There have been two attempts at reviving the Lone Ranger in less than 5 years. The first was a horrible aborted pilot for the WB that tried to force the Lone Ranger into the network’s well-established youth-oriented approach (the stench of SMALLVILLE was all over it). I couldn’t manage to sit through even half of the film. Sometime this month, collectibles and comics company Dynamic Forces will be publishing a new Lone Ranger comic written by Brett Matthews, author of the SERENITY tie-in mini-series from Dark Horse, with “art direction” by John Cassaday of PLANETARY and ASTONISHING X-MEN. It looks good. In fact, it looks a lot like what I would do . . . but not quite.
THE LONE RANGER
A screenplay (or, maybe, a novel . . . or a screenplay and accompanying novelization)
I’ll admit, I don’t have this one worked out perfectly by any means.
The main goal of my approach would be to blend the Lone Ranger mythology more thoroughly with Texas history. I’ve often thought that the character’s creators picked the Texas Rangers because it sounded good, and that if they thought Arizona or New Mexico or Nevada (all of which also had rangers) had the same “heft” they would have chosen another state just as readily. It is completely ahistorical to think the Texas Rangers could have been wiped out by killing six men in an ambush. The Texas Rangers at that time were a large, loose-knit organization spread out across the state. There’s no reason John Reid shouldn’t have taken Tonto’s horse and ridden to the nearest town to summon help and hunt Butch Cavendish down . . .
. . . Unless he felt he couldn’t trust the other rangers.
There were good Texas Rangers and there were bad Texas Rangers, and the truth is that the bad rangers were really, really bad. Those men were genocidal bastards, harassing Indians and Mexicans to ensure white dominance (something Joe Lansdale and Tim Truman played with in their Topps mini-series in the ‘90s). What if Butch Cavendish, the Lone Ranger’s Joe Chill, was another ranger?
We begin with a sepia-toned flashback. We’re on a Texas farmstead and there’s some sort of celebration going on (we learn later it’s the wedding of John’s older brother Dan). Ominously, a trio of Indians seems to be sneaking up on the farm. When we see them clearly, we realize they’re only kids – early teens out on a prank. Surprise, surprise when they’re caught by a plucky white boy: young John Reid. He’s got a gun and two of the Indians run away while the third holds his ground (Tonto, of course). The boys are impressed with each other’s courage and tentative smiles begin on their faces when suddenly a big, dark, moustached man looms over them. Close-up on his six-shooter as he takes aim at Tonto . . . and fires. The screen goes black.
And then, the audience is jarred out of the hypnotic Celtic fiddle music playing in the background (the Reids are Irish or Scottish; I’m not sure which yet) by the stirring sounds of the cavalry charge from the overture to Rossini’s WILLIAM TELL. The title comes up in silver, of course, and we fade in to a busy metropolitan street (Baltimore or Philadelphia, I figure) in 18—(I haven’t figured out the dates yet). Pan over to an opera house where tonight’s performance is, you guessed it, WILLIAM TELL. Inside, struggling actor John Reid is getting costumed as one of Tell’s fellow rebels, a spear-carrier role with no lines and minimum stage time.
A telegram courier runs through the costumed crowd. “Reid! John Reid” he shouts (introducing our hero by his surname first is a nod to the fact that he had no given name originally; the Lone Ranger was the first Man with No Name). The telegram is the cryptic message “HI-YO SILVER.” Reid tears off his costume and runs out of the theater. He’s rich!
One cross-country train ride later and he’s back at the Reid homestead with his brother Dan. The old mine dad and Dan spent so many years working on has finally paid off. And how has John’s schoolin’ been going? John admits he quit college to stride the boards. Dan decks him.
We’re introduced to Dan’s wife, young son, and his brother-in-law: Butch Cavendish. This version of Cavendish is basically a super-evil version of real-life ranger Bigfoot Wallace, a six-foot something hairy badass who picks his teeth with a Bowie Knife. He’s a feared Indian killer and the quickest draw this side of the Pecos. He’s got a grudge against the Reids a mile wide: if they’re Irish, he’s Scottish (and vice versa); he’s mad Dan took over their dad’s old ranger troop instead of him (Butch is about five years older than Dan, making him a decade or so older than John); he empathizes with the Billy Idol song WHITE WEDDING; and he knows the Reids have stumbled onto wealth. That, and he once shot John.
Yep, when Butch Cavendish pulled the trigger on young Tonto that fine summer day without even stopping to ask questions first, young John threw himself in the way. Papa Reid and the other straight-shooters of the ranger troop never trusted Cavendish after that. John, meanwhile, still wears the scar.
Somewhere in here we also have to mention a rogue lone Indian – a vigilante hunting Indian hunters. The Mexicans call him the Idiot, because who’d be stupid enough to hunt Texas Rangers, but his Indian name is Tonto.
So, the brothers have just had a fight and haven’t quite made up when word comes that a bank robber named Collins has fled into the wild. The Reids and Cavendish gather up the rest of the rangers (“Wait! Where are the rest of the fellas?” “They’re out on patrol.” “We can’t wait for them. We’re losing light!”) ride out to the box canyon. The rangers loyal to Cavendish wait for them in ambush; Cavendish himself rides alongside the Reids. When they get there, the inevitable ambush happens. Cavendish brutally shoots Dan Reid twice at point-blank range. The good guys are cut down and the bad guys plant evidence to make it look like Indians did it.
John lies badly wounded, gasping for breath, tears streaming down his face. Butch Cavendish looms over him again and cocks his gun . . . and then puts it away. “I’ve already wasted a bullet on you once, boy. I’ll just let the buzzards finish you off.” John Reid painfully crawls for shelter in a scene reminiscent of A FISTFUL OF DOLLARS or THE GOOD, THE BAD, AND THE UGLY.
Here I’m somewhat torn. Cavendish has to be smug enough to not finish off Reid, but is he smart enough to post a guard to make sure the buzzards do finish off the last honest Texas Ranger? It’s really material to how Tonto makes his entrance. If there is a guard, Tonto slips up behind him and cuts his throat (our Tonto is one bad mofo). If there isn’t, then he’s just a pair of ominous moccasins walking up to the dying Reid. In any case, he walks up to Reid, peers down into the camera, and says “Huh.” He can’t believe what he just found.
Reid wakes up in Tonto’s camp. Tonto explains (in twangy vernacular, rather than stilted pidgin) that he’s the Indian kid Reid saved one time. Reid’s unimpressed; he knows the Indian is the ranger killer. They have a heart-to-heart. Tonto’s family was killed by the Rangers; Cavendish might have led the troop that time, but it still happened under Papa Reid’s watch, etc. They owe each other their lives and they owe Cavendish vengeance. Reid can’t go back to civilization; he doesn’t know whom he can trust. They agree to work together.
Reid has a particularly gallows-humor twist to his revenge. If the Cavendish gang wanted his silver so much, they can have it . . . as bullets. [And yes, I know Warren Ellis did the same thing in PLANETARY. It’s an obvious twist and a much more sensible explanation for silver bullets than the ‘80s movie’s “they fly straighter” and I’ve had it in mind for years. Also, they are not coated with mercury.]
They go on their revenge spree. Along the way, Reid’s horse gets killed and he acquires Silver. He realizes he can’t kill in cold blood, and they resolve to shoot to wound rather than kill (a plot point that should logically involve his sister-in-law, whom he gifts with a bunch of the silver and sends out east). And they discover some big Plot Point where the story becomes about saving others rather than avenging themselves (like in BATMAN BEGINS when the Ra’s al Ghul fear toxin plot comes in; Hollywood demands it – a hero has to be about more than himself). I’m still stuck on that big Plot Point; I know it’s not rescuing President Grant, but I’m not sure what it is. Probably saving an Indian tribe from attack.
In any case, after riding all over the Wild West and using his acting skills and makeup kit to disguise himself and spy on his enemies, the Lone Ranger faces off against Butch Cavendish. It comes down to, of course, a quick-draw shootout and Reid wins by blowing off Cavendish’s trigger finger or shooting a big hole in his hand.
And now that I’ve written all that, I realize I need to give Tonto a personal nemesis. Okay, Cavendish isn’t the Bigfoot Wallace look-alike; he has a right-hand man who is and is personally responsible for killing Tonto’s wife. This guy does not survive; as Tonto points out, it was the Lone Ranger who made the vow not to kill.
In the end, realizing their actions have probably made as many enemies as friends, and that someone has to watch the watchmen, the Lone Ranger and Tonto ride off into the sunset.
That was so long I’m just going to have to skip the ZORRO review. My hands are tired. Maybe I’ll do that next time, but I think I’ll probably start a series of DC/Marvel “work-for-hire stories that will never be:”
THE AUTHORITY FILM SCRIPT
CAPTAIN AMERICA/WONDER WOMAN: LOVE CONQUERS ALL
EXCALIBUR: KNIGHTS OF PENDRAGON
GREEN ARROW: TEAM ARROW
JUSTICE NINJA FIVE
ULTIMATE BATMAN/YOUNG BRUCE WAYNE TV SERIES
I know I’ve got more. I just can’t remember them all.
Eventually I’ll get back to the creator-owned stories:
DRAGON or THE FOUR GUARDIANS TETRALOGY: SEIRYU, SUZAKU, BYAKKO, & GENBU.
HOUND OF WAR
THE HOUNDSKEEPER’S DAUGHTER AND THE KING OF CATS
THE ROAD TO DAMASCUS
THE SECRET JOURNAL OF LEWIS & CLARK
UNTITLED LEFTIST STAR WARS PASTICHE
And my sprawling, epic KING ARTHUR series. Oh, and of course, all of those things not owned by someone else are copyright Sean Tait Bircher 2006.