Monday, January 24, 2011


Troy D. Smith

Not your father’s Lone Ranger –and that’s not necessarily a bad thing. In 2006 Dynamite Entertainment debuted its Lone Ranger comic, by Brett Matthews and Sergio Cariello. It was an immediate hit, with critics as well as fans. The title was nominated for an Eisner award for best new series, and was named “Best Western Comic Book of the Year” by True West in 2009. Matthews and Cariello have consistently managed to capture the spirit of the characters and give nods to their storied history while still providing depth and appealing to modern readers. As of this writing, in January 2011, the series has seen 24 issues and four story arcs. I would prefer to see the book coming out on a more regular basis, but waiting a couple of months for Cariello’s excellent artwork is more than worth it. The first three story arcs are available in trade paperback, and the fourth one will be soon; an upcoming miniseries will see the Lone Ranger interacting with an elderly Zorro (Dynamite also publishes Western comic series about Zorro and the Man with No Name.)

Of course, the Dynamite series is only the latest incarnation of the masked man. The character was originally created in 1933 by Detroit radio producer George W. Trendle and freelance writer Fran Striker (the two men argued publicly for years about which had the largest role.) Eventually the Lone Ranger galloped from radio to serials, movies, cartoons, and a long-running television series. He appeared in a newspaper comic strip (initially scripted by co-creator Striker, who also wrote several Lone Ranger novels) from 1938 until 1971, and again in the early ‘80s. The masked man first appeared in comic books in January, 1948; except for a brief hiatus in the early 1960s when the rights changed from Dell to Gold Key Comics, the title continued until March, 1977 (an interesting side note, at least to me: that other famous masked cowboy, Marvel Comics’ Two-Gun Kid, headlined his own comic from March, 1948 until April, 1977.) The Ranger had a brief four-color comeback in the mid-90s with a Topps Comics miniseries by Joe R. Lansdale and Timothy Truman.

The first story of Dynamite’s series closely follows the origin story from the original radio program: young Texas Ranger John Reid is the lone survivor of an ambush by the Butch Cavendish gang which kills five other Rangers, including Reid’s father and older brother Dan. The troop had been betrayed by a traitorous Ranger named Collins. The seriously wounded Ranger is rescued and nursed back to health by an Indian named Tonto, who becomes his partner. Reid buries his five dead comrades, and adds an empty grave –John Reid is dead to the world, and only the Lone Ranger survives. Before long there is a white stallion and a silver mine which produces material for the masked man’s bullets. I like the way Matthews and Carielo include more subtle Easter eggs to pay tribute to the character’s history. In the early issues he wears the red shirt which the Lone Ranger sported in the 1940s, and later switches to a more Clayton Moore-esque blue one. In one scene, the sheet music to The William Tell Overture sits prominently on a piano in the foreground. John Reid’s young nephew, Dan Jr., is obsessed by hornets –Fran Striker fans will immediately realize that little Dan will later be the father of Britt Reid, the 1930s Green Hornet.

There are a few changes, however, and a few modern touches. John Reid seems more sensitive, and less sure of himself, than the stalwart hero we are accustomed to. Like the hero of yore, he refuses to take a life –he uses silver bullets to emphasize the heavy price paid for every shot fired. I don’t remember that reasoning being part of Lone Ranger lore before, although perhaps it was there and I just missed it. The widow and son of his brother Dan are important supporting characters, and the Ranger’s tender feelings for them is a dramatic element in the series. The aging, melancholy Sheriff Loring is another prominent member of the supporting cast, providing a similar dynamic to Commissioner Gordon in Batman stories. Butch Cavendish is a far more interesting villain than he has ever been before –no longer a simple outlaw boss, he is portrayed as an unhinged, psychotic politician, given to grandiose soliloquys and sardonic conversations with God. He is sort of a cross between Al Swearingen of Deadwood and the Joker.

The biggest change –and really, how could it not be –is the depiction of Tonto. He is no longer the monosyllabic, pidgin-English speaking, loyal “Injun” sidekick. Nor does he get beaten up every time he goes to town alone, as Bill Cosby famously observed. This Tonto speaks fluent English, is a formidable and supremely competent hero, and is an equal partner –in many ways a mentor –to the Lone Ranger. He is also more likely than his partner to get the girl. Critics of the character have for decades pointed out that the very name “Tonto” is condescending, as it is a Spanish word meaning “fool.” Matthews’ script makes it clear that Tonto is not the man’s given name: “You can call me Tonto. People used to.” We later learn that he is an outcast from his tribe (hence the name Tonto, perhaps, as Apaches often spoke Spanish –though that has not yet been clarified in the comic.) At one point his old friends deride him for being a “faithful Indian companion.” It is only fair to point out that Lansdale and Truman’s 1994 version of Tonto was also articulate, capable, and aware of the public’s racist view of him: "Of course, Kemosabe. Maybe when we talked I should use that 'me Tonto' stuff, way they write about me in the dime novels. You'd like that, wouldn't you?"

I hear that some fans of the traditional Lone Ranger have complained about the violence in the latest comics version. To be certain, this is not the kids’ TV show or the 1970s cartoon; comics today are primarily aimed at people college-age and older (the younger kids are busy playing with their wiis.) The action and language are more realistic –one storyline involves catching a serial killer. Even so, this incarnation of the Lone Ranger is just as much a model of virtue, morality, and honor as any that have come before. If you have pleasant memories of the character, or if you just enjoy a good Western action tale, I strongly recommend you pick up an issue or one of the trade paperback reprints.

(Troy D. Smith is the award-winning author of RIDING TO SUNDOWN, BROTHERS IN ARMSTHE PEOPLE IN YONDER, and GOOD REBEL SOIL: THE CHAMP FERGUSON STORY, among others.  Troy is currently a Doctoral candidate in the History Department at the University of Illinois. He says, "I don't write about things that happen to people—I write about people that things happen to.")

Thursday, January 13, 2011

Deadline Approaching

Submissions for the Western Fictioneer Peacemaker Awards are being still being accepted for works published in the year 2010.  All entries must be postmarked by January 31, 2011.  For more information about the awards and the forms needed, check out the WF website.

Monday, January 10, 2011

Rancho Diablo Series by Colby Jackson

The Rancho Diablo series of original Western e-books was launched recently to great success so far. Written under the house name Colby Jackson, Rancho Diablo is the creation of veteran authors Mel Odom, James Reasoner, and Bill Crider, and tells the story of the creation of a Texas ranch by former army scout Sam Blaylock, his family, and his friends.

The first book, SHOOTER’S CROSS, written by Odom, finds Blaylock taking over an old, abandoned ranch that is thought to be cursed and having to battle not only new-found enemies who don’t want him to succeed but also the earth itself, since much of the water on the spread he dubs Rancho Diablo is polluted by sulfur. After triumphing over these threats, the arrival of Blaylock’s family sets the stage for the second book, HANGROPE LAW (written by Reasoner), in which an unexpected reunion with an old friend leads to danger for Sam and one of his sons.

These two books are now available for the Kindle through Amazon. The third book, DEAD MAN’S REVENGE, written by Bill Crider, will be available soon. These are action-packed stories that will appeal to fans of traditional Westerns and new readers alike. Check them out.