Wednesday, March 17, 2010

(Kinda sorta) review: Green Hornet: Year One #1

Batman: Year One had a very specific conceit, built right into the title—it was not only set during the first year of Batman’s career, but encompassed the entirety of that first year.

While not writer Frank Miller’s most popular or influential Batman comic, it was certainly a pretty influential one, putting the term “Year One” into the comic book lexicon. Of course, repeated usage of the term and the various variations of it over the years have devalued it: There was Batman: Year Two, Batgirl: Year One, JLA: Year One and Robin: Year One…the same “year” covered in “Batman Year Three.” There was that one summer where every DC character with a title got a “Year One” annual. Paul Pope had his Batman: Year One Hundred riff, and, more recently, Nightwing, Green Arrow, The Teen Titans, Black Lightning and even Metamorpho got stories branded thusly.

In fact, the term has lost its meaning enough that DC seems to have abandoned it completely, with Geoff Johns-penned origin stories going instead with Secret Origin.

Dynamite Entertainment using the “Year One” branding for their second Green Hornet miniseries, Green Hornet: Year One struck me as a little odd, since its thus far been such a DC Comics term, but maybe that Jack Black and Michael Cera Bible movie reclaimed it from DC.

In any case, all “Year One” stories that don’t, in fact, focus on the first year of a character’s fictional career tend to bug me a little. If it’s not actually about the first year, why not call it something else? (An insect-themed would be cool, I think, like Green Hornet: Chrysalis or something would be rad, wouldn’t it? No? Just me?)

So this is Green Hornet: Year One, which jumps around through time: 1921, 1931, 1934, 1938, 1926. It’s the origin story of both Britt Reid and Kato, told as separate, parallel threads, which eventually unite in Chicago in 1938, when we see the pair with their masks and start fighting crime with kung fu and gadgets. The exact point where the two threads intersect isn’t revealed in this first issue.

I’m happy to report that the only thing that bugged me about the book was wondering about the sub-title. (Well, that and the need for so many Green Hornet comics in the market in so short a period of time. And the $3.99 price tag.)

Matt Wagner writes (and earns an “art direction” credit…as well as providing one of the four covers), and Aaron Campbell provides the pencil and ink art.

The story is fairly straightforward and has few surprises, but then, it doesn’t really need much in the way of surprises or even a terribly unique approach: The Green Hornet is a fairly generic mask, fedora and long coat hero, one engaged in fairly generic mask, fedora and long coat hero type of crime-fighting activities.

Wagner does hone in one aspect particular to the character, his masked chauffeur sidekick, and transforms the relationship from hero and sidekick to a pair of heroes…at least judging by the way panel-space and attention is equally divided in this issue.

While I would probably have been more into this book if Wagner drew it as well (simply because I’m a big fan of his art), Campbell’s stuff is pretty solid. It’s highly representational and quite detailed. I’ve read two Dynamite Green Hornet comics in about as many weeks, and this one is definitely the better-looking in terms of art and colors. It’s also the better-written of the two.


Johnny Sorrow said...

Wait. Are you actually ripping on Batgirl: Year One? Which has absolutely awesome Marcos Martin art? Which features Killer Moth as the main antagonist?

It may not be Miller/Mazzuchelli, but I think it's a stretch to call it brand-damaging.

Vanja said...

Whenever I hear about Matt Wagner's work of this sort, I'm reminded that he's still to publish the third Mage mini-series.

I mean, after providing the modern context for Sandman's Golden Age adventures, and then doing it again with Batman, it seems kind of redundant to go back to the same well with Green Hornet.

Understandably, most of DC/Marvel's superhero work stands and falls on updating decades old concepts, such as Madame Xanadu, but I felt that Mage had a somewhat broader, more archetypal range than that.

Guess it doesn't pay to continue his own decades old cult character.

Caleb said...

Wait. Are you actually ripping on Batgirl: Year One?

No, I loved it. I also dug Robin: Year One and Batman: Year 100, and some of those other books to varying degrees.

I was just using it as an example of how many times DC has used "Year One," and how they so often aren't in the original Year One format of a first-year-in-the-career-of.

Vanja said...

I believe that the notable Marvel exception is Punisher: Year one, a 4 issue prestige format series that served as the basis for the Thomas Jane Punisher movie.