Seth Rogen and Jay Chou may be set to pummel crime this weekend when Sony's The Green Hornet hits theaters, but a lot of you might not realize that The Green Hornet originally sprang to life as a radio serial back in the 1930s. Then he graduated to film serials, comic books, and a short-lived television series in the 1960s that starred Bruce Lee (yes, that Bruce Lee) as Kato, and Van Williams as the titular Green Hornet. He even guest starred on the campy Batman television series more than once.
For once, Hollywood isn't having a quick, shotgun wedding with a game developer to rush a video game to shelves in order to coincide with the film. Which is a bit of a shame because I really want to drive the gadget-laden Black Beauty around and work my way through her arsenal. Did you know she had a flying surveillance device and night-vision? More awesome than the Batmobile in my book. You can sort of do this in the Green Hornet: Wheels of Justice iPad / iPhone game, but it leaves you wanting more.
While Hollywood cashes in on the past, why doesn't the video game industry do the same? There are a slew of radio heroes of yesteryear that would make amazing video game adaptations. They're all just waiting there for someone to scoop them up and put them to good use, so let's take a look at our favorite radio heroes translated to the joystick and mouse crowd. Sadly, there isn't a Jack Benny: The Game title on this list, even though he's my favorite radio star. But there's a lot of science fiction and gunslinging, so read on!
Do you know what evil lurks in the hearts of men? Well, you might not know, but The Shadow sure did. Long before the Alec Baldwin movie that I secretly love, The Shadow was the star of pulp novels, comic books, film serials and of course. Radio. In fact, the Shadow was on radio in one form or another from 1930 to 1954! That's 24 years of crimefighting. Orson Welles even provided his voice for part of that run. He inspired heroes like The Green Hornet and Batman, and there were two failed attempts to bring him to television Series. There was a cancelled Super Nintendo title, and a pinball machine from the movie, but you know what this guy needs? A good video game.
The Shadow had the power to sway men's minds, and he could also fade into the shadows, providing a good stealth platform to build a game around. He was also armed to dual pistols, and outfitted with a large slouch hat and crimson-lined trench coat, which would look awesome billowing in the fog. Set this in New York City circa the 1930s, give The Shadow his street network of cohorts, and you've got a supernatural hero who can battle baddies with both his mind, and guns.
When you say "Buck Rogers," most people immediately think of the television series from the very early 80s that starred Gil Gerard as Buck and Erin Gray as Colonel Wilma Deering. But Buck has actually been around since 1929 when he appeared in comic strip form, and later dominated radio for 15 years. In fact, in the 1930s there probably wasn't a kid in the United States who didn't want their very own XZ-38 Disintegrator Pistol. There have been numerous adaptation for Buck, including film serials, comic books, a pinball machine, and the 1983 Buck Rogers: Planet of Zoom Sega arcade game back in 1983, but it's time for a serious update. Swashbuckling fights with laser pistols and outer space dogfighting? You betcha.
For a Buck Rogers video game, developers should follow the original Amazing Stories model and have him put into suspended animation for 500 years (or freeze him like the television show did) until he awakes in the far future, unsure of the world around him. You play as Buck, learning how the years have changed the universe, and searching for something or someone familiar to you. Toss in a laser pistol sidearm that you pick up early in the game, and translate Buck's piloting skills to some sort of astro-fighter, and you've got the makings of a game right there. Sort of like a much better Mace Griffin.
The Lone Ranger
The Lone Ranger ran from 1933 to 1954, embedding the title character into the minds of Americans young and old alike. Along the way, he also inspired film serials, television shows, movies, comic books, and even a video game from Konami for the NES back in 1991. The Ranger was originally a Texas Ranger who was ambushed by baddies and left for dead. Later nursed back to health by his childhood friend Tonto, he adopts a mask to hide his identity and fights criminals using silver bullets, a symbol that life is precious and valuable, and not meant to be thrown away. Oddly enough, The Green Hornet was actually a spinoff of The Lone Ranger, with Britt Reid of Hornet fame being the son of the Lone Ranger's nephew.
Back in the Ranger's day, he only had his fists and his pistol to rely on. Of course, he was backed up by his trusty steed Silver, and faithful Native American companion Tonto always at his side. He was always a master of disguise, adopting different personas to infiltrate gangs and pick up gossip in town. With the recent success of Red Dead Redemption, it doesn't seem like it would be too hard to craft a Western-style game around the Ranger, throw in some Tonto co-op, and let players deal of justice in the west. With a movie in the works with Johnny Depp set to star as Tonto, someone needs to get Rockstar to produce this even if it's an Undead Nightmare-style DLC title. Pronto, Tonto.
X Minus One
The atomic sensationalism of the 1950s gave birth to plenty of science fiction properties with gee-whiz electronics and gadgets and atomic age mutations in it, and X Minus One was one of them. It ran as a radio drama for 126 episodes, and featured stories by science fiction writers like Isaac Asimov, Ray Bradbury, Philip K. Dick, Robert A. Heinlein, and Frederik Pohl behind the stories that were adapted into shows. It wasn't the first radio anthology show, with others like Suspense, Escape, The Mysterious Traveler and Inner Sanctum Mysteries coming before and after it, but it was one of my favorites. It was a bit like The Twilight Zone, but in space and with your mind providing all of the visuals instead of a television.
Alan Wake proved that horror delivered in an episodic format could work, so why not adapt X Minus One stories as episodic video games? With episodes like "A Gun for Dinosaur" that takes a safari into the dino age, and "Appointment in Tomorrow" where a computer does the thinking for everyone, there's a lot to draw on here. Instead of controlling the same character each time, you'd be dropped into these stories LucasArts-style, and have to puzzle your way out. Bring back the SCUMM system with retro gameplay, and these things would be eagerly awaited by gamers everywhere.
Little Orphan Annie
When talking about radio heroes of yesteryear, it's impossible not to mention Little Orphan Annie, especially since that scene with the decoder badge from A Christmas Story has been ground into the gray matter of our brains collectively. Annie actually first came to life as a comic strip in 1924, which ran until 2010. Yes, 2010, making Annie just shy of 100 years old. Most of us think of Annie and the 1982 film with Albert Finney, Carol Burnett, Bernadette Peters, Tim Curry and the adorable Aileen Quinn spring to mind, but most of America back in the 1930s knew her as the star of her own show, from 1930 to 1942, where indeed Ovaltine was a sponsor for most of its run.
While you can't deny Annie's popularity, what did she do most of the time? She got into madcap adventures with her dog Sandy, her doll Emily Marie, and the eight foot tall Punjab. Daddy Warbucks was central to most of these adventures, with Annie trying to rescue him, or help him make his fortune back. The stories often involved Annie in mortal peril, so let's update Annie to 2011, give her some gadgets and gizmos (she's had an iPad-like device, for sure), but keep her trotting around the globe with crazy adventures. As a title for younger gamers, Annie would be a surefire hit on the Nintendo 3DS, or the iPad/iPhone. Maybe this time, she could even have some pupils.
We've only scratched the surface as far as radio shows are concerned, but these are some of the standouts. With awesome properties like The Whistler and The Great Gildersleeve out there ripe for your listening pleasure, a quick Google search will have you listening to those and most of the titles on this list in no time. While the world of radio drama might be mostly dead, that doesn't mean it's not worth tapping into. Give it a listen and see what you think.