THIS REVIEW OF ‘THE LONE RANGER’ #1 CONTAINS MINOR SPOILERS.
by Clyde Hall. Tattooed horses, pushmi-pullyu ranch names, and mending personal fences. Not always what one expects from a Western comic, but they keep Dynamite’s The Lone Ranger #1, Vol. 3, rolling along at a brisk pace little dogies would appreciate. There’s a helping of action, exposition, and humor seasoned throughout the book as writer Mark Russell hitches his wagon to the masked man’s mythology.
It’s 1887, and owners of large spreads in Deaf Smith County, Texas, are planning an end to the variable boundaries between their land and that of bordering smaller spreads. Barbed wire is their chosen partition enforcer, along with hired gunmen to deal with anyone who might circumvent their perimeter claims by clipping the fences. In fact, as personified here, the big land barons more or less sneer at filed claims and work off of a ‘if we can fence it, we own it’ platform. Their greater plan is a manifesto based on the plantation model of the Southern United States.
Naturally, a peace officer not in the hip pockets of such dastards can’t let this slide, and that includes at least one who wears a mask. But despite a healthy humor regarding his initial encounter with the land barons, even the Lone Ranger recognizes that coping with their retaliation won’t be a one-man job. To him, the situation is reminiscent of another bid for power that left five Texas Rangers cut down, and a sixth nearly dead. Even though the man who saved John Reid in the previous situation isn’t on hospitable terms with him now, Tonto’s still the first person the Ranger seeks out for help in this new conflict.
The Fence Cutting Wars is an actual part of Texas history, and one which involved vigilante justice in some instances. Mostly it was settled by the mid-1880s, though violence and property damage were high. The 2003 movie Open Range portrayed part of the larger free grazing dispute in several Western U.S. states of the era. Russell uses the setting, but it seems mostly fictionalized in the opening issue, without utilizing historical figures or specific events thus far. He also gives us a Ranger who fights smarter rather than harder, and this adds to the adventure even if it raises Silver to an almost mystical level. (Horses are big targets when they close in clandestine ops, just saying.)
Russell’s dialogue is what elevates the tale, whether it’s the nefarious schemes bandied between bad guys or the Lone Ranger’s personal reflections on dangerous men. He also minimizes the familiar origin flashes, relying on Bob Q’s clean, uncluttered, and vivid style to relay what’s needed. Both add in light touches and smile-worthy details that bestow an overall cleverness to the horse operatic theme. Bob Q balances his color palette well, settling between clandestine meetings of shadowy men and the bright frontier landscape.
Good Western films rely on benchmark sounds, whether it’s the harmonica of Once Upon a Time in the West, or the Foley and sound library masterpieces of reverberating gunshots in everything from The Searchers to The Outlaw Josey Wales. Letterer Hassan Otsmane-Elhaou bestows an artist’s touch and a cinematic flair to the sound effects here, be it the cadence of hoof beats, a detonating keg of gunpowder, or the teeth-jarring thunder of a cattle stampede.
There’s enough excitement in the first issue story stride, and adequate gentle departures from Ranger characterization found in previous incarnations, to keep readers following the series. Though light on some historical aspects, the issue makes up for it with a tale less gritty and more upbeat and quirkier than it might have turned out if grimly lifted from the chronicles of time. It inspires dreams of comeuppance for the oily men waxing villainous over their equally oily and waxed mustaches, and that’s a Lone Ranger adventure on the right dusty trail.
Written by Mark Russell.
Illustrated by Bob Q.
Letters by Hassan Otsmane-Elhaou.
7 out of 10