“The Green Hornet – He hunts the biggest of all game, the public officials that even the G-men cannot reach!” Thus starts the half-hour-long radio serial about a millionaire playboy with a crime-and-corruption fighting secret identity, The Green Hornet. The radio drama was created by George Trendle and Fran Striker, the same people behind The Lone Ranger, the Texas Ranger who was left for dead in the Wild West before striking it rich and turning that fortune into fighting crime. This connection explains why the main character, Britt Reid, claims The Lone Ranger as a relative, and why they also share similarities in backgrounds, ethos, and sidekicks. They are both rich, white do-gooders with minority bodyguards/sidekicks.
In the fictional context of the character, Britt Reid is a newspaper publisher and former reporter with tons of money from his inheritance–a silver mine. Chronically bored, he takes a trip to Asia where he saves the life of a Japanese man about his age, Kato. As repayment, Kato agrees to go back to the United States and act as a bodyguard for Reid. Kato is actually a genius engineer, and between Reid’s fortune and Kato’s ingenuity, they turn Reid’s car into a supercar. Together they infiltrate the underworld, masquerading as criminals to gain the confidence of mobsters and corrupt politicians, where they then find evidence, engage in the obligatory martial arts/gunfight, and then wrap the criminals up, escaping just before the police arrive.
The radio drama lasted for hundreds of episodes from 1936 to 1952. It was later featured in movie serials in the 1940s back before regular television series were popular. But perhaps the most famous version is the 1960s television show, even though it only lasted one season and wasn’t a critical or commercial success. Much of its popularity in the years after it aired is due solely to having starred a young then-unknown Bruce Lee as Kato. This version crossed over in an episode with the successful Adam West Batman show, but The Green Hornet wasn’t the campy tongue-in-cheek satire of superheroics the way Batman was.
People of a certain demographic are likely only familiar with the 2011 movie (a critical failure) starring Seth Rogen. In interviews, especially on Marc Maron’s podcast, Rogen excoriated producer oversight which he blames for being too intrusive. All I’m going to say about this version is I honestly don’t remember much about it, and that is perhaps its worst fault.
In my article about The Shadow, I waxed eloquent about the benefits of radio in terms of visualization and storytelling, and how film versions don’t seem to live up to radio plays. The same holds true here. People who know me know I almost always prefer original versions of characters to remakes, but I think it’s especially true of the Green Hornet. While Kato is definitely better on film (kick-ass martial arts battles call out specifically for visual media), much of Green Hornet falls directly into camp when filmed, but not by design as in the 1960s Batman. I know I’ve mentioned before my initial distaste for West’s series, and how it’s only as an adult that I’ve managed to appreciate it. Unfortunately, I don’t think Green Hornet manages to capture the same acceptance. Like The Shadow, it should have stayed on the radio. There are rumors of a reboot in the works, but I’ve also seen words like “grim” and “gritty” which aren’t much better than “campy” for this property.
It’s a shame the tv series is locked up in a contract dispute, because seeing young Bruce Lee kicking ass would be fun. I guess I’ll just have to go back and watch Enter the Dragon or The Chinese Connection. The fight scenes are probably better anyway.
I don’t remember having watched or listened to much Green Hornet. I do distinctly remember some TV channel or another, maybe TCM, broadcasting the series and perhaps the movie serials, and it left a subconscious impact on me in the same way The Shadow did. The green outfit–fedora, coat, mask–even crept up in my own world back when the City of Heroes MMORPG was the hottest property in computer gaming. My first character, back in the pre-release beta, was The Green Lancer, not terribly original in name nor concept, but I sure had a lot of fun roleplaying a Green Hornet knock-off.
Although The Green Hornet was popular for his time, he didn’t have the same kind of cultural cache of The Shadow. His biggest claim to influence I can see is in his gadgetry prowess, which Batman, who came three years later, takes upon himself. Certainly the souped-up supercar Black Beauty is a direct precursor to the Batmobile.
Like Batman, Green Hornet made it into comic strips, graphic novels, and long-form fiction. However, he didn’t experience nearly the success of his more widely-known successor. There was a revival first published ten years ago by Dynamite Entertainment written by celebrity director/comic book writer Kevin Smith. Dynamite also published a reboot series of The Lone Ranger. I have the first couple books of both, but I was underwhelmed by the writing. However, the artwork is fantastic.
 Newspaper employees must have a lot of free time because so many of them moonlight as vigilantes.
 In research for this article I did come across a mash-up superhero series starring other period heroes like The Spider, The Shadow, and a modern ancestor of Zorro’s. It’s called Masks and was written by Chris Roberson. I may have to seek it out because that sounds pretty damn cool to me. I’m a fan of some of Roberson’s other work, especially his novels Set the Seas on Fire and Paragaea and his anthology Adventure, about which I’ve already written.