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Radio / The Green Hornet

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American Proto-Superhero franchise in several forms of media. Originally a radio show, adapted into two movie serials, a number of comic books, a 1960s TV adaptation (probably the most famous version of the property, responsible for launching the Western acting career of martial arts legend Bruce Lee), and a 2011 movie adaptation.

Furthermore, a new film remake for the property was announced to be in development in April 2020 with the current title of Green Hornet and Kato.

This page concentrates on the radio series and the franchise in general.

  • Go here for the serials trope page.
  • Go here for the film trope page.
  • Go here for the comics trope page.
  • Go here for the TV series trope page.

Radio Series

The Green Hornet radio series was created by George W. Trendle and Fran Striker of Detroit radio station WXYZ, and premiered on January 31, 1936. It was a very long running series, ending on December 5, 1952, having run nationwide on the Mutual Broadcasting System, the NBC Blue Network, and its successors "The Blue Network" and the American Broadcasting Company (ABC).

Trendle and Striker, who had earlier created the character of The Lone Ranger for a western themed radio series on WXYZ, connected the two shows by making the protagonist of The Green Hornet, newspaper publisher Britt Reid, the grand nephew of John Reid, the lone survivor of an outlaw ambush of a squad of Texas Rangers, who became The Lone Ranger. While hinted at in earlier episodes, the blood relationship between the Hornet and the Ranger was explicitly stated in the Green Hornet episode "Too Hot to Handle" (first airdate, November 11, 1947), but never significantly used after that. Trendle's sale of the rights to the Lone Ranger property to Jack Wrather in 1954 made it impossible for later adaptations of The Green Hornet to make explicit reference to the relationship (although the 1990s NOW Comics comic book adaptation featured a veiled reference to the relationship, in the form of a painting, apparently of the Lone Ranger, which appeared in Britt Reid's living room); more recently, Dynamite Comics created a crossover comics series involving both characters.

The radio series introduced the most prominent characters, equipment, and plot devices featured in later adaptations:

  • Britt Reid, debonair publisher of The Daily Sentinel by day, crime fighting vigilante The Green Hornet by night. The Green Hornet, possibly owing to the vigilante character of his crime fighting, fell on the wrong side of the police, and was publicly viewed not as a hero, but as a wanted criminal. The Green Hornet actually used his criminal reputation to his advantage, often breaking up a criminal gang or racket by appearing to the ringleader and attempting to "muscle in" on the racket, luring the criminals to attack him and Kato, while in fact developing his plan to turn them over to the authorities once dealt with. Unfortunately, the general public never caught on to what side the Hornet was really on; even when his activities obviously resulted in the capture of criminals, the newspapers and the public inevitably jumped to the conclusion that the Hornet was merely disposing of his rivals, and that his real intent was to become the city's supreme crime boss.
  • Kato, Reid's faithful Asian valet and chauffeur. In the earliest shows Kato was very explicitly Japanese; as US-Japanese relations soured during the late 1930s and early 1940s Kato's nationality changed from Japanese to generic Asian, and was eventually settled on as Filipino. (The often repeated story that Kato's ethnicity was changed immediately after the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor is an urban legend; the change took place some time prior to the attack.)
  • Lenore "Casey" Case, Britt Reid's devoted secretary. She started out unaware of her boss's double life but early on became a "fan" of the Green Hornet, often voicing the opinion that the Hornet wasn't the criminal that the public believed him to be. Later in the series, Case learned that Reid was the Hornet. In that period, she explicitly transitioned from being Reid's secretary to becoming a reporter.
  • Mike Axford, bombastic former policeman, Daily Sentinel reporter, and self-proclaimed nemesis of the Green Hornet. Britt Reid's father, Dan Reid (owner and publisher of the Sentinel before retiring and handing control of the paper to Britt), originally hired Axford as Britt's bodyguard, but Axford eventually became the reporter handling the Sentinel's crime beat, owing to his contacts within the police department. His radio persona was distinctive for his heavy Irish accent and his use of several catch phrases, especially his favorites "Holy Crow!" (pronounced, in Axford's brogue, more like "Holy Craw!"), "spalpeen" (Gaelic for "good-for-nothing"; his favorite term for the Green Hornet or other criminals), "Sufferin' Snakes!", and his usual valedictory, "See ya later. So long!"
  • The Black Beauty, the Green Hornet's sleek and powerful vehicle. Powered by a Pierce-Arrow engine which was said to be absolutely silent, the car was given a "Hornet buzz" sound effect when it was running. If the Green Hornet told Kato to "rig for silent running", the Hornet buzz sound effect would be silenced.
  • The Hornet's "gas gun", which he used to subdue criminals and the occasional policeman who threatened to capture him.

Characters specific to the radio series and rarely used in other adaptations include:

  • Police Commissioner James Higgins, a friend of Dan Reid (Britt's father) who was rescued from a blackmail plot by the Hornet. Shortly after that, he came to learn Britt Reid's Secret Identity and served to funnel information to and grant covert assistance to the Green Hornet.
  • Gunnigan, The Daily Sentinel's irascible city editor. Throughout the series, Axford is the main thorn in Gunnigan's side.
  • Ed Lowery, crack reporter for the Sentinel.
  • "Clicker" Binney, Daily Sentinel photographer. She was written out of the series during World War II (it was later explained within the series that she'd joined the US Women's Army Corps) and replaced by Gale Manning.

Film Serials

The radio series was popular enough to spawn two film serials, The Green Hornet (1940) and The Green Hornet Strikes Again (1941). The serials are noteworthy in that Kato's nationality was changed once again (this time to Korean), and Kato was played by Keye Luke ("Number 1 Son" in the Charlie Chan film series, and much later, "Master Po" in the Kung Fu (1972) TV series). The serials have had two home video releases; on VHS in the 1990s and recently on DVD.

These series provide examples of:

  • Animal-Themed Superbeing
  • Badass Bookworm: The Hornet has obviously studied up on his crime-fighting techniques, and Kato can be one depending on the version depicted, but the one from the TV show was not at Hornet's level.
  • Badass Longcoat: Britt Reid as the Green Hornet. Kato in spirit, though he rarely affects a longcoat.
  • Battle Butler/Badass Driver: Kato is both of these in any modern incarnation.
  • Can't Live with Them, Can't Live without Them: Averted. Despite the jokes of Kato's skill level directed towards him the Hornet has proven that he is more than capable of running his show without Kato and take him out in a fight.
  • Celibate Hero: Britt Reid/the Green Hornet and Kato in the radio series and film serials, where neither had any Love Interests. Semi-averted in the TV series, where Britt Reid (in keeping with his rich playboy publisher persona) was seen regularly attending a local club featuring noontime lingerie shows, is seen explicitly dating in at least one episode ("The Frog is a Deadly Weapon"), and is given at least one Girl of the Week; played straight for Kato, however, who was given no in-show Love Interest. Totally averted in the NOW Comics adaptations, where Britt Reid I, Ikano Kato, and Britt Reid II all married in retirement, and Hayashi Kato, Mishi Kato, and Paul Reid were all given romantic entanglements. Subverted in the movie in that Britt Reid and Kato both like Lenore, but neither get any.
  • Civvie Spandex: The Green Hornet's "costume" is pretty much an overcoat, suit, fedora, and mask. Kato wears a chauffeur's uniform and mask.
  • Coat, Hat, Mask: see above.
  • Color Animal Codename: One of the most iconic uses of this trope outside of superhero comics.
  • The Commissioner Gordon: Police Commissioner Higgins in the radio series, DA Frank P. Scanlon in the TV series, and Higgins, Scanlon and Diana Reid in the NOW comics adaptations.
  • Cool Car: The Black Beauty was this from the earliest adaptations. It was even more tricked out in the 60s TV adaptation: a customized 1966 Chrysler Crown Imperial with green headlamps, a mobile telephone (in 1966!), a sleep gas sprayer, rockets, mortars, and a flying video scanner. If photographs from Comic-Con 2009 are to be believed, the movie's Black Beauty has all of those things, plus blades on the wheels, an Ejector Seat, and front-wheel drive.
  • Crazy-Prepared: Seriously, who prepares their car for being cut in half?
  • Distant Sequel: Britt Reid is typically depicted as the grand-nephew of John Reid, The Lone Ranger. As such, The Green Hornet is typically set two generations or so after the events of the earlier series, enough time for the Green Hornet's parents to be dead from natural causes.
  • Fedora of Asskicking: The Hornet wears one as part of his outfit.
  • Harmless Electrocution. Averted. When Kato is about to be executed Britt notices that the soldiers are standing on a large puddle in the rain and throws a loose electrical wire to take out the soldiers and then takes out the commander with a stick. It's never implied that they survived.
  • Hero with Bad Publicity: Even the real criminals think the Green Hornet is one of them. Which works just fine for him.
  • I Owe You My Life: Kato swore to serve Britt when he saved him from Japanese soldiers before they executed him.
  • Knockout Gas: The Green Hornet's gas gun; in the TV series the Black Beauty was also equipped with a sleep gas sprayer.
  • Lost in Imitation: A positive example. The development of Kato, from mere valet and companion, with no particular fighting skills (the radio series and movie serials) to martial arts master (the TV series and every subsequent adaptation).
  • Metallicar Syndrome: Of course, we have The Green Hornet and his car Black Beauty. Not just a Cool Car, but one specifically modified to be distinctive. The 2011 movie even gives the Hornet multiple identical cars in case one is destroyed. Near the end of the film it demonstrates color-shifting paint (from black to red), but it's still not the kind of car you see every day.
  • Mythology Gag:
    • Arguably, the original blood relationship (given by creators George W. Trendle and Fran Striker) between The Green Hornet and The Lone Ranger.
    • In The Movie, Kato (Jay Chou) has a sketch of Bruce Lee in his sketchbook.
  • Oil Slick: One the Black Beauty's gadgets.
  • Outside-Context Problem: In most versions of the character, publicly the Hornet is, at least initially, the only costumed supervillian in a world of regular criminals.
  • Proto-Superhero
  • Proud Warrior Race Guy: Kato.
  • Public Domain Soundtrack: In the radio series; Rimsky-Korsakov's "The Flight of the Bumblebee" was the opening theme, while a number of classical pieces were regularly used in the soundtrack. Series creator George W. Trendle was well known in the radio broadcast business for being a penny-pincher.
  • Ret-Canon: Kato's martial arts ability.
  • Secret Identity: Britt Reid by day; The Green Hornet by night
  • Secret-Keeper: Obviously, Britt Reid and Kato for each other, but also Casey Case and DA Frank Scanlon in the TV series. In the later years of the radio series Police Commissioner Higgins was the Hornet's Secret Keeper. In the NOW Comics series, just about the entire Reid family, much of the Kato family, and a few trusted Reid employees/assistants (e.g., pilot and mechanics for the Hornet's vehicles and aircraft) are also in on the masquerade.
  • Spin-Offspring: The blood relationship between The Lone Ranger and The Green Hornet.
  • Superhero
  • To the Batpole!: Both averted and played straight in the radio series; while Reid and Kato changed into their costumes in Reid's apartment, they left on their adventures via a secret panel in Reid's bedroom which led to a hidden passage built into the apartment complex wall, that wound about to an abandoned building the next block over where the Black Beauty was stored.
  • Unbuilt Trope: Nowadays we identify the Hornet as a superhero/costumed vigilante and his public persona as a supervillain, but he predates most iconic Golden Age characters such as The Spirit, Superman and Batman. If a comic series came out today starring a superhero who posed as a supervillain full-time to infiltrate criminal gangs, people would praise it for having a new and original twist on the concept, but the Hornet came first.
  • Weaponized Car: The Black Beauty.
  • Zero-Approval Gambit: Trying to look like bad guys is at the very heart of what the Hornet and Kato do.
  • Zorro Mark:
    • The Green Hornet carried seals which he used to mark his presence when it suited his purposes, such as on documents at crime scenes, on the bodies of criminals he captured and left for the police to find, etc. Occasionally facsimiles of the Hornet's seal were used by criminals in attempts to pin the blame for their malfeasance on the Green Hornet. It never worked.
    • In the movie, the Green Hornet's calling card is an actual card with an e-mail address in case the villains want to contact him.