When Bruce Lee met Batman: Remembering the great Green Hornet crossover of 1967
ABC's two superhero duos clashed in an epic crossover in 1967. Who won? Well, the viewer.
Though the Caped Crusader is far more famous, the Green Hornet actually predates Batman. The masked vigilante first appeared — or, well, was heard — on the radio in early 1936. Bob Kane dreamt up "The Bat-Man" three years later.
Billionaire Bruce Wayne, however, did beat newspaper mogul Britt Reid to the small screen. Batman premiered at the start of 1966, with The Green Hornet following in the fall. On the comics page, Batman was owned by DC Comics, while the Hornet bounced around publishers over the years, from Helnit to Harvey to Dell to Gold Key. Yet in the world of televisions, both shows were produced by William Dozier for ABC. The Green Hornet was, well, green lit due to the success of Batman. The network was hungry for more crime fighters.
Thankfully, because of this, we were granted a great, rare crossover of the two antiheroes. Van Williams' Green Hornet and his sidekick Kato, famously played by Bruce Lee, first appeared on Batman in 1996 in the episode "The Spell of Tut," as one of the series' celebrity "window cameos." The duo only get to poke their head out of a building and wave. Eventually, in March 1967, they would return for an epic two-part meeting in "A Piece of the Action" and "Batman's Satisfaction."
As superhero match-ups always go, Batman and the Green Hornet butt heads — and Robin clashes with Kato — before realizing they are on the same side. This being the hit Batman show, Batman and Robin were originally planned to win the clash. Purportedly, martial arts master Bruce Lee would have none of his character losing a fight to Burt Ward, so they tie. Kato lands some kicks with a ZAMM! but the battle ends in a "Mexican standoff… a dead heat." The only downside, perhaps, is the caliber of villain. Instead of the Riddler or the Joker, the four tackle Colonel Gumm, a stamp fanatic who loves soup.
The Green Hornet series lasted only one season. Unlike the camp and bubblegum colors of Batman, Hornet played its crimefighting serious and straight. According to Bruce Lee: The Celebrated Life of the Golden Dragon, Lee listed that difference in tone as a factor in its failure, and humbly took some of the blame himself.
In the first place it was not far out enough, not Batman-ish enough to please the viewers. Second, it should have been an hour-long show. Besides, the scripts were lousy and I did a really terrible job in it, I must say.
Hindsight has been kinder to The Green Hornet. Bruce Lee became an action icon. The Black Beauty, a 1966 Imperial Crown, is a gorgeous, deeply cool automobile. Plus, our current culture prefers its superheroes dark and gritty. Sometimes that's a bummer, sometimes that leads to better films. Still, it's nice to remember a time when both worlds could briefly co-exist.