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Comic Book Review: Kato Origins #1 by Jai Nitz

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I'm going to come right out and say it; I'm not really a Green Hornet fan. I just never really got into it, and I believe that's probably got something to do with only being 20 years old. I just wasn't around when it was big. What I do like is Bruce Lee, and what I do know is Bruce Lee played the Green Hornet's sidekick and chauffeur Kato. That was enough to make me pick up this new series from Dynamite, which seeks to flesh out the origins of the Green Hornet's mysterious sidekick.

The story, by Jai Nitz, jumps right into the action with Kato and the Hornet on the run from the police. It doesn't start out "in the beginning there was a boy called Kato."  Instead it uses the latest crime in 1940's Chicago, the murder of a Korean grocer, to delve into the memories and history of Kato. This immediacy really grabs you and sets a tone for the whole issue and hopefully the whole series. 

The issue is told solely from Kato's point of view, as you would expect, and he engages in constant internal dialogue which gives readers a real chance to find out what makes Kato tick. This dialogue also allows Nitz to comment on life in 1940's America, with Kato remarking on the sad state of relations between white Americans and any Asian American after the events of Pearl Harbor. A lot of the comics I've been reading lately deal with some sort of othering whether it be women (Iron Man Noir), the plight of African Americans (Captain America/ Black Panther: Flags of Our Fathers) and now Asian Americans. It's an interesting look at Western societies past and a constant reminder of where we come from. Nitz said in an interview that he wanted to tell "a period story with the backdrop of racism in America toward Asians" and this issue certainly sets up that backdrop.

The best thing about the issue is the fact that it really starts to make Kato an interesting and deep character. Not that he wasn't an interesting character before; it's just the exploration of the character adds another layer of interest. His dialogue about the Japanese game Hanafuda and how this style of card game relates to his life is very interesting, even if I didn't completely understand some of it.  It allowed more of Kato's history to come out as he discusses his time in the Japanese army, where he learned the game, and a woman called Sakura, who you assume he cared for very deeply due to his reaction. There's also a mention of ninja training which shows that there are many layers to the Green Hornet's partner — also the fact that he has something in his past, something secret and potentially dark in nature gives the story that “can't wait to see what happens next” feel.

The dialogue between the Hornet and Kato is also quite good. Little quips like "You only yell at me in Japanese when you're upset, which is odd, since you're supposed to be 'Korean' instead of Japanese" and "I can't believe you took out all four of them and didn't wait for me" by Britt shows a playfulness on both the Kato's and his behalf.  It also shows that their relationship is at a fairly advanced stage and reflects the focus of the comic which is on exploring Kato through a specific crime. 

Colton Worley's artwork, for the most part, is quite good. The double-page image of Kato taking out a room of mob hitmen is the standout piece, showcasing Kato's considerable fighting skill, and the nine image page that follows it invokes images of an old school TV show where they have a quick cut to a punch and a kick accompanied by POW and CRASH. In the same interview mentioned Nitz stated he wanted to create a martial arts story, and Worley's artwork certainly captures that. Also, the shadow effect used on Kato in the infiltration of the police headquarters is really effective and highlights that ninja/martial arts talent.

I say the artwork is good for the most part because, at times, the character and city designs are rather average. The details on Britt's face (the Green Hornet) change sometimes with his face looking rounder or more defined while a policeman, who is identified as Irish, doesn't look Irish. I know I shouldn't expect orange hair and freckles, but the choice of facial hair and shape of his face gives off more of an Asian almost Fu Manchu look. Meanwhile, there are times when the perspective seems out of whack. Cars seem small and squished at times while people tower over them, and, then, at other times the height difference seems more accurate. There just seemed to be a slight lack of consistency in the artwork throughout the issue. This lack of consistency really started to take away from the issue by the end as you found yourself looking at every image and thinking "is his face the same; should that car be that size?" instead of thinking "where will the story go next; what will Kato tell us?" It just needed to be tightened up to make a good issue great.

Overall the issue really captures your attention and starts to delve into the story of a very interesting character. While the artwork, at times, isn't up to scratch, it has some impressive moments that accompany a good, mystery filled story that is worth the buy if you’re a longtime Hornet fan or, like me, just curious about the character known as Kato.

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  • Greg

    I think it was the other way around. Kato made Bruce Lee famous not vice versa or the Green Hornet TV program made him famous.