Make no mistake -- this incarnation ain't your pa's Lone Ranger.
With their revitalization of the classic Lone Ranger story, Brett Matthews and artist Sergio Cariello do something that Americans have been doing for generations: they take something from another time and place and make it their own.
It's hard to remember in our current culture so focused on border patrol and social security numbers that America was once a melting pot for beliefs and traditions. What many don't realize is that through this meshing of cultures Americans adopted an unofficial national symbol from Spain: the cowboy.
And you thought Spain's biggest contributions to American culture were Enrique Iglesias and the script to Cameron Crowe's Vanilla Sky.
Not so fast, amigo.
Cowboys are to the United States what knights are to England, or samurai to Japan: a piece of history that's become more legend than fact. Sure, actual cowboys really weren't much more than laborers hired to herd cows across the United States, but it's so much more interesting to focus on the lawlessness of the Old West. Characters like Jesse James, Doc Holliday and the Hole-in-the-wall Gang have captured the imaginations of generations of Americans. There's just something about the imagery of guns blazing outside the O.K. Corral that keeps us riveted to our seats.
So, on one hand, it's not surprising to see another cowboy-themed piece of pop culture crop up. Within the last few months we've seen three major Hollywood productions (3:10 to Yuma, The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford and No Country for Old Men) try to capitalize on America's love of the western genre.
What is surprising is that Dynamite Entertainment and Brett Matthews chose to attempt to bring the Lone Ranger out of almost 50 years of retirement. It's been tried before -- never with satisfactory results. After the popular television show went off the air in the late '50s, subsequent attempts to revive the masked hero failed miserably.
However, in this Eisner Award-nominated series, Matthews avoids the same trap that both the 1981 feature-length movie The Legend of the Lone Ranger and a 2003 made-for-TV movie fell into. In these productions' efforts to revamp our great American hero for a new audience, they failed to even try to follow the original storyline, going for glitz and glamour rather than maintaining the romance that surrounded the original character. But make no mistake -- this incarnation ain't your pa's Lone Ranger.
Matthews, a relative newcomer to the comics scene, is probably best known for working with writer/director Joss Whedon on his Angel and Serenity television shows. Fortunately for comic book fans, Matthews -- much like Whedon -- made the jump from TV to comics flawlessly.
In these first six issues, he manages to effectively tell the legend of John Reid, his faithful sidekick, Tonto, and his fiery steed, Silver, for younger generations without compromising the characters or the story. In the first arc of what could very well be a long-running series, Matthews revamps the Ranger's origin story, introducing us to the circumstances that bred one of the most respected and feared (depending on who you're asking) fictional lawmen of the Old West.
One of the more noticeable differences between this story arc and the original tale is the re-imagining of the American Indian character Tonto. Matthews develops him into a more dynamic character than his '50s counterpart. No longer is he a foil for the Lone Ranger, but more of a teacher and a mentor for the younger John Reid. Equipped with intelligence and a commanding presence, Tonto guides his young "kemosabe" through his quest for vengeance, unlike the character from the original series, who was content to stand off to the side speaking in a ridiculous pigdin language.
Matthews does take a chance and revamp the Lone Ranger, realizing that the polished, clean-cut character from the early decades of the twentieth century wouldn't capture the attention of current readers. Instead he chooses to explore the psyche of a teenage John Reid who has just seen his entire family slain by outlaws. The result is a character more in line with some of the great John Wayne flicks (think True Grit) or Sergio Leone's Man with No Name series. On the outside, John Reid guzzles whiskey, steals horses and isn't afraid to knock Tonto on his ass -- but deep down he's still a scared kid without a family who's looking for answers.
In one story arc, Matthews did for The Lone Ranger what it took dozens of writers decades to do for Superman: he got rid of that boring Boy Scout image and made him a character worth giving a damn about.