by Daniel Frazier
As all married men know, there are parts of your life that the woman you wed embrace as much as you do. Some football nuts are lucky enough to marry a woman who screams louder than they do when their team makes that all-important touchdown. Some movie buffs find their wives purchasing tickets online to an independent flick that even they didn’t realize was at their local art house cinema. There are also the parts of a man’s life that their spouses put up with for the sake of keeping their husbands happy. I hate to break it to guys, but there are a lot of wives out there who don’t know the difference between a changeup and a forward pass (and so I’m not being sexist, I’m not sure I know the difference either—one’s a hockey term, right?). And then there are the areas of a man’s life that their wives hold a casual interest in, such is the way for my wife Jennifer and my comic book fandom.
I have mentioned Jennifer in my past columns before because quite often her tastes and observations of all things in the graphic art world reflect or sometimes influence mine. When Jen latches onto a comic series or comic-based film, she delves into it with the interest of any comic reader. And when she finds something in the genre that is completely against her taste she is very outspoken about it (just ask her about Superman Returns—I double-dog dare ya’). Now, I don’t mean “outspoken” as in she continuously trashes something with glee like some internet haters are prone to do (Superman Returns being the one exception; seriously, you would have thought Bryan Singer and Brandon Routh slapped our kids or something) but instead analyzes and relates what elements of a book or movie turned her off on it. This is how she was able to laugh through most of Seth Rogen’s The Green Hornet and walk out of the theater calling it “terrible.”
To be fair, I can understand that reaction. The film has many faults that it just can’t overcome. I enjoyed the movie more than I didn’t and after suffering through truly terrible rubbish like X-X-Men Origins: Wolverine in the past, I could see the film for what it was—a comedic take on the tired superhero genre—and appreciate it for that. Jen saw the film as a tired superhero movie that had Seth Rogen in it. So you can imagine that it caught my attention in the passing weeks after the movie that thanks to DVR and the SyFy Channel Jennifer became a fan and practically a full-blown fanatic of The Green Hornet television series from the 60s.
What do I mean by “fanatic”? No, she does not wear Green Hornet t-shirts or spends her time painting models of the Black Beauty. However, I have seen a level of interest in her that is usually reserved for one of her, shall we say, geek-level interests: history. Over the last few days, Jen has watched every episode of the show we have on DVR, has researched the history of the show’s production online and has sought out clips of Bruce Lee from other television series on YouTube. This is the woman that during an episode where Kato kicks a man OFF the ground in order to kick him in the jaw said, “Rewind that sh*t!” Okay, that wasn’t her exact words but it was definitely her tone.
Let’s see Jay Chou do this without digital assistance.
It was Jennifer’s sudden devotion to a show over 40 years old that made me stop and really think about what was so captivating about it. I had seen the show back in college when the newly formed FX Channel showed it next to reruns of the Batman television series but I never gave it great consideration. After watching several episodes with Jennifer I have come to two conclusions: it is one of the most underrated superhero series ever created and the foundation that the title character was outdone by his “sidekick”—the entire basis of the recent film—is not only false but does the series a great disservice.
For anyone who hasn’t had the pleasure of seeing an episode, Van Williams is the actor behind the Green Hornet mask and strikes an imposing figure as the undercover hero posing as a criminal mastermind. Williams’ and the writers of the series did an excellent job of taking a character that could be laughable and making him a dominant force over the hoodlums and gangsters he faced each week. As Jennifer once pointed out to me, Williams’ Green Hornet was never without an idea or a grasp of the situation he and Kato faced. Rogen’s Green Hornet was lucky he didn’t shoot himself every time he sat down. This isn’t an effort to underplay the important part Bruce Lee played in his role as Kato, but to dismiss Williams’ perfect performance as the Hornet is not valid in the least. In fact, it undercuts Lee’s performance as well.
Many people who haven’t seen the show and maybe some who have assume Lee played a subservient role as Kato because he was Britt Reid’s (the Green Hornet) butler or he drove the Black Beauty while the Hornet rode in the back seat. What isn’t being taken into account is the fact that both the Hornet and Kato are playing roles to fit their disguises. By Kato serving as the enforcer of the duo, the Hornet comes off as even more imposing and threatening to the criminals he faces. Even Lee’s butler tuxedo serves as a means of disguising his lethal abilities much like Superman putting on a pair of glasses. Another element that shatters the whole hero/sidekick stereotype is the performance of Williams and Lee. These two actors wisely chose to portray the two crime fighters as friends and allies rather than hero and sidekick.
But there is much more to the series that makes it a standout. The cast of supporting characters breaks a lot of established comic-book/superhero traditions that were held long after the show was cancelled and are still being held today. Mary Jane Watson can’t go one Spider-Man movie without having to be rescued and yet Britt Reid’s assistant Lenore Case not only did research for the Hornet but was sent on several occasions into potentially dangerous situations in order to help his crusade. In one episode where Case was kidnapped by the villains, she not only managed to escape on her own but she planted a tracking device on one of the henchmen that led the Hornet to their hideout. Top that, MJ.
And then there’s Mike Axford, the hot-headed, bumbling Irish reported for Britt Reid’s newspaper The Daily Sentinel. Axford breaks the comic book mold by being one of the few male characters that constantly needs to be rescued by the hero. As Jennifer so perfectly put it, he’s a male Lois Lane.
And last but not least is the character of D.A. Frank Scanlon. Scanlon not only knows the Green Hornet is a force for good, but knows who the Hornet is and is very good friends with he and Kato. In every episode, Scanlon travels to Reid’s house via a secret elevator in order to meet and discuss plans on bringing down the criminal underworld. This is similar to Batman’s Commissioner Gordon but different in one crucial way. Batman always stood outside the law and Gordon was his link within it. D.A. Scanlon holds no qualms on operating outside the law to bring down the criminals and in doing so is as much a partner of the Green Hornet’s as Kato is. It is because of this that Jennifer feels Rogen’s revision of the character in the film to be quite…criminal. And that’s putting it mildly how she feels about it.
The final element of the show that truly makes it a winner for me is its writing and ability to mix several of the genres that I love into one fun show. Without losing a step, the series goes from episode to episode with the Green Hornet and Kato taking down gangsters, hypnotists, mad scientists, a serial killer (in one of my favorite episodes starring horror cinema great John Carradine), and even criminals disguised as aliens. All of it is fun and all of it fits perfectly in the tone of the show.
As I mentioned before, there are some interests both a husband and wife embrace together. And while I have always prided myself on being the one to turn Jennifer onto comics, I am more pleased when she finds that hidden jewel in my beloved genre and helps me see it in a whole new light. The Green Hornet television series is one of those jewels and I recommend any of you who have not yet seen a single episode of the show to call in sick to work on February 9th, curl up on the couch with some chips and soda and tune in to SyFy between 8am and 4pm for a marathon of fist-fighting, kung fu crime-fighting TV greatness.
Thought Balloons is a column by Daniel Frazier regarding the art and business of comic books and anything comic book related (movies, TV shows, toys, artwork, etc.). Comments and discussions are very welcome.