Part 5: The Green Hornet Strikes NOW
After laying fallow for a number of years, the rise of independent comics and specialized comic book stores in the 1980s helped bring The Green Hornet back to the 4-color press.
In 1989, NOW Comics, a Chicago-based publisher that dealt mostly in licensed properties, submitted a proposal to The Green Hornet Incorporated. Writer Ron Fortier had done a great deal of research into the character, and had figured out a timeline that incorporated all of the various eras in which the character had played an active role. Reportedly, Marvel and DC Comics had also expressed interest in licensing the Hornet, but it was Now’s approach that met with approval.
The first issue of The Green Hornet featured a cover by comic book artist Jim Steranko, also known for his beautifully in-period paperback covers for reprints of The Shadow novels. Written by Ron Fortier and illustrated by Jeff Butler, the series began with the last case of the first Green Hornet and Kato team, Britt Reid and “Ikano Kato”.
The decision was made to depict Kato as Japanese, with the explanation that Reid passed his Asian friend off as Filipino, determined to protect him from possible internment in World War II. The first Hornet, wearing a mask that called to mind the Universal movie serials, operates from the mid-1930’s to 1945, choosing to ignore the radio series’ survival into the 50’s.
The story referenced without explicitly naming The Lone Ranger as Britt’s ancestor. It also would change the identity of Britt Reid’s secretary to Ruth Hopkins, who he eventually marries.
Radio/TV characters Lenore Case and Mike Axford were not forgotten, they were saved to appear with Britt Reid II, the nephew of the original Hornet. His crime-fighting partner would be Hayashi Kato, son of Ikano. (In actual practice, this should read Kato Hayashi, as the Japanese put the surname first.)
Britt II and Hayashi operate in the 1960’s -70’s, retiring from the field after Britt develops heart trouble. Reid continues as a crusading newspaper publisher and marries ‘Casey’ Case, while Hayashi goes on to became a star in martial arts movies, ala Bruce Lee (also drawn to resemble the actor, though ignoring his Chinese heritage).
Hayashi Kato would later become romantically linked with Diana Reid, daughter of the original Britt, and she becomes the District Attorney of the still-unnamed city after the retirement of Frank Scanlon, maintaining the sub-rosa connection between official crime fighting and the Hornet’s covert vigilante crusade.
Helping to cement the tie of this iteration of the character to the 20th Century Fox TV show, series star Van Williams would write the stories for two issues of a spin-off comic Tales of The Green Hornet.
Bringing things up to then-contemporary times, Britt Reid’s nephew Alan Reid briefly becomes the Green Hornet, but is killed on his first case. His younger brother, Paul Reid, reluctantly steps away from his intended career as a concert pianist, and assumes the role of Hornet, using a Mardi Gras mask that covers more of the face.
Initially similar to the molded mask of the Republic serial hero THE MASKED MARVEL, it eventually becomes more similar to the one worn by Kane Richmond in the Monogram Shadow movies. The Hornet”s use of a trenchcoat made the resemblence even greater.
At first, Paul Reid’s crime-fighting partner is Mishi Kato; Hayashi’s younger sister, driving around town in a high-tech coupe apparently inspired by the Pontiac Banshee concept car.
After Green Hornet Inc. head George Trendle Jr. read the first seven issues, he insisted that Mishi be replaced with a traditional male Kato, so she was written out, with Hayashi Kato returning to the team.
The “sports car” Black Beauty would be replaced with a heavier sedan, and by the end of the NOW series, a fourth aide, Kono Kato—grandson of Ikano Kato, arrived to take on the duties.
Mishi Kato would return as a character called The Crimson Wasp, a murderous vigilante that Paul and Hayashi have to try to stop or at least control. There were signs that she and Paul were developing romantic ties, possibly born out by one of the mini-series.
Unfortunately, NOW Comics had a lot of internal and cash-flow problems, leading to creative staff leaving and being replaced. Between 1989 and 1995 the company managed to put out 54 issues of The Green Hornet in two distinct “Volumes”.
In addition to the above mentioned Tales of The Green Hornet, mini-series entitled The Green Hornet: Solitary Sentinel, the WII-set Sting of The Green Hornet, and a future-set The Green Hornet: Dark Tomorrow, which featured a criminal Green Hornet and a heroic Kato.
Kato also had a solo mini-series.
Many of these titles came out in a sporadic manner, with volumes sometimes being separated by gaps of a year or longer. Writers such as the award-winning Mike Baron (Nexus, Marvel’s The Punisher) and pop culture historian James Van Hise contributed to the books.
Eventually, NOW Comics, after years of financial troubles, ceased to exist as a publishing house. The Green Hornet retreated back into the shadows, though his next comic book resurgence would come sooner than the previous hiatus.