Wednesday, July 10, 2013

The Lone Ranger and Shazam!

Like many people, I am not running out to see the new Lone Ranger movie.  It isn’t that I don’t like the character or concept of the Lone Ranger.  I have fond memories of watching the Lone Ranger television series that starred Clayton Moore. (In syndication, I’m not THAT old!) I’m also sure I saw some cartoon shows and comics back in my youth.  The Lone Ranger is the sole survivor of a group of Texas Rangers who dons a mask to fight evil and inspire good in a fictionalized old west.  Given that “Cowboys vs Indians” is such a typical plot of western shows, I really liked that the Lone Ranger had an Indian ally in his companion Tonto.

Pretty much all of these things that make the Lone Ranger a good character are absent in the new Disney movie version.  The Lone Ranger is a wimp who needs an insane-acting Tonto to convince him to become a hero.  It’s not that changes can’t be made to a character or that a concept can’t be rebooted.  But in this case, they have taken all the good aspects of the concept and thrown them out, leaving us with characters that no longer have any resemblance to the original idea.  And you would think when doing a new version of a classic character you would consider first making sure to keep the reason the character still warrants interest after all this time.

As a contrast to the above, and to prove that I don’t hate all reboots I present to you DC Comics’ new version of Shazam!  Shazam is another character I first saw on television, in a low-budget Saturday morning TV show.  The basic concept of Shazam is that a young boy named Billy Batson is granted powers by a good wizard.  By speaking the magic word “Shazam”, Billy transforms into the adult super-hero Captain Marvel.  Long ago, the character was bought by DC Comics, and Marvel Comics ending up getting legally involved to stop DC from producing a comic with the name “Marvel” on the cover.

It doesn’t seem like DC has ever really figured out what to do with the character, however.  There have been many versions and reboots over the years.  The latest reboot is by writer Geoff Johns and artist Gary Frank.  And I’m really, really enjoying the heck out of it!  In this version Billy is an orphaned boy with a bad attitude who turns out to be a good, though somewhat rough and cynical, kid.  They dropped the “Captain Marvel” name this time, but kept the key concept: a kid who turns into an adult super-hero.  The supporting character are excellent, and events promise plenty of exciting future stories.  Geoff’s writing on this series is some of his best I’ve ever read, and Gary’s art is his best I’ve ever seen!  The series so far should be out soon as a trade paperback and I’d recommend picking it up.

And I’d recommend watching the Lone Ranger.  Not the new movie.  But the classic TV series.  You should be able to find it on DVD!

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