A Lesson In Legends: Michael Uslan's Masked Men
May 31, 2013
Michael Uslan approaches writing a comic book as he would teaching folklore. Or making another movie. There is a thought process. There is almost a diagram that could be drawn on a blackboard to show how one thing leads to another.
With the classroom and film experiences he has had in his life, Michael Uslan takes a holistic approach to crafting a story so that when people pick up his new book from Dynamite Entertainment — The Shadow/Green Hornet: Dark Nights #1 (MAY131009) — they will see that the three-act play which begins has been crafted by a man who has studied how to tell a story so that people can see flesh and blood in four-color pages.
PREVIEWSworld: Regarding the announcement of The Shadow/Green Hornet: Dark Nights #1, would this be a concrete example of how you champion the belief that if you really put your mind to something you can accomplish anything? Has this new book been a goal of yours for some time?
Michael Uslan: I started nudging Nick B. about two years ago to do this, and I can be very annoying when I set my mind to it. I knew Nick had a love for the pulps and would nurture these characters. I was fortunate to know Walter Gibson, the driving creative force behind The Shadow, and spend time with him in the early 1980's. My very first professional comic book scripts were The Shadow #9 and #11 in the classic 1970's DC comics run under the auspices of the legendary Denny O'Neil and Mike Kaluta. That issue #11 marked the first and only meeting in history of The Shadow and The Avenger (along with his Justice Inc.).
Those issues were what next secured for me an assignment to write "Batman" for editor Julie Schwartz. Speaking of history, I'm also a history major/history buff, so the opportunity to combine my love of comics and pulps with my slavish devotion to history is a golden opportunity for me. ALL of this, in the circuitous route of my life's journey, has led me back full circle today to The Shadow/Green Hornet: Dark Nights.
PREVIEWSworld: You've been called "a speaker who is not to be missed.” You're comfortable with speaking to academic groups, so let's say that would be an audience you'd meet (college), and in meeting them you would have to get them excited about your new book from D.E. What would you say about the character of these heroes that could make the people in the room care about the actual men behind the masks? How would you humanize the story for them?
Michael Uslan: If you have ever been a fan of Batman, it's almost imperative you see his roots... and as Batman co-creator, Bill Finger, always stated, those roots, among others, were The Shadow and The Green Hornet, and not just Sherlock Holmes, Zorro, The Bat, The Scarlet Pimpernal, etc. In this tale, possibly for the first time ever, readers will get a momentary peek... a flash of an instance... in which Lamont Cranston drops his guard, and we, along with a shocked Britt Reid, finally grasp the horror that created The Shadow at the cost of the soul and the face of a World War I spy named Kent Allard. We learn exactly why Britt Reid will never kill... what drives this essence of the man. We'll understand how Kato processes on the eve of World War II his devotion to America with his Japanese ancestry and personal background.
PREVIEWSworld: You've taught comic book folklore. Let’s say you were in front of a class, and you had to cite some mythic/folk heroes that would be on parallel with The Spirit or The Green Hornet. What names would you write on the blackboard? And what explanations would you give in your comparison?
Michael Uslan: Odysseus. Whether clad in skins and armor, or suits and trenchcoats, these are still the basic tales of brave warriors on life-long quests to fight demons and dragons of their day. They have all made commitments to do what's right and see their mission to the end, even if it means walking through Hell for the rest of their lives.
PREVIEWSworld: In this book it sounds like you're playing with reality. Interpreting history with new prescription glasses. This pulp crossover lets readers follow events that involve Nikola Tesla, famous presidents, World War 1 spilling into World War 2, and Hitler and Shiwan Khan fighting men that hide behind masks. To say this story is "over-the-top" would be an understatement. But high-octane action that forces you to wear a seatbelt seems to be your style. It's how we got The Dark Knight and The Dark Knight Rises. Is doing movies that much different from doing comics for you? In other words, do you feel the same intensity?
Michael Uslan: I write my comic books/graphic novels like a screenplay in three acts (even when the comic books may be broken up into five parts). They operate as a five-parter, but in the end, they are really in three acts. Act 3 is always the money-shot. I approach every odd numbered page in a way that will hopefully make it a page turner. But because some of my favorite reading has been books like The Alienist, Ragtime, and Carter Beats The Devil, which involve fictional characters mingling with real people in and out of real events of history, I wanted to bring that to comics. My initial effort to do so was my hardbound graphic novel, Batman: Detective #27, published some years back by DC. I'm very proud of that story. Like The Shadow/Green Hornet: Dark Nights, it took me months and months of historical research before I ever started actually writing.
The key for me was when I discovered that for REAL, the Auto-Gyro popularized by The Shadow since his early pulp days, was invented by Nikola Tesla. It suddenly dawned on me that while we have always seen the mystical side of The Shadow, there also HAD to be a scientific side... and Tesla becomes the key to it all!
PREVIEWSworld: What stories about the Shadow and the Green Hornet do you remember most from your childhood? How did your adolescent attraction to these heroes translate into today's tale of The Shadow/Green Hornet: Dark Nights #1?
Michael Uslan: I voraciously read every paperback book about The Shadow that came out when I was growing up... most of which were reprints of the old pulps. The ones that provided clues to his secret origin were the ones that most captured my imagination... when I learned Cranston was really Allard... when I learned, after much confusion, that there were TWO girasols... stories like "The Living Shadow" and "The Romanoff Jewels." But when Denny and Mike's first few issues of The Shadow comic books came out from DC in the mid-70's, I was in comics heaven!
Prior to all that, as a kid, radio re-runs of The Shadow and The Green Hornet shows were on every Sunday evening on WJRZ in Newark, NJ. That's where I became a Green Hornet fan as well as a Shadow fan. When I learned the Green Hornet was related to The Lone Ranger and was, indeed, the industrial age version of the Masked rider of the Plains, I was hooked!
By the time the Green Hornet TV show came on the air, I was relieved to find it was not another campy comedy like "Batman," but was being played straight and seriously. I went crazy for Wende Wager as Miss Case, Bruce Lee as Kato, and Al Hirt's amazing interpretation of the Green Hornet's theme, "Flight of the Bumble Bee," in exactly that order.