Dynamite Entertainment's The Lone Ranger, Volume II, #1 went on sale today. As far as Lone Ranger stories go, it was a solid first issue for writer Ande Parks, boiling down the basics of the character in a minimal amount of space – not too much for the people that know who he is and not too little for those without a clue – and the artwork from Esteve Polls serves the script well.
And, you can probably sense the "but" coming here, so here it is – where's Tonto?
Part of the genius of the Joe Lansdale/Tim Truman miniseries from Topps Comics was their use of Tonto, not as sidekick but as equal partner. He even shared co-billing, with the title being The Lone Ranger and Tonto. A 2008 miniseries from Dynamite used the same title, yet this series opens with just the Lone Ranger in the title.
This gave me the feeling that Tonto would be downplayed heading into the series, and in the first issue that is largely accurate. Sure, he makes a couple of appearances, but he is tangential at best to the story, outside of the critical role that he plays in the origin. When masked gunmen trap a family inside a burning house, the Lone Ranger charges into action. The Lone Ranger disarms them all, ending the threat. Tonto's lone bit of action is a sucker punch from the shadows as one of the gunmen flees, which of course means that Tonto did not even get close to the action.
There are large chucks of pages in-between Tonto appearances, and he is clearly in sidekick mode rather than as someone on equal footing. In terms of just dialogue, Tonto has only fourteen words in the issue, none past the third page of the story, his one speaking scene. He also appears on just eight pages, and three of those are one-panel appearances with Tonto just standing there, doing nothing.
In the 1950s, Dell gave Tonto his own series, titled The Lone Ranger's Companion Tonto. That is exactly how Tonto felt here, as a companion and not a partner.
Why does Tonto matter? Firstly, without a strong Tonto, the Lone Ranger simply isn't that interesting. How can there be any sort of meaningful character development with no one for him to play off of? The Tonto we saw in the first issue certainly did not fill that bill.
Secondly, and more importantly, a weak Tonto plays into all of the stereotypes that plagued the character when he was first introduced. While Tonto might not have spoken in the pidgin that the character spoke in during the 1950s, he also had nothing meaningful to say, and one can easily see the Lone Ranger's reply as being somewhat condescending. Despite the Lone Ranger likely not being alive without Tonto having rescued him, he takes on an air of superiority around Tonto, one that Tonto does not push back against. The White Man is always the superior man.
Compare this to the Tonto from the Lansdale/Truman series, where he sniped at the Lone Ranger, "Of course, Kemosabe. Maybe when we talked I should use that 'me Tonto' stuff, way they write about me in the dime novels. You'd like that, wouldn't you?"
I hope that I am wrong here, that the interpretation of Tonto in this series is stronger in later issues, as a strong, independent Tonto makes for much more interesting reading. If that happens, I will be there, and I will be the first to praise it. Until then, though, there's a big hole in a series that has potential.