Jul 16, 2013

Review: Topps' The Lone Ranger and Tonto by Joe R. Lansdale and Tim Truman

I have to say, despite the low reviews it's been getting, I'm still pretty excited to see Disney's new Lone Ranger movie, out this week here in the Philippines. I'm a huge Pirates of the Caribbean fan and I'm hoping that team can catch lightning in a bottle once more. But anyway, regardless of how it turns out, I was reminded of this Topps miniseries by Joe R. Lansdale and Tim Truman from 1994, which I discovered a couple of years ago at a local Komikon for 80 pesos (just under two dollars.)

Lansdale and Truman, I'd find out later, did a lot of Jonah Hex (DC's Western hero) stuff together, and it's pretty clear from his artwork here (and he says so in one of the text pieces inside) that Truman likes drawing Westerns. Horses look like horses, Tonto and the Ranger are of clearly different ethnicities, and the backgrounds and fashion look authentic (or at least authentic enough to maintain an illusion of realism).

The story revolves around a criminal named Barrett, who discovers some alien artifacts and gets possessed by a flesh-sucking Aztec alien. It turns out that Barrett was inadvertently responsible for the first meeting ever of the Lone Ranger and Tonto, resulting in the end of the Lone Ranger's civilian identity (and the birth of the Lone Ranger) as well as the death of Tonto's family. The Ranger kept hiding this secret from Tonto, leading to a breakup of the legendary crimefighting frontier duo. Obviously, the rest of this story is about how they stop Barrett and the alien and finally repairing their friendship.

That's really it for the main plotline, and for my money it ends a bit too quickly. Ranger and Tonto's reunion is a bit rushed, and the alien's weakness, once hinted at, becomes really obvious really quickly. But there's a feeling of a world and a history in Lansdale's script. The past is continuously referenced, and it makes you want to discover the world more. I guess that's the whole effect of this book — making you want more. If it were the first arc in an ongoing Lone Ranger and Tonto series, it would be great. Unfortunately, this was all of it, so it has to settle for being "pretty good."

You can't really talk about the Lone Ranger without talking about Tonto, who — since he's a Native American character created in 1933, for a time period where tolerance wasn't really a big thing (The Old West) — is always going to be a tough act to handle. But Lansdale and Truman handle it well, making him as competent (or more, even) than the Ranger and making him witty and sarcastic. At one point, a thug tells him, "You talk pretty savvy American for an Injun," and he responds with "I am an American, you idiot." He puts on a flippant face to the public about the issues of race, making fun of the way the dime novelists portray him ("Lone Ranger smart fella! Sure like being heap big Lone Ranger faithful Injun companion!"), but Lansdale reserves the one and only thought balloon in the entire series for his regret at the whole situation.  When the Ranger's about to be honored by the governor (drawn to look like Ronald Reagan, or maybe it is Ronald Reagan), the authorities tell them they're at "his" disposal. Tonto, regretful face and all, just thinks, "And your Indian's." Truman was a master of expressions.

It's too bad this didn't evolve into a longer series, but if you want some Lone Ranger and Tonto in comics form, this might be a good one to track down. It has promise and great art.

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