Hi-yo, Silver, away, indeed! This past May, Dynamite Entertainment’s “The Lone Ranger” rode off into the sunset with the release of the series’ 25th issue, giving both an ending to the 5-year ongoing series and a beginning for the character as re-imagined by writer Brett Matthews. For Matthews, the overall feeling of conclusion is one which he finds incredibly satisfying. “We did what we set out to do, I think,” he told CBR News. “There’s not much I would do different along the way. [I’m] kind of relieved because it’s one less thing to worry about, but at the same time, it’s a little sad knowing you won’t be writing [the Lone Ranger] again month after month. But I’m certainly more happy than sad. It feels like [the series] hadn’t overstayed it’s welcome; it feels just about right, which was always kind of the point of the book.”
Looking back, Matthews recalled the story of the Lone Ranger he set out to chronicle and how the focus always ended up centering on the man behind the mask. “I wanted to tell the story of John Reid. I always say it’s just as much a John Reid story as it is a Lone Ranger story, but John Reid becomes the Lone Ranger,” Matthews recalled. “I felt like the story that I wanted to tell — and really, the point of the series — the end was when he took that first real step to becoming the recognizable figure that he is today. He wasn’t going to be this guy that everybody knew. He’s more urban legend at this point, something people hear about and whisper about. It’s about him becoming this icon. It’s a very grounded, human approach to him becoming this impossibly large thing and being able to see just how flawed and human the guy is because he’s a young guy. It’s about that, it’s about exploring his relationship with Tonto, it’s about seeing all these things. I always felt like people don’t necessarily know a lot about the Lone Ranger, they know elements. They know the silver bullets, they know white horses, they know faithful Indian companion. It’s the accumulation of those things, examining the parts of the whole, but really getting more in-depth with them and showing what really mattered. That was the point of the series. It was never going to be just an adventure-of-the-week, B-Western thing. It was just meant to be what it was, which I think was the best part of the series.”
Matthews continued, elaborating on his original plans for the title and how his cast developed throughout his run. “This is one where I knew what I wanted to do the whole way,” he said. “I knew when I started, the way that they were going to evolve, and I certainly knew where they wanted to end. The Lone Ranger canon sort of tells you the endpoint of this story, in some ways. Obviously, our mythology’s a little bit darker and a little more grounded and realistic, but at the same time, I’ve always tried to be very respectful of that history. All of that was pretty dialed in. The guy you meet in the first issue is still the guy who’s there at the end. Yeah, he’s gone through a lot of changes and he’s evolved and he’s matured a great deal, but they’re still essentially the people they are, and that’s what’s cool. That was the arc of the series, but there wasn’t a whole lot where it went off in crazy directions. I could have told you from day one the vast majority of things that happened in the book, and certainly the end, if not the specifics of the end. It was all pretty figured out.
“That wasn’t really the point, though,” Matthews continued. “The point was always going to be the getting there and seeing the steps along the way and dealing with them on a really emotional level rather than the checkpoints of the journey of being a hero. It was trying to deal with who that person really was on a fundamental level. Who was the guy behind the mask, who was Tonto, where’d they accumulate these things and how did they become this thing that’s legendary? Where’s the moral compass come from? The only way to make it so steadfast as it is, and we’ve all come to know, is to show the struggle with those problems. That’s really what it was, making the mistakes now that he really doesn’t make in history later and hopefully building this really solid foundation that he adheres to rigidly for the rest of his life. It’s its own mythology, but at the same time [I was] trying to be very respectful of the Lone Ranger as a franchise and a character that people grew up with and loved and those things were sort of inarguable to me. If the Lone Ranger goes around killing people, he’s not the Lone Ranger, so how do you get to a point where he credibly makes a decision not to kill people.”
A key development in any hero’s story is the origin, and while Matthew’s Ranger didn’t differ in many ways from the Lone Ranger of old, he did put his own spin on the mythology that became the basis for the Lone Ranger in a darker, grittier setting, while making sure to hit the iconic moments fans have come to associate with the character. “Hopefully if the series did anything, it was really putting you on the ground floor with [The Lone Ranger],” Matthews said, “[I was showing] you his relationships between his father and his brother, why that loss was so painful and how lost John felt in its aftermath. To realize that John Reid dies in there, too, and what that meant. It’s very much the classic Lone Ranger origin, it’s just seen through a different lens. Things aren’t as simple as him getting ambushed; it ties into this whole overarching mythology of a setup. That’s where it becomes different and that’s where it becomes what it really is and why it’s different. But the classic entrance where this is somebody who is born out of the act of violence and becomes this great champion of nonviolence. It’s this really interesting contrast. You start the series and he wants revenge. He wants to find the people that killed his family and kill them. That’s a very human reaction to a tragedy like that. All the things that happen to him along the way are what turn him away from that and turn him into the man he’s going to become. I certainly don’t think you can do Lone Ranger without Brian’s Gap. Again, every step of the way, you want to have those iconic moments. You know he’s going to make silver bullets, you know he’s going to do all these things; it’s how you get there — that’s what the series was always going to be about, what these things mean and hopefully giving you a real three dimensional character who you can really emotionally invest in and so you feel for this guy along the way. He’s not just a cape or a mask or a figure. He’s just this guy who you see at various points along his life who’s thrust into that.”
While most of the series’ story was rightfully focused on John Reid’s journey to become the icon that is the Lone Ranger, a good amount of time was also spent on fleshing out the Ranger’s arch-nemesis, Butch Cavendish. “He was a really troubled guy,” said Matthews of Cavendish. “Because we were doing this very archetypal examination of the Lone Ranger, there was never any doubt that Butch Cavendish was going to be this big bad guy behind it all and always be the man behind the curtain. Hopefully, we found a way to make him horribly ruthless and at the same time strangely sympathetic. You see that his own personal origin is really not that different from the Lone Ranger’s. They have a violent upbringing that came to define them. Butch Cavendish is just the guy that went left when the Lone Ranger went right. At the same time, [we tried to] imbue him with a lot of character but not let that be an excuse for the things that he does. When violence happened in this book, I always wanted it to be really scary and really immediate and really in-your-face. There are these long stretches of silence, but when it happens, it’s pretty shocking and visceral and certainly never [intended] to let the things Cavendish does be something you can glorify or say is cool. He’s a brutal and definitely mentally unbalanced guy. Again, that was just this version of him. Rather than just making him an oil baron, it’s something that just felt right for the character. It was a slightly different examination of him. He wanted to be in politics. It’s about that thin line between how power corrupts and all that. We wanted to make you understand where he was coming from. Sympathetic’s the wrong word, because he’s not a sympathetic character, but at least understanding where the madness comes from, and hopefully the story means a little bit more as you go.”
The Lone Ranger, Tonto and Cavendish understandably received the most panel time, but one of the most shocking moments of the series included John’s brother’s wife, Linda, who was in love with Tonto — a story element completely unique to Matthew’s Lone Ranger universe. “That was something I knew from issue one, and God, that was something you had to keep in your back pocket for a really long time. But if you go back and read the book from the beginning, you do see some strange things. It plays by the rules that way,” Matthews said of the surprising revelation. “Tonto is always coming and going and you don’t get why until that reveal. I always knew they were going to be the love relationship.
“Linda acts as a beacon of pure love for John and the Lone Ranger in a really great way,” Matthews continued. “He sort of mistakes that and is guilt-wracked because he doesn’t want to be having romantic feelings toward his brother’s wife. But at the same time, that wasn’t that uncommon in the West, for brothers to pick up that familial responsibility. She’s just the heart of the book and certainly one of my favorite characters. She’s as strong as anybody in the book. But yeah, we always knew it was going to go in the Tonto direction, and then have John ultimately be very supportive of that. It’s a nice little shocking moment in the course of the series. I think she’s a very strong, very progressive, really great character. In the end, though, nobody ends up together, which is the really sad part of it. It’s about creating his own family out of these people and it not being just blood relationships, but she was always very important. Not just as an ideal, but as a grounded character who could help along the way. She probably does more for John and this mutual grief they share. They have a really profound connection. I liked the way that developed, and Tonto, who is sort of rough around the edges, is the last person you’d see that coming from. But I liked the way it implied it was still going on for him and he was not too far gone. He could come back from the edge, both through Linda and this young kid he finds who comes to embody these real profound ideals that in his own life he would have given up on a long time ago. He sees them happen and believes in John and the Lone Ranger. He doesn’t in the beginning, but he comes to believe in their mission and what they’re about and what they’re supposed to do. That’s why it always works out great. And Linda ultimately buys into what these guys have become so much that it’s not even something she can stand in the way of. They have something larger to offer the world. These aren’t two guys who are going to settle down with families. That’s the great joy and the great sadness to the end of it — the world’s getting them, but at the same time they’re losing this fundamentally great, normal thing they could have. They’re not going to have that, they’re not going to have a basic family.”
Beyond Linda, John has another family member in the form of his nephew, Dan, who gave readers an incredibly clear connection to another hero in the Reid bloodline, the Green Hornet. “If you back to the beginning of the book, Dan’s always wearing green. It was greens every time you see him, throughout the book,” Matthews said. “Again, we knew there was a blood relation and a historical relationship between these two great characters, and I thought the respectful thing and the logical thing to do was to show where this comes from. As John figures out this solution for himself, Dan has this really strong impression of the Lone Ranger and his mission and what he’s going about doing. It makes a lot of sense. It’s fun at the end to see him become very proactive about that. Green Hornet is just an impossible title of a character to get to, but to at least try to give a credible genesis for that and where that fascination would come from — that was obviously pretty fun. It’s the kind of thing that sounds kind of impossible to do, but if you approach it respectfully enough and it comes from a place of emotion and from trying to say who this kid is, what he’s surrounded by and what interests him — he has this interest in insects. It was just a way to work all this stuff in and at the same time establish where the Green Hornet’s inspiration comes from. He gets to see the Lone Ranger, a guy in a mask who doesn’t kill people, riding along in this amazing horse conveyance. So the line between that and the Green Hornet is very, very direct. The Green Hornet’s just a pulp version of the Lone Ranger, in some respects. It was a chance to see where that comes from and was too good an opportunity not to pass up. You have to show that link if you can, and I think it worked out well.”
Matthews’ favorite moments are numerous and varied, but he cited the milestones that John Reid had to go through to become the Lone Ranger as ranking high on his list. “I like the iconic moments,” he said. “I like when he gets the mask, I like where the mask comes from, I like all the different versions the mask goes through. I like his discovery of silver. I like Tonto’s first appearance and that relationship, both when they find Silver the horse and silver silver. Those are the moments that are really very exciting. The first time he actually sets out as the Lone Ranger, which really doesn’t come up for issues and issues, and you finally see him become this guy. Those are the things you think of, but a lot of them are just small moments. It’s the emotional stuff between Linda and John early on and throughout the book, the discussions they have. Those are probably the most fun to write, as well as the end. I really like the whole last issue — I’m really proud of it. It was a lot of work, but I’m very pleased at how that came out. Certainly, that last conversation between the Lone Ranger wearing the short mask and being recognizable as the Lone Ranger for the first time over the course of 25 issues, you see this link to the iconic version of him. Again, it’s about the spaces in-between. It’s a contemplative book by design, so those are the moments I would gravitate to.”
“When this book ends, we know the future. But to finally put these characters in a place where that is conceivable was really exciting,” Matthews continued. It’s really the first time either of them have had any thought to anything beyond the crisis at hand and dealing with Cavendish and the “will-I-kill-him, will-I-not” and the struggles that have been going on from the very beginning of the book, it’s the first time they can acknowledge having a future. That’s probably my single favorite moment of all.”
Matthews also had nothing but praise for series artist Sergio Cariello, colorist Marcelo Pinto and letterer Simon Bowland. “I thought that last conversation between Tonto and the Lone Ranger — I particularly liked that,” he said. “I liked the way Marcelo colored it, I liked the way Simon lettered it, I liked the way Sergio drew it. I liked the way Sergio drew the whole book. He’s made a lot of things my favorite. He’s an amazing guy to have worked with through these 25 issues. You can’t say enough about that.”
As for the future, Matthews could only speculate, but one thing was for certain: This is the end of his work on this particular chapter of the Lone Ranger’s life. “Maybe way in the future. I certainly know what I would write if I wanted to write it, but right now I want to let this rest and be proud of this chapter. But I wouldn’t say never, which is the highest complement you can pay to a character, to be honest with you, because after this number of years and really saying it, I’m certainly not sick of him, I have this deep affection. The good news is that I think this chapter of the guy’s life was told and told fully, for my money. Going forward, if there were more projects I would hope they were in the more mainstream center of the Lone Ranger’s life and what that means. I think there’s a really interesting question to be asked for the very end and what that was and how exactly that worked. I certainly have some very crazy ideas on that front, but for right now we’re all really tired and we’re all happy with how it came out. Everybody who worked on that book is really proud of it. That’s the best feeling in the world. As a writer, as an artist, all you really want to do is be proud of the book.
“We really had the support of the company, the decision was what was really the best creative thing to do at the time,” Matthews continued, citing Dynamite’s unwavering support of the title. “I think we stayed really true to the vision of the book from day one and it was not an easy vision for people to grasp of the character. Back then, it was a radically crazy notion and way to take with the character and yet, now I think people accept it pretty freely. That’s really cool.”
Before riding off into the literary sunset, Matthews had one last thing to share about the character he worked with for the better part of half a decade. “Lone Ranger has a big movie coming out, and I hope that all these things just connect and bring this character back to prominence. He deserves that, and hopefully we spent 25 issues making an argument for why that is.”