Skip to content

Lone Ranger? We don’t need no stinkin’ Lone Ranger! (Part 1 of 2) – The Lone Ranger’s Companion Tonto #32

April 27, 2013


A shiny new Lone Ranger movie is opening this summer, with Armie Hammer filling the role of the man behind the mask, and cinematic cure-all Johnny Depp climbing underneath an improbable headdress to play Tonto. Considering what the Lone Ranger once was — a character juggernaut that transcended mediums and was the cross-generational Western spearhead when that genre was king — it’s a bit surprising that it has taken this long for kemo sabe to resurface in the public consciousness. He’ll back soon enough, though, and with Depp’s presence adding blockbuster luster, likely in a big way. The Lone Ranger is about to ride again, and the parent studio’s surely hoping he’ll have a Pirates of the Caribbean box office take. Dollar dollar bills, y’all.

This upcoming release creates a temptation to go back and look at Lone Ranger comics, and we’re going to do that in a roundabout way. How? By taking a look at a couple of books centered around his two — yes, two — sidekicks. And up first? Tonto.

Tonto. Loyal, resourceful, indomitable Tonto. Though his inarticulate pidgin may have offended those who could find offense in any old depiction of Native Americans (and it still riles up twits with too much time on their hands), you can’t put aside that he was someone who shuffled the Cowboys vs. Indians dynamic. As such, he’s synonymous with good guy purity, and a model of what it means to be a good friend. While the character was fleshed out in countless radio, television and film episodes, comics offered a different window through which audiences could view him, and, perhaps more importantly, through which writers and artists could develop him. Nothing did the latter more than his old solo title, The Lone Ranger’s Companion Tonto, and perhaps no issue exemplifies what the comic could accomplish than the one before us today. Not only do we have stellar Old West artwork from Alberto Giolitti (seriously, it’s great), showing Tonto riding in and out of situations like a Leone-esque Man With No Name. Not only do we have Tonto flaunting his skills as a master of disguise — and not speaking broken English (we’re getting the universal translator version of his native words, I guess):


Not only does it have good old-fashioned fisticuffs:


The comic also confronts a topic that wouldn’t be addressed by academe until years later, in tiny departments with five students, in basement classrooms in barely-trafficked buildings. If you’ve ever wanted Tonto to grapple with the topic of gender roles in Native American tribes, well, here you go:


This isn’t something that we’re accustomed to seeing addressed in comics of the day. The bullying angle, yes. But the brave-as-squaw wrinkle of a young man doing women’s work making clay pots, with all its concordant homophobic subtext? That’s another beast entirely. How does Tonto handle it? He, as we see above, separates the teasers and the teasee, and then goes back to the instructive well of his own childhood, when one of his friends also liked to work with clay:


Red Squirrel proved his worth by saving their tribe’s chief (he made a clay replica of the chief’s head to draw out renegade braves who tried to assassinate him — like the paper mache heads in Escape from Alcatraz), a story that Tonto relates to the youngsters. The lesson is learned, and apparently clay-working skills are hereditary:


“Get-um up, Scout!” indeed.

I’m no great fan of either the Lone Ranger or Tonto, but it says something for the latter that the character can generate affection even in me. The Ranger and his cowboy kin were passé when I was a kid, having been replaced by transforming robots, Real American Heroes and Masters of the Universe. But there’s some race memory that carries Tonto down through the years, as a marble model of all things anyone would want in a companion, white or Indian or Martian or whatever. He could throw a punch just as well as a he could deliver a life lesson, as he does in this comic, displaying an enlightened perspective that was ahead of its fictional time — and the publication time (1958), too. I don’t know what Depp-Tonto is going to be like, but if he takes a few cues from this mag, he’ll be on the right track.

Want to know when there are new posts? Follow on Twitter.

No comments yet

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: