Saturday, March 31, 2007

The Lone Ranger #1 Director’s Cut, take 2

Blogger's note: A few weeks ago, this review was lost in the depths of Microsoft Word and assumed lost forever. Today, inexplicably, the document was miraculously recovered. So, excitedly, I offer this post to supplement the original, abbreviated The Lone Ranger #1 Director's Cut review posted on March 10, 2007.

The Lone Ranger #1 Director’s Cut, 2007, Dynamite Entertainment
writer: Brett Matthews
artist: Steve Cariello
colorist: Dean White
letterer: Simon Bowland

Comic book fans are fascinated with origins. For those characters that have endured for decades, whose origins were presented as proverbial pilot stories to test their potential success, their beginnings have become modern mythology, evoking both compelling motivation and universal wonder. From the explosion of a planet to a radioactive insect bite, in just a few pages a good origin story sums up the seemingly timeless essence of a character that has lasted generations. When a popular character bursts onto the scene sans this origins sequence, his appeal is equally inspiring simply and ironically because we do not know where he came from. Even if we figure out what makes him tick, we don’t know why. We make the lack of origin the origin itself, if only to satisfy our reading experience. This enduring element in the comic book medium sums up the success in this reprint of The Lone Ranger #1 Director’s Cut.

If we fans really revel in knowing where our heroes come from, then this Director’s Cut reminds us that even origins have origins . . .

. . . usually as a writer’s script and an artist’s sketches. While directors’ commentary has become an integral and expected part of any movie’s DVD release, the concept is still a relatively new addition to comic book reprints, yet a natural one, as the integration of words and pictures is what makes the comic a comic in the first place. Add another layer of text, and I assert that the printed comic page becomes an even more exclusive interactive pop culture experience, drawing the reader in first to the sequential story, then to the thoughts and inspirations behind it. Writer Brett Matthews offers a page-by-page account of his script’s intentions – why a certain character says this or a certain scene is blocked that way – and the actual “page-play” (What else would you call a comic book screenplay?) is provided as a supplemental for easy reference, revealing the origin of the origin of the legendary Lone Ranger.

Admittedly, I’m not familiar with Lone Ranger lore. I know of Tonto and Trigger, perhaps the most ironic characters in modern fiction as acknowledged companions to a guy dubbed the Lone Ranger, but that’s it. In this first issue, I learned that the Lone Ranger was first John Reid, son of a proud but introspective Texas ranger. John acquires some education in the city but returns to his western roots to ride alongside his father and brother as a full-fledged officer . . . until the rangers are ambushed and assassinated. John lives but is nearly killed again by a passing gang when a certain Indian comes to his rescue. To be continued. Lone Ranger #1 was a relatively quick read sans director’s cut extras, exploring less of the Ranger’s lineage than his character, establishing John Reid as a tough but sentimental gunslinger orphaned by old-fashioned old west law and order. Like the heroes I’m more familiar with, the Lone Ranger’s origins are touched by tragedy but driven by courage.

Thanks to Matthews’ commentary, each scene is established as a critical stepping stone toward the Lone Ranger’s destiny, notes that even the art team weren’t privy to in his original script. For example, when Reid is left for dead and awakens to the marauding gang, the significance to the leader’s burlap-sack-obscured is described as “the moment [he] understands the power of masks. Maybe not consciously, but fundamentally.” I wouldn’t have made such an inference in a scene that seemed more intended for Tonto’s dramatic entrance, but again, the layers of text here unravel the layers of inspiration throughout this story. Another insightful sequence lies in Reid’s childhood, when his father returns from hunting a bounty. When his father confirms that he killed the criminal because he “was a bad man. He had it coming. That doesn’t make it a good thing,” John spends nearly all night sitting on a tree stump to ponder what that means. Then, in a statement that I’m tempted to liken as the Ranger’s power/responsibility or criminals/cowardly lot mantra, John affirms with his dad, “You cut the tree down to build the house. It doesn’t mean you don’t miss the shade.” His family’s tragedy notwithstanding, Matthews implies that this sequence is the origin of the Lone Ranger, if not physically than spiritually . . . and honestly, it’s the moment he captured me as a faithful reader.

I’d be unjust not to mention and praise this issue’s art team, as well. In his script, Matthews suggests wide, horizontal panels because “the West was wide,” and having grown up in Arizona, I’m pleased that Cariello and White didn’t settle for the cactus and tumbleweed stereotype. Beautiful sunset and sepia tones wash Cariello’s detailed, dramatic page layouts perfectly, and White’s “old film” filter effect to distinguish flashbacks from real time sequences fit the Ranger’s roots both in the old pictures and the old West. With a sketchbook and supplemental covers including John Cassaday’s work in the back of this issue, it’s as much an insight into the narrative beginnings of a comic as it is the visual.

Generally, comic books are misclassified as juvenile literature, but everybody could read a director’s commentary like this one, any general audience would understand the passion and detail that gets poured into meaningful series like this one – and make no mistake, it is a meaningful series. The Lone Ranger may be an old franchise, but its themes of rule and justice in the old West are the very origins of those same concepts in modern America, assuring us that order can be maintained even by a lone, determined law keeper. Further, as I implied earlier, the comic book reading experience is similarly singular. Any group can gather to watch a DVD, but in the case of a comic book’s commentary, while you’re holding it in your hands, the writer is only talking to you. You’re as critical to the comic’s integrity as its very story. It’s the origin of a beautiful relationship.

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