A bit of a break from war comics this time out. Because if there's one thing I know you folks love more than war comics it's Western comics. Damn, if I pander any harder I'm liable to break something! THE LONE RANGER AND TONTO by Truman, Magyar, Lansdale, Parsons & Joyce
THE LONE RANGER AND TONTO #1-4 Art by Timothy Truman & Rick Magyar Written by Joe R. Lansdale Lettered by Brad K. Joyce Coloured by Sam Parsons TOPPS Comics, $2.50ea (1994) The Lone Ranger created in 1933 by Fran Striker or George W. Trendle
When I was a kid I used to watch The Lone Ranger but then he got some curtains, and that was the end of that joke. A joke there almost as old as The Lone Ranger himself. Because not only did I (being a man whom we have established in past instalments is basically dust about to happen) watch the B&W TV show but so did my dad when he was a kid in Canada. That’s two very different places separated by decades, tons of water, different opinions on how to spell the word colour, and more miles than I can honestly be bothered to look up today. I checked with “Gil” and he only knows The Lone Ranger from the “poorly received” 2013 movie. He enjoyed it mind you, but since “poorly received” is polite Tinseltown speak for “the audience avoided it like it was trying to rub shit in their eyes” I imagine he was in the minority on that one. Prior to that there was a 1981 LEGEND OF THE LONE RANGER movie, which even I’d forgotten about. I guess what I’m getting at is that by 1994 when these comics appeared The Lone Ranger’s appeal was somehat shy of raging like a prairie fire. While these comics would do nothing to change that state of affairs (a two-hour TV pilot was broadcast in 2003 on the WB channel and someone will one day admit to seeing it) they are by a talented team and if you’re partial to a Lansdale or Truman shindig you’ll probably like these comics too.
Posterity may have given this series short shrift but be assured that here the pair bring the same scruffy panache they brought to their three Jonah Hex series for Vertigo. Anyone who has read their salty take on the man with the fried egg eye will know that Lansdale & Truman are as safe a pair of hands as could be found for a property like this. Timothy Truman’s art always looks like it has escaped from The Old West as it is. Even when tasked with superheroes such as Hawkman Truman’s art brings with it a singularly malodorous air of malnutrition and poor sanitation. And I mean that in a good way. I like a strong style; you should see my ties. So, when depicting a world where malnutrition and poor sanitation were something to aspire to then Timothy Truman’s the man, true. His whole body of work shows an obvious affinity for The Old West, so much so that back in 1985 his SCOUT series for Eclipse Comics had been basically set in a futuristic dystopia informed by Native American mythology which was, well, the Old West, just with better hardware and totemic demons. (If I recall correctly there was even a serape a la The Man With No Name in the first issue.) Scout is also, commonly, the name of Tonto’s horse, but that may be a stretch to test Reed Richards there. Here, even though it’s an oater, Truman doesn’t just have to draw horses and horseshit and saloons and spittoons though, because this is also a Joe R Lansdale joint so Truman’s art also has to encompass visual absurdities which range from the plain unsettling to the plumb appalling. He’s up to it though. The tranquil horror of an unfeasibly large pile of bodies is as queasily affecting as a land boat racing across the prairies is ridiculously impressive. Nor does Truman stint none on the small scale stuff, with the creature on the loose (no spoilers) possessing a ball crawling combination of dainty finickitiness and implacability which static images shouldn’t really be able to impart, but my crawling balls can assure you they do here. The art here isn’t pretty and nor is precision at a premium; the utter dicksplash of a Governor looks like Ronald Reagan for only a couple of panels, but it’s enough to make the bit where The Lone Ranger And Tonto give him his comeuppance via sarcasm and cigars that much sweeter. But the value of Truman’s imprecision is the flexibility it allows him, flexibility shown to no greater effect than when a creature swallows a man whole in a series of panels which will have you gingerly touching your own throat like a defrocked vicar in a moment of stress.
While I’m trying to avoid spoiling this one it should be as clear as the river when the snows thaw that this time out The Lone Ranger and Tonto are up against a mite more than cattle rustlers or bank robbers. What they are up against is whatever fell out of Joe R Lansdale’s head while he was writing it, and what falls out of Joe R Lansdale’s head during the writing process can err towards the bizarre. And I mean that in a good way. I like a strong imagination; like when you used yours to picture my ties back there. Joe R Lansdale is of course America’s primo mojo storyteller hissownself. He writes weird fiction and crime basically. He ain’t exactly Don DeLillo, but sometimes you don’t want Don DeLillo. After all, you are large, you contain multitudes. So, stop putting yourself down. Comic reviews and a pep talk, no charge! You may know Joe R Lansdale’s work from the movies BUBBA Ho-TEP (2002) and Cold in July (2014), or the episode of MASTERS OF HORROR “Incident On And Off A Mountain Road” (2005). All of which are worth reading in their papery incarnations even if you have seen them. He’s also done a series of books starring Hap Collins and Leonard Pine which are profane and brutally violent in a way which never feels cheap because of the underlying moral horror which fuels them. Could be Hap and Leonard are a Lone Ranger and Tonto for the modern world, though they’d probably break your jaw and steal all your vanilla cookies for suggesting it. In photographs Lansdale looks like he’s stolen Robert Mitchum’s torso, and perpetually sports an expression of guarded tolerance at the very idea that someone would want to do a damnfool thing like take his picture with one of them new-fangled camera doohickeys. Basically the guy writes like he’s trying to smash through a wall. He’s good is what he is. And I don’t say that just because Joe R Lansdale ran his own dojo and could drop kick me so hard I’d be wearing my ass for a hat. No, he’s a good writer. The End. Part of why he’s a good writer is how lightly he wears his ingenuity. Instead of calling a fucking press conference to celebrate his meta antics when they occur he just ups and gets it done.
Look, huddle in here round this imaginary fire and picture the scene with me…we’re way back now in the primitive hell of 1994 and TOPPS want to revive the Lone Ranger IP but, well, look, no one wants to start any trouble here but there’s no way around this, while The Lone Ranger’s okay it’s his mate who’s the issue. Because if you have The Lone Ranger you have to have Tonto. (Oh I sense your confusion what with his name being Lone and that, but his name means there aren’t any other Rangers with him rather than he prefers his own company.) Although Tonto was tardy, turning up first in the 11th episode of the radio serial, thereafter he was always with The Lone Ranger. Because after that like Silver, silver bullets, powder blue tasselled jackets and white Stetsons, Tonto is always part of the deal with The Lone Ranger. Tonto had, over time, become built in and by 1994 he’s now part of the origin, being as he’s the one who rescues Allen King/Bill Andrews/John Reid/Luke Hartman/Uncle Tom Cobbley and thus enables him to make the peculiar decision to turn his dead brother’s vest into a mask, and ride about hither and yon firing ostentatiously expensive bullets at men of low character. Which stuff is all just dandy, if highly suggestive of a particularly flamboyant form of PTSD, but Tonto is a Native American and that kind of character has not been, uh, well served in popular literature. For starters his name, unfortunately, means “silly” in Spanish. (In early Martin Amis novels “tonto” means fucked in the head, for some reason. I don’t know why; I’ll ask him next time I see him.) While he spoke in broken English (Tonto not Martin Amis) this was because he had (naturally enough) learnt it as a second language (still talking about Tonto here, not Martin Amis). Despite this actually making Tonto smarter than a monolingual like, say, oh, me his lack of verbal facility was often taken as a sign of stupidity. Luckily, Joe R Lansdale knows how to work round that stuff; he just writes Tonto like an intelligent human being.
Which is smarter than it sounds and the smartness doesn’t stop there; he builds the obvious baggage the character brings right into the story itself. Throughout the mini-series references are made to the dime novels portraying the adventures of The Lone Ranger and Tonto. These are clearly meant to represent their earlier movies, books, comics, newspaper strips, etc with their, uh, less than ideal portrayal of Tonto and their possibly Ranger-centric approach. Again and again Truman’ delightfully scrofulous townsfolk treat The Lone Ranger like a movie star while his sidekick is kicked to the side. And it’s this stress between reality and public perception which is as threatening to the pair as any skin feasting fiend. Joe R Lansdale and Timothy Truman’s tale then is not just about a frightsome beast or revenge for sins past but also about two friends whose bond is riven by success and secrets. The entertainment is all in the ride because the end is never in doubt. After all, as all us old gits know, it’s part of The Lone Ranger’s credo that to have a friend one must be one. And The Lone Ranger and Tonto are many things to many people in many ages but they will always be friends to each other. (However, I suspect Tonto is the smarter of the two). THE LONE RANGER AND TONTO is whip-crack smart and scruffy stuff. In 2006 Dynamite would have greater success with a Lone Ranger series but I haven’t read that; I read this one and it’s GOOD!
They are how the West was won - COMICS!!!