The wild west, land of myths and a romanticization that birthed a genre that flooded early TV and the box office for decades. Now, one of the pulp stars of that era returns to comics in a series that is equal parts romanticization and interrogation of an era that shaped our country. Spoilers ahead, partner.
Written by Mark Russell
Illustrated and Colored by Bob Q
Lettered by Hassan Otsmane-Elhaou
A sparking new adventure from multiple Eisner Award nominee MARK RUSSELL (The Flintstones) and BOB Q (The Green Hornet ’66 Meets The Spirit)!
1883. The advent of barbed wire is creating havoc in the Texas panhandle. A corrupted state senator conspires with dirty ranchers to make land unnavigable for open rangers and native tribes, passing new laws allowing cattlemen to kill anyone caught cutting the wire. Good people are getting hurt, and The Lone Ranger must act. But to truly stop this rampant villainy, he’ll need to go all the way to the top, and rely on an old friend for help…
Mark Russell is one of the smartest satirists out there in comics. From “Prez” to “Exit Stage Left: The Snagglepuss Chronicles,” his series are always biting, relevant to now as well as the time-period his series are set in, and funny. “The Lone Ranger” isn’t an especially funny series so far, choosing instead to establish a more serious tone to convey the gravity of the material he’s dealing with. This is a western, with all the trappings of one, but it’s also an issue that begins by establishing the death of the western. The first page sets things up beautifully.
Bob Q opens the page with a large panel featuring a cowboy leading a herd of cattle across the wide-open plains. In all directions, the beige landscape continues, truly capturing the openness of the land. The lead cowboy calls out to one of the others in a jovial manner, his face all smiles. This is the promise of the west. This is the image that is conjured in our minds, in our TV shows, in our oral history. It is not the reality. The next three panels show that.
In the second panel, Fritz, the other cowboy, catches a runaway calf and uses his lasso to throw it to the ground, Q’s speed lines and the dutch angle conveying the intensity of the action and the force of the cow’s fall. The third panel is simple enough, an aerial shot of a fence, one side lit up and the other darkened – a nice use of coloring and shadow to convey the symbolic meaning behind the fence. It also marks the first imposition upon the freedom of the plain promised in panel one.
The final panel shows that not only is this an out of place fence, it is made of barbed wire – which in the era this comic is set in, is a new invention. The panel shows our romanticized cowboy behind the wire, as if it has boxed him in, and he speaks one word, “Damnation!” A fitting word as it works as both an exclamation of the genre, thereby remaining consistent with the world, and as a sign of things to come. It is the damnation of all that they hold dear, of the promise of the western, of the romanticized world.
This is not the only place that the realities of the era are interwoven with the expectations and the absurdities of the genre. We expect that the cowboy will be able to stand up to the people who place the barbed wire but he can’t. He tries but, after showing the map of the property lines in the county that’s tattooed on the stomach of his horse to the barbed wire dude, he just cuts the cowboy down in an off-panel shootout after declaring the only law that governs them is the law of the gun.
It’s also refreshing to see how Russell doesn’t gloss over the social realities of the era. This is Texas after the failure of reconstruction and these are landowning, powerful men who remember the antebellum. While the language is kept slur free, the racism, paternalism, and greed is preserved. The same is true of what little we see of Tonto, who seems to have had a falling out with the Lone Ranger prior to this. The Lone Ranger treats him with respect and, in one very nice bit of scripting, talks about the “comanche and white man alike.” Compare that with the language used by the ranchers and the state senator and you’ll see what I mean.Continued below
There is much to love about “The Lone Ranger” #1, especially from Hassan Otsmane-Elhaou’s clean, sleek lettering and Bob Q’s versatile artwork. Q can go from drawing dusty, sunbleached plains to a vibrant, powerful splash page of an explosion at night, all while maintaining expressive but still realistic-looking characters. There is an energy to his artwork, even during the smaller moments, that captures the scale of distances in the west.
The one shortcoming “The Lone Ranger” has, though, is that the Lone Ranger doesn’t feature much into the action of the issue. He’s the titular character but he is a minor part of the narrative, kept at a physical, in-panel distance for much of the comic. He plays a role in issue #1, yes, but most of the forward motion of the comic is spent establishing the villains of the piece, their worldview, and the primary ways in which they will act to attempt to reshape the county. However, this also allows for a bit of mystery to remain around the Lone Ranger. And what good is a legend without a little mystery.
Final Score: 8.5 – Mark Russell is still in top form with a new #1 for a licences property and the creative team couldn’t be stronger. While a bit light on the Lone Ranger part, it is a beautiful, smart book that interrogates its premise and the history behind it.