Tuesday, June 2, 2009

The Green Hornet vs. Batman

The Green Hornet
1966-1967 and 2008-2009

I'm pretty bummed today.

I just found out that the American Life network, available on Veriz
on FIOS, is no longer running "The Green Hornet" at 9:30 p.m. on Friday. They've got some movie I never heard of scheduled for this week.

I've become an addict of that show since we switched our cable pro
vider. I never got to see it as a kid, though I wanted to. Even before I knew Bruce Lee played Kato, I thought the Green Hornet was cooler than Batman.

In my 20's, the Green Hornet and Kato made a brief reappearance in comic books. He was created by George Trendle for a 1930's radio show. Trendle, who also created The Lone Ranger and Tonto, was asked to create a more modern version of that character. The Green Hornet, in reality newspaper publisher and editor Brit Reid, was the grand nephew of Texas Ranger John Reid, who faked his own death after an outlaw ambush to become The Lone Ranger.

The Green Hornet's grand-uncle, The Lone Ranger

Reid, inspired by his uncle, created the persona of the Green Hornet to fight crime by pretending to be a master criminal. The fact that he was wanted by people on both sides of the law made for some pretty heavy drama.

Like most people my age, my introduction to the Green Hornet
came watching the crossover episode of "Batman" when Batman and Robin crossed paths with the Green Hornet and Kato. While "Batman" enjoyed almost as much popularity in syndication as it did when it was first broadcast, "The Green Hornet" never made onto any of the local channels where I lived.

Some background on the crossover episode, with commentary by Van Williams.

I was really pissed over that because Kato was played by a hero to
martial arts fans everywhere, Bruce Lee. He was such a hero of mine, that when I had the chance to learn the same arts that he studied, namely Wing Chun Kung Fu, Jeet Kune Do and Kali, that I jumped at it! I know I wasn't the only one. I knew lots of guys with posters of Bruce Lee on their walls. I don't know anyone who had Adam West or Burt Ward hanging in their bedrooms or home gyms.

One of many Bruce Lee posters I had on my bedroom walls while growing up

True, "The Green Hornet" was not that popular when it first aired for one season in 1966 and 1967. But, I am wondering why with the popularity of Bruce Lee that the show has not been syndicated or even made available as a DVD set.

But after watching it almost every Friday night for mo
re than a year, I've decided it was a much better show than "Batman" for the following reasons.

First, "The Green Hornet" played it straight. He and Kato were real superheroes, going after realistic bad guys like mobsters, bootleggers, drug dealers, nuclear terrorists, etc.

The actors who played those villains played it straight, too. T
hey weren't washed-up has-beens who got their agents to get them an appearance on "Batman" so they could revive their careers. They weren't a bunch of screaming pansies with boneheaded henchmen and airheaded molls.

The Batman of the TV show was a joke compared
to the dark, often brutal character created by Bob Kane in 1938. But, thanks to the Comics Code Authority and the threat of a legislative crackdown on comic books, the character in the comics was a pussy for much of the 1960's. Thankfully, other writers and artists pushed the limits of what they could do with Batman in the 1970's, setting the stage for "The Dark Knight Returns," in 1986, or that once brilliant comic character would have continued to suck.

Second, Van Williams and Bruce Lee were much more believable as superheroes because they could fight better. Both men were athletes. Lee, as everyone knows, was renowned for his innovations to the Asian martial arts. He was so respected that the three American karate champions of the 1960's, Chuck Norris, Joe Lewis and Mike Stone, all studied with him.

So let's take a look at Van Williams. He was raised on a ranch in his native Texas. He competed in rodeos and motocross races. At the time he was discovered by Liz Taylor,
he was teaching SCUBA diving in Hawaii and she was one of his students.

Two of the most unathletic superheroes, ever.

Van Williams - This guy was an athlete. I could believe that he could hold his own in a fight.

When they mixed it up with the bad guys, they looked like they were really fighting. Though he didn't have Lee's training, Williams could throw a convincing punch. It probably helped that "Judo Gene" LeBell, choreographed the fight scenes. LeBell, who was called "The Toughest Man Alive" by Chuck Norris, is a high-ranking multiple black belt holder and was a coach for the U.S. Olympic Judo Team.

One of Lee's top students, Dan Inosanto, doubled for the actor, Mako, in one episode.

Meanwhile, Adam West and Burt Ward never came across as particularly intimidating.

Lastly, the Green Hornet was a pretty hardcore motherfucker. On his show, people were often killed, sometimes by the Hornet and Kato. In one episode, the bad guys were about to ram the Hornet's car, the Black Beauty, with their own van. The Hornet and Kato responded by firing an explosive rocket into the van. The van burst into flames and I never saw anyone get out of it.

If that happened on Batman, the armored car would be totaled, but the villains would be covered with soot, looking like Wile E. Coyote after one of his roadrunner traps blew up on him.

I don't know why it wasn't as successful as Batman. I can only surmise that being mired in the Vietnam War, seeing unrest in American cities like Newark, Watts and New Haven, and on college campuses, that the American public wanted something more lighthearted.

But I think the time has come for the Green Hornet be at large again. At least on DVD.

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