GRAPHIC NOVEL and TRADE PAPERBACK (TPB) REVIEWS

by The Masked Bookwyrm

Media Tie-In Stories - page 4

The Lone Ranger, vol. 2: Lines Not Crossed 2008 (HC & SC TPB) 128 pages

cover by John CassadayWritten by Brett Matthews. Illustrated by Sergio Cariello, with Paul Pope.
Colours: Marcello Pinto. Letters: Simon Bowland.

Reprinting: The Lone Ranger #7-11 (2007)

Rating: * * 1/2 (out of 5)

Number of readings: 1

Published by Dynamite Comics

Originally a radio series in the 1930s, the masked hero of the Wild West (with his faithful Indian companion) has appeared in every medium including comic books from a variety of publishers. And though Dynamite Comics has devoted most of its time to resurrecting pre-existing properties, reviving the Lone Ranger might seem a curious choice in among all its glitzy and "hipper" properties.

Dynamite's approach (in the hands of writer Matthews and artist Cariello -- and "art director" John Cassaday) is to re-invent it as a grittier, "adult" drama. The mix seems to be garnering critical accolades -- even as it has probably alienated some older fans hoping for a counterpoint to the dark 'n gritty style that permeates so much of pop culture. But, surprisingly, the creators retain the idea that the Lone Ranger refuses to kill, even making it an integral part of the character's philosophy. Yet violence, murder and brutality exists around him, and even the Lone Ranger, who I think used to shoot guns out of villains' hands, now tends to shoot the villains' hands! (I don't think the creators have really asked what would happen to a hand if it was shot by a bullet).

And they do a decent job of redefining and up-dating the Lone Ranger/Tonto relationship -- with Tonto being the pragmatist and the Ranger the idealist.

The pacing is deliberate, the colour choices melancholy so that the vast "Big Sky Country" horizon is often reddish or purple, as though the characters live in a perpetual twilight, and the dusty landscape is a character in its own right. The whole thing takes on an aspect of a brooding, vaguely artsy movie as the creators clearly want to establish their take as one that's more than just a Saturday afternoon adventure show -- kind of as if Kevin Costner were to make a Lone Ranger movie.

Cariello's sketchy art is reminiscent of the Kubert clan, as well as Eduardo Barreto, ideally suited to this period saga of frontier life, and to the more "sophisticated" pretensions of the material. And though the telling is very much of the "decompression" movement, where little moments are stretched out over multiple panels, some of the scenes do seem as though they really are detailing nuance, not just padding a page count -- such as when the Lone Ranger removes his mask in private, then puts it back on, as if implying he feels more comfortable as his alter ego than as himself.

But...

Initially the leisure pacing, the tersely scripted panels, the beautiful colouring, create a mood. But as so often happens with modern comics and the whole stretching out of plots over multiple issues...the longer page count doesn't translate into a better, more complex tale.

The basic plot (the 4-part "Lines Not Crossed", plus an epilogue-type issue) is that the Lone Ranger and Tonto rescue a guy from a lynch mob. But the point isn't that they think he's innocent, merely that they want to insure he gets a fair trial.

That's the plot. But it isn't dressed up with twists and turns. And it's presented quite airily, as if writer Matthews was so caught up in his themes he hadn't put any thought into the reality. The Lone Ranger is told the young man is wanted in Mexico -- but never asks for what; it's never really clear what was the altercation that led to the shoot out that led to the mob wanting to kill the man...nor why they are determined to seek vigilante justice over the law. And the accused can't really surprise us with his actions...because we never really formed an opinion of him (he has few lines until toward the climax).

Matthews might argue the details are unimportant, as they are just the catalyst for exploring moral responsibility and the nature of justice. But if the story is to be a character study, we need to believe in the characters' actions, and therefore, believe in their reality.

As well, even the themes seem kind of ill defined or expressed. They touch on the idea that even legitimate justice might result in the accused being executed, putting the Ranger in a moral quandary...but surely that's true of any criminal the Lone Ranger brings to justice. The paradox of a hero who doesn't believe in killing working within a justice system that does either needs to be explored more intensively...or is best ignored because it would get repetitive if he had to "grapple" with it every story arc.

(In fact, in the annual Lone Ranger and Tonto #1, sure enough, the same issue is trotted out again).

Cynically I've thought that the whole move towards decompressed stories is a sign of laziness on the part of modern writers. I mean, think of it. Matthews got all these issues (collecting a pay check for each script) for this awfully slight plot. I've also commented that if trade paperback collections really do sell better than monthly comics (as some have claimed) it's perhaps an indication that many monthly comics offer too little bang for your buck.

As well, because this is part of an on going series, there are frequent cutaways to a villainous character, Cavendish...scenes that have no relationship to this plot (nor is he, or even the Ranger himself, that well explained for a novice reader).

I'm left with mixed feelings toward this Ranger revival. Striking, atmospheric art and colour, and a genuine attempt to create an undercurrent of a thoughtful, adult drama. The slow, deliberate pacing, at first, worked for me, as I was content to let the story mosey along at its own pace. But by the end, you're just left with a rather simple, vague story that, thirty years ago, would've been told in one issue...and been more powerful and provocative for the brevity. A story that doesn't really succeed in making you "think"...yet doesn't have enough plot turns, character development, or action, to succeed as just an exciting story.

The bottom line is I liked, or admired aspects of this...but it doesn't exactly make me eager to round up a posse and pursue other issues.

This is a review of the story as it was originally serialized in the comics.

Cover price: ____


Micronauts: Rebellion
see review here


Predator
 for stories featuring the movie-inspired predator, see: Batman vs. Predator II and Predator vs. Magnus Robot Fighter


The Prisoner: Shattered Visage 1992 (SC TPB) 200 pgs

The Prisoner: Shattered Visage - cover by Dean MotterWritten by Dean Motter & Mark Askwith. Illustrated by Dean Motter (with assist from Robert Walton)
Painted by David Hornung, Richmond Lewis. Letters: Deborah Marks, John Workman. Editor: Richard Bruning.

Reprinting: The Prisoner #1-4 (a-d) (1988 prestige format mini-series)

Rating: * * (out of 5)

Number of readings: 2

Published by DC Comics

This is the only comic inspired by the cult British TV series about a secret agent trapped in a seemingly idyllic village, unsure who ran it -- his side, imprisoning him to keep the secrets he knew secret; or the "other" side, hoping to get him to divulge those secrets. Actually, Marvel was apparently going to do a version in the '70s (by Jack Kirby) but pulled the plug before the first issue was published.

Firstly, this story is not simply a comic book version of The Prisoner (ala Star Trek, Star Wars, etc.), but rather a sequel, set some 20 years later. So although Number 6, the hero of the series (played by Patrick McGoohan) is here, as is one of his Number 2 opponents (the version played by Leo McKern) there are also younger characters central to the story: an unnamed woman who has just resigned from her intelligence position, and her ex-husband, Thomas, who hasn't. She plans to sail around the world, solo, only to crash on the now-deserted island where the sinister village once resided. He, meanwhile, is caught up in the shadowy world of espionage, manipulating, and being manipulated, as he investigates the very notion of "the village" as alleged in a book written by the man known as Number 2.

I think.

See, the first problem with The Prisoner: Shattered Visage, is that, frankly, I didn't understand a lot of it. Now, that may seem like an odd thing to say. After all, the Prisoner TV series practically defined the notion of obscure and cryptic. But the series wasn't that obscure. It was weird, surreal, and heavy on the metaphors, and could be bewildering...but it wasn't confusing (too often). You generally knew what was going on, it was just a matter of working out the subtext. But there's stuff here that seems obscure simply for the sake of seeming obscure -- like mentioning in the fourth and final "chapter" that there have been global incidents, assassinations, etc. that seem to be the work of guiding intelligence...when nowhere earlier were we told such things were occurring. It's as if it wants to wear the mantle of sophistication, but not the substance.

As well, The Prisoner was a mix of cold war espionage, science fiction, parable, satire, whimsy, and surrealism, with the spy trappings quickly being revealed as a metaphor for the broader world and broader issues ("I am not a number," roared Number 6, "I'm a free man!"). This mix led to a kind of tug-of-war in the series as to what it really wanted to be, usually with the more memorable elements rooted in the fantastic and surreal rather than the espionage idiom. With Shattered Visage, Dean Motter and Mark Askwith seem to want to pull the Prisoner back to the spy game, even to the point where the premise in the comic seems a bit at odds with how the series (surrealistically) ended. Although this is cryptic and confusing, it's also far less strange and eccentric than the series.

The decision to shift the focus onto new characters is also odd. That's the decision you'd expect in a movie, where a Hollywood executive might grumble "Hey, these guys are too old -- let's get some younger characters in here for the kids to relate to." But in a comic, a character is only as young or as old as you want him to be.

Lacking the focus of Number 6, and the charismatic intensity of McGoohan's performance, the story meanders. In fact, the story doesn't entirely capture the spirit of the series, despite the fact that Motter and Askwith clearly know their source material. The series was dark, but also whimsical and satirical...Shattered Visage is largely without wit. The series could be energetic, with experimental editing tricks, but this is leisurely. Like a lot of comics these days, Motter feels the need to detail every gesture -- in one 3-panel sequence, a character throws a leg over a railing, dangles from the railing, then drops to the ground. The action could as readily have been conveyed in two panels, omitting the middle one. There's lots of wordless panels, making the book a somewhat briefer read than you'd expect.

Motter's pencil and ink style is reasonably effective, affecting a rough, unfinished style that reminds me of Turn-of-the-Century French impressionists.

Ultimately, the story was sort of interesting, but ultimately less-than rewarding.

This is a review of the story serialized in The Prisoner mini-series

Cover price: $25.95 CDN./$19.95 USA.



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