Sunday, March 07, 2010

Review: Kevin Smith's Green Hornet #1

The first issue of Dynamite Entertainment’s new Green Hornet miniseries is by far the best comic book writing I’ve seen from Kevin Smith in about eight years.

I’m afraid that speaks more to the weakness of Smith’s recent comics output since he returned from his break (the second half of Spider-Man/Black Cat, Batman: Cacophony) then it does to the strengths of Kevin Smith’s Green Hornet #1.

In fact, the script for this issue isn’t exactly new, as it’s reportedly based on Smith’s script for a Green Hornet movie that he’s been attached to in various capacities over the years. The credit page gives Smith a “script by” credit, and Smith’s old Green Arrow pencil artist Phil Hester a “breakdowns by” credit, with artist Jonathan Lau handling pencils (Colors, provided by Jonathan Lau, are apparently put right on top of the pencils, with no inking).

The book’s unusual creation process is, I think, alone worth piquing a comics fan’s interest—if nothing else, it’s interesting to consider a comic book adapted from an unused film script for a never-made film adapting a superhero from the radio, TV and comics. And to wonder how Smith’s writing differs between the two media.

In the past, I would have guessed that his film work tends to be quite a bit better, as there’s so much money involved, and every word we eventually hear in it had a lot more filters to pass through, a lot more collaboration. His “View Askew-iverse” movies vs. his comics in the same fictional universe and starring the same characters tend to attest to this…in general (Oni’s four-part Jay and Silent Bob miniseries with Duncan Fegredo, which Smith partially cannibalized for Jay and Silent Bob Strike Back, being the exception, but then that film was by far Smith’s worst).

Is that why this is better than, say, the first issue of Batman: Cacophony, then? That Smith worked a lot harder on it, went through more drafts, and was much more careful, whereas that Batman miniseries was a paycheck waiting to happen, Smith a star writer immune to aggressive editing? Or was the Smith a few years ago a better writer than the Smith of today? (Intense laboring over his early Marvel work is certainly one way to explain the delays). Or maybe there’s something about the color green and the presence of Phil Hester that brings out the best in Smith?

I don’t know, but, like I said, these things are fun to consider. Well, they’re fun for me to consider, and that’s all that really matters here.

The book opens with a “Then” caption, and a sequence of The Green Hornet and Kato suiting up, getting in their sweet ride with green headlights, and then sneaking up on a meet between two rival crime families…which they proceed to break up, effectively ending organized crime in their fictional city.

It’s around page 17 that Britt Reid tells his wife Janet that he’s completed his mission, and would be hanging up the green fedora for good, in order to spend more time with his family, which includes a young son.

You probably know where this story’s going…and if not, the “Today” caption on page 21 oughta do the trick.

Britt Junior, a young, rich, in-shape scion of his father’s fortune is a layabout with no direction in life, a source of tabloid fodder. This is apparently going to be something of a Green Hornet: The Next Generation sort of story, as you could probably guess if you looked closely at the Kato in Alex Ross’s cover (or at all at the one in J. Scott Campbell’s cover) and noticed that this Kato’s a she.

Rated on the spectrum of Kevin Smith comics, this one’s somewhere in the middle—nowhere near as bad as the more terrible, even embarrassing comics to carry his byline, but not up there with his better work (His Oni stuff, Daredevil and Green Arrow) either.

It’s pretty generic stuff, but not necessarily bad generic. It’s a fairly straightforward, superhero movie-serious take on a rather derivative hero, free of any big mistakes or glitches, and thankfully able to avoid any of the unfortunate retrograde racial aspects that the Kato relationship can threaten (It’s been a long while since I’ve checked in with it, but I thought Dynamite’s Lone Ranger revival similarly did a good job of making the Ranger/Tonto relationship work well in the 21st century).

It’s also, remarkably, thankfully free of many of the weaknesses common to Smith’s work—I don’t recall seeing any gay jokes, or randomly applied sex jokes or juvenile potty talk and many of the pages are even free of Smith’s verbose scripting. Only a couple of pages between Britt and Janet look like the panels are threatening to burst under the weight of the dialogue balloons.

The art is clearly laid-out and easy to read. I might have preferred Hester himself pencil it, but that may simply be because his art is a known quantity to me, and I like it (And I’m curious what his Green Hornet and Kato would have looked like).

Lau’s art is at its best when the men have masks on, but I liked his elongated figures and the action scenes were presented well. Like the script, there’s nothing really bad or wrong to complain about regarding the art.

All in all, it’s not bad, but given how many Green Hornet comics Dynamite has planned for the near future, I think they needed more of a creative homerun than this issue provided if they plan to sustain interest in the franchise.

Of course, maybe the plan is simply to have enough series in the works to sell a ton of comics and trades around the time of the eventual movie’s release, in which case the simple fact that this isn’t toxic or radioactive is a triumph.


By the way, I think DC should totally do this with Smith’s script for a Superman movie from the late nineties. Maybe with Keith Giffen doing breakdowns and Kevin Maguire penciling…? It’s been a while since I read it, but I remember liking it (better than Superman Returns, that’s for sure!) and there being some neat, JLI-like scenes between L-Ron and Lex Luthor or Brainiac.


Peter said...

I don't think Kevin Smith had anything to do with the actual comic. I think they just took his script and they gave it to Phil Hester to script the actual comic.

Tony said...

Green Hornet's been a dynasty for a long time. That was one of the premises of the 1990s NOW run.

(Which featured writing by Chuck Dixon, and was one of my childhood faves.)