What do we mean when we talk about superheroes?
It’s become a cliché to say that we live in the age of superheroes, what with Avengers: Endgame now ensconced as the highest-grossing movie of all time and a film about the Joker poised to win at least one Oscar next month. But this zeitgeist is more specific than that: Really, our culture is dominated by very particular superheroes, originally published by Marvel and DC Comics and now owned by corporate juggernauts like Disney and Warner Bros. Today’s news that Amasia Entertainment has won a bidding war for The Green Hornet movie franchise rights is a reminder that there are other paths for superheroes.
The Green Hornet began life as a radio series created by George W. Trendle and Fran Striker that debuted in 1936 — two years before Superman made his debut in Action Comics #1, much less starred in his own radio adventures. Predating Superman’s influence, The Green Hornet’s spin on superheroes remains fascinating: The character was, essentially, an undercover superhero. The public and police believed him to be a villain, but the whole point was for the Green Hornet and his trusty sidekick, Kato, to infiltrate criminal organizations and expose them to justice.
The Green Hornet also spun off into movie serials and comic books, but the franchise’s most famous iteration is probably the 1966 TV series, which introduced American viewers to Bruce Lee’s martial arts expertise. Lee starred as Kato, while Van Williams played the Green Hornet, a.k.a media mogul Britt Reid. This is the version of The Green Hornet that recently appeared in Quentin Tarantino’s Once Upon a Time in Hollywood, in which Mike Moh’s Bruce Lee is challenged by Cliff Booth (Brad Pitt) over his claims of being able to beat Muhammad Ali (or Cassius Clay, as he was known then) in a fight.
Speaking of films, The Green Hornet was adapted into a 2011 film starring Seth Rogen in the title role and Jason Chou as Kato. The movie helped adapt the archaic Reid-Kato dynamic for the 21st century — in this version, Reid’s dad was the media mogul, and he bonds with hired mechanic Kato over their mutual hatred of the late patriarch — but it also hit theaters a year before The Avengers kicked off our current superhero obsession.
Almost a decade later, Amasia is set to reboot The Green Hornet under the leadership of Michael Helfant (who was president of Marvel Studios when Iron Man began the Marvel Cinematic Universe) and Bradley Gallo (a former CNN journalist familiar with the high-stakes media world that Reid hails from), who want to give the franchise the perspective of independent filmmakers rather than big studios.
“This is one of the only stand-alone classic superhero franchises,” Helfant said in a statement. “We’re a bunch of fan geeks at Amasia and are thrilled about creating something fresh and truly worthy of this legacy property. A new world that is relevant and thrilling, while respecting and honoring the original vision of creator George W. Trendle.”
With the MCU now setting its sights on streaming domination via the new Disney+ service, it certainly feels like a good time to rediscover all the possibilities of what superheroes can be.