Monday, August 2, 2010

Less is more, or another Comic Book You Should Be Reading

I’m a freak. I’m fairly proud of it, actually, and like to broadcast the fact as a kind of truth in advertising. If you haven’t figured out I’m a freak by the time I’ve spoken for five minutes, either I am not doing my job or you are not paying attention. Dimensions of my freakishness include a penchant for chanting in dead languages, an unhealthy obsession with apples, and a habit of walking up to stray dogs in parks in the middle of the night and addressing them as “sweetheart.”

But the freakdom that seems to bother people the most is that I like to be confused.

I like movies more when I walk into them 10 or 20 minutes late. I enjoy picking up comic books in the middle of a storyline so I can try to guess what happened earlier. One of my favorite TV shows of all time was an anime series I began watching at episode 16 of 49—and I loved it most because I came in on a dramatic moment that clearly defined the conflict and yet, for the next ten episodes, none of the five main characters were identified by name, and most of them regularly lied to other characters about who they were and where they’d come from. I still have the notes I took as I tried to figure it all out, and liked the nicknames I gave four of the characters better than the names they eventually revealed.

I would rather have an interesting situation and intriguing people than a full rundown of what’s going on, and I will often shush well-meaning friends who try to clue me in. I just don’t want to know. I like the intellectual challenge of putting the pieces together, and I like having the room to imagine my own back- and side stories to a narrative. It’s a rare and delicate balance of storytelling that lets me know just enough about characters to love them and root for their success, but not enough to be tired of them before the first act break.

Seldom, if ever, does a comic book hit that sweet spot as perfectly as The Green Hornet Strikes! And as of its second issue, out last Wednesday, I am officially a fan.

Strikes! is a latecomer to the Green Hornet party, one of the last comics to be introduced this year about the various incarnations of the emerald insectoid in the build-up to the Seth Rogen movie whose trailer already makes me cringe. Whereas the other comic series have focused on the past and present of the character, to varying degrees of success—Kevin Smith’s flagship Green Hornet is a lot of flash but little substance so far, whereas Matt Wagner’s historical, noirish Green Hornet: Year One is more rewarding--The Green Hornet Strikes! delves into a possible future. But instead of relying on high-tech gadgets and Orwellian political statements, as most future incarnations of superheroes like to do, Strikes! sticks close to the characters at its heart.

And to my delight, the characters are almost all ciphers.

The Green Hornet who appears on the cover of Strikes! #1 speaks a grand total of ten words in his first appearance, and three words in a single balloon is practically a soliloquy as, driven by an unknown but clearly powerful motive, he fights his way through several floors of guards and goons to meet the villain of the piece—and then gets himself shot. Interspersed with all this is a flashback to a much earlier Green Hornet giving himself up to this same villain, and being murdered. The current Hornet’s connection to the previous one is still murky, as of the second issue, but the clues are tantalizing. We find out the dead Hornet’s name was John Reid, which connects him to the Reid family that produced both the Lone Ranger and several generations of Hornets, but we don’t know exactly where he sits on the family tree—only that he apparently lost a son, and at least one other Hornet, to his war on crime. The wounded Hornet has the blond hair, green eyes, and general facial cast of the Reid family, but so far only has a first name—Luke—that may or may not be his real one. There are fragmentary flashbacks, voices from the shadows, and a lot of tiny pieces, but no big picture yet.

There’s a driven police detective with some interesting personality twists, a conflicted police commissioner on the take, and an enigmatic woman who may be playing both sides against the middle. There’s a regretful voice from a limousine with distinctive green headlights. There’s $2.5 million that seems to vanish into the ether. And there’s mysterious, taciturn, bleeding-to-death Luke, with some very interesting resources at his command and (apparently) no clear idea of how he’s going to take this villain down—but a burning determination to try.

I freaking love this book.

I’m sure many of these mysteries will be cleared up eventually. Writer Brett Matthews has proven during his excellent run on The Lone Ranger that he knows when to keep his cards close to the vest and when to lay them on the table. But if Luke lives up to half his promise as a hero—and plays out even half the drama of the one burning eye we can see through the shattered lens of his gas mask (penciller Ariel Padilla, I’ve never heard of you but I like you a lot)—he’ll be worth following for a long time to come.

Rarely am I so happy to be so completely in the dark …


  1. Hi, there! Just got back in from Gen Con/SDCC, so I apologize for how amazingly late this comment is in coming.

    I was wondering if that offer for your tollhouse cookie recipe was still good? I'll have to, ah, "test it for science, probably over and over," of course... :)

    Do you mind if it's eventually published in some form or other? And if so, how would you like credit ascribed?


  2. OMGSQUEEEEEEE! Yes yes yes yes yes! I will send you an email! :D

    (I'm not even sure what offer we're talking about, but eeeeeek, Aaron Williams commented on my blog!)

  3. Ummm, as soon as I figure out how!