There was a time when it was generally perceived that iconic heroic fantasy characters such as The Lone Ranger, The Green Hornet, The Shadow and Buck Rogers were so popular for so long that they would be around forever. I think of that whenever somebody alleges Superman and Spider-Man will be around forever. Times change, as do our cultural predilections and venues.
Nonetheless, those heroes have become part of our cultural fabric. Most Americans (at least) who have neither read, seen, nor heard the adventures of these characters have heard their names and have some vague idea of their modus operandi. Just as DC Entertainment has kept Batman, Superman and Wonder Woman “alive” through their comic books while merchandisers and movie producers such as Michael Uslan could enhance their visibility through their more profitable endeavors.
Right now all of the retired heroic fantasy characters I mentioned above are being kept alive by our friends at Dynamite Entertainment, along with such other icons as John Carter, Vampirella, Flash Gordon, and Zorro. I can’t say I’ve read all of these comics as, sadly, I must take time out for eating, sleeping, and the time-consuming effort of trying to catch up with my TiVo. But I have a thing for iconic characters so I’ve read a whole lot of them, most recently the just-completed five-part Lone Ranger / Green Hornet crossover.
This series takes the opportunity to flesh in one of the most interesting concepts in American heroic fantasy. The Lone Ranger was created in 1933 at Detroit radio station WXYZ (Detroit) radio station by station owner George W. Trendle and/or staff writer Fran Striker, accounts differ. A half-dozen Texas Rangers were ambushed by the Butch Cavendish gang, who slaughtered five of the group and were under the impression they killed all six. The Ranger-in-charge, Captain Daniel Reid, was killed but his brother John (a retconned first name) survived and he took upon himself the name and identity of The Lone Ranger.
The radio show was so successful that Trendle launched a contemporary themed character named The Green Hornet. It was a modern-time version of The Lone Ranger in all respects: John’s horse Silver was replaced by a car called the Black Beauty, sidekick Tonto was replaced by sidekick Kato, and masked man John Reid was replaced by masked man Britt Reid.
You might have noticed a similarity there. Britt Reid was the grandson of Captain Dan Reid, which means he was John Reid’s grandnephew. Explained in a trio of radio programs after World War II, this was a truly rare and exciting continuity event for its time.
If you do the math and you keep the Green Hornet in his original milieu, it is possible that a rather healthy John Reid could have met his grandnephew and, within a stretch of reason, could have teamed up with his younger relative.
Or so thought comics writer Michael Uslan, who I already noted is a movie producer. He happens to a producer of all the Batman films made over the several decades. But Michael started out (so to speak) as a comic book writer, and has repeatedly proven himself to be one of the best. Our loss has been the movie industry’s gain, and somebody at Marvel Studios owes him one hell of a nice meal.
Michael remains a geek culture expert and a historian, so taking on the Lone Ranger and the Green Hornet allows him the opportunity to dive deep into the waters of comics continuity as well as American history. As he has in past projects, Michael explains the historical links in the back of each issue. I’ve been trying to catch him in a mistake for a long, long time. It’s futile, but I can’t help it. I share his love of American cultural history, and I admire his work.
It’s fun to read this ultimate “What If” story. Artist Giovanni Timpano is certainly worthy of the effort; drawing them horses in the big city landscape ain’t easy. The five-part Lone Ranger / Green Hornet crossover is a good solid comic book story, even for those who could care less about the iconic status of its stars.
But if you do care, it’s even better.