Originally a Radio Drama, The Lone Ranger first aired on January 30, 1933 and ran through September 3, 1954. It featured the adventures of a mysterious masked man who traveled The Wild West with his faithful companion Tonto and his famous white horse Silver, righting wrongs as they went. It quickly spawned a Long-Running Book Series, and later became a very successful television series, which ran from 1949 to 1957. The character has also appeared in a Comic Strip, movies (both serials and feature films), two Animated Series (one in 1966 and one in 1980), and comic books (Tonto and Silver even got their own individual Comic Book series!)
While the details of the Lone Ranger's origins have changed between the various adaptations, the general outline is as follows. A Texas Ranger named "Reid" is the Sole Survivor of an ambush that kills the band of Rangers he'd been riding with, including his brother Dan Reid. Left for dead, Reid is found by Tonto, who happens to have had his life saved by the Ranger in the past after renegades wiped out Tonto's home village. A chance remark by Tonto gives Reid the name "Lone Ranger." The Lone Ranger dons a mask, initially to prevent the criminals from finding out which of the Rangers had survived and targeting their family. At some point, the Lone Ranger acquires the services of Silver. He also convinces a retired Ranger to be his agent, working a secret silver mine that supplies the Lone Ranger's silver bullets and otherwise modest needs.
Finally, the Lone Ranger and Tonto are able to capture the criminals responsible for the ambush and bring them to justice.
The Lone Ranger was noted for his unusually strong moral and ethical code. He used his silver bullets ("reminders of the preciousness of life") to disarm opponents, not to kill, unless there was no other option. The radio and early TV series were careful to keep the Ranger's abilities somewhat plausible — yes, he could outdraw any single opponent, but had to be more clever to deal with multiple attackers. And while Tonto's devotion to the masked man sometimes had Unfortunate Implications, the Lone Ranger never treated his faithful companion as anything less than a human being and full partner. It was also a standing rule on the show that the scripts must never vilify Native Americans -- in stark contrast to so many other early westerns.
As it stands, the series still had to be updated as sensibilities changed by the 1980s. Most notably, in the 1980 Saturday Morning Cartoon, Tonto began to speak in perfect English and became a proud warrior who would not tolerate being mistreated.
A 1981 film, The Legend of the Lone Ranger, was a critical failure, panned by audiences and critics. It did not help the film's chance of success when the owners of the film rights literally pulled the mask off the old Lone Ranger prior to release: Clayton Moore, the Ranger's TV actor, who toured around the country at the time for autographs and enjoying the fans at county fairs. This Executive Meddling was a public relations disaster. But justice prevailed: Moore sued and won back his right to wear the mask. The Western flavor of Fred Rogers in terms of one of the nicest people on and off-screen, Moore passed away in 1999.
The most recent Lone Ranger revival came in the form of Dynamite Comics' new publication. The series is notable for its darker tone and occasionally graphic depiction of violence. This incarnation included a detailed version of the Lone Ranger's backstory. Tonto is characterized as a forlorn wanderer outcast from his tribe, who is more willing to use lethal violence than the Ranger. The Ranger also has a darker portrayal. Readers expect him to shout, "I'm the goddamn Lone Ranger!" any day now.
A new The Lone Ranger movie produced by Disney was released on July 3rd, 2013. Johnny Depp was cast as (the main character) Tonto, and Armie Hammer as the Lone Ranger. The film was originally pushed back from December 2012 to May 2013 after Cowboys & Aliens didn't perform as expected, and, when it finally did reach the theaters, proceeded to bomb even more thoroughly than the 1981 film.
Tropes common across the franchise:
- Ambiguous Time Period: There are hints that the Ranger and Tonto are adventuring out west while The American Civil War is going on, though this is never explicitly stated in the early seasons, and no year is given. Abraham Lincoln's portrait is seen on the wall in numerous episodes, and one season 2 episode features a soldier returning home, wearing what is clearly a Confederate uniform (though the characters all refer only to him having been in "the army"). Later seasons would explicitly reference and build plots around the aftermath of the war and Reconstruction.
- Badass Creed: Starting with the radio show and continuing across all adaptations, the Lone Rangers Creed:I believe:
That to have a friend, a man must be one.
That all men are created equal and that everyone has within himself the power to make this a better world.
That God put the firewood there, but that every man must gather and light it himself.
In being prepared physically, mentally, and morally to fight when necessary for that which is right.
That a man should make the most of what equipment he has.
That "this government, of the people, by the people, and for the people," shall live always.
That men should live by the rule of what is best for the greatest number.
That sooner or later... somewhere... somehow... we must settle with the world and make payment for what we have taken.
That all things change, but the truth, and the truth alone lives on forever.
I believe in my Creator, my country, my fellow man.
- Big Damn Heroes: The Ranger, more often than not. Especially in the TV show.
- Bilingual Bonus: "Tonto" is Spanish for "fool".
- Which is why he was renamed "Toro" (Bull) in Spanish translations, who is a shorthand for Toro Sentado (Sitting Bull, after the famous Lakota chief)
- That Other Wiki says the name was taken from the Tonto Basin in Arizona and that "tonto" means "wild one" in the Potawatomi language. The NPR was appalled when accusations of racism appeared years later, claiming to be unaware that the word meant that.
- In fact, as played by Jay Silverheels (Mohawk), whose "Hmmmm..." spoke volumes, one had the distinct impression that Tonto was smarter than the Lone Ranger.
- Although that doesn't necessarily mean much. Many scripts of this version were recycled into Dale Of The Mounted scripts in Canada, which replaced Tonto with a dog.
- Calling Card: The Lone Ranger's silver bullets. He would frequently leave one with those he saved so they would know who had rescued him.
- The Cape: Or at least the Western equivalent. The Lone Ranger can probably be said to share the spot with Superman as the most iconic fictional Good Guy for that generation of American children.
- Catchphrase: "Hi-Yo, Silver, away!", "Who was that masked man, anyway?" (By whomever he saved this episode.)
- Cool Mask: As the catch phrase indicates, has a fair claim to be the Trope Codifier.
- Everybody's Dead, Dave: Starting with the radio series, the Lone Ranger finds he is the lone survivor of an ambush.
- Fanfare: The overture to an otherwise-obscure opera by Gioachino Rossini about William Tellnote . (You're probably hearing it in your head right now while you're reading this page.)
- Forgotten Theme Tune Lyrics: Though not well-known, there is a Lone Ranger theme with lyrics, which then segues into the famed instrumental.
- Frothy Mugs of Water: The radio and TV series avoided even the mention of alcohol, causing villains to have to gather in "cafes" instead of the usual saloons. Again, this was specified in the writer's guide.
- The Gunslinger: Not necessarily the first person who comes to mind, but the (classic) Ranger's Quick Draw and Improbable Aiming Skills were such that his fights invariably ended with him Blasting It Out of Their Hands.
- Horseback Heroism: As the intro to the radio series puts it:A fiery horse with the speed of light, a cloud of dust and a hearty Hi-Yo Silver! The Lone Ranger! ... With his faithful Indian companion Tonto, the daring and resourceful masked rider of the plains led the fight for law and order in the early western United States! Nowhere in the pages of history can one find a greater champion of justice! Return with us now to those thrilling days of yesteryear! From out of the past come the thundering hoofbeats of the great horse Silver! The Lone Ranger rides again!
- Hypercompetent Sidekick: Tonto was responsible for rescuing John Reid and helping him become the Lone Ranger. Most versions after the Clayton Moore/Jay Silverheels years tend to emphasize the fact that Tonto can get along without the Lone Ranger much better than the Lone Ranger can do without Tonto.
- Keep It Foreign: Oddly enough, the Mexican Spanish dubs of many parts of the franchise keeps the Lone Ranger's Catchphrase "Hi-Yo, Silver, away!" untranslated from English, possibly because there's no good translation for it in Spanish.
- Let's You and Him Fight: A frequently recurring plot is for some bad guys to manipulate the local settlers and Indians in an area into fighting, usually by framing the Indians for some act of violence, and Tonto and the Ranger have to expose the scheme and make peace between the two sides.
- Phrase Catcher: "Who was that masked man?"
- Proto-Superhero: One of the first and most enduring.
- Silver Bullet: The Lone Rangers trademark, left behind to let people know who had helped them.
- Thou Shalt Not Kill: The Lone Ranger is very clear on this.
- Title Drop: Someone says the Lone Ranger's name just about Once an Episode.
- Tonto Talk: Tonto talked like this until the '80s. Word of God had it that he actually spoke several languages, just had trouble with pronouns in English.
- Unbuilt Trope: The 'masked hero' trope gets this in one episode where it makes a posse looking for a kidnapped boy (as well as being with an Native American in an era were they were mistrusted) makes them suspect he's the kidnapper.
- The Wild West: One of the most idealized portrayals thereof.