbuckler has such a fun, period-appropriate costume, right out of an Errol Flynn movie. Even the Hornet finds it a little ridiculous. But is this guy for real? Also, another fantastic creation by Kewber.
Finally, I’ll just say a word about my theory of how to end an issue. I try to stay away from character-in-danger endings. A reading is going to be bored with an ending that asks “Will the Green Hornet survive?” Of course he is going to survive. I like to end issues with what I find to be a much better question: “What the hell is going to happen next?” Women in danger, Green Hornet and Kato facing off against Demone, and the wildcard of the Swashbuckler who – it is worth remembering – believes the Hornet is a villain. This could go anywhere, right?
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