The original and still the best, this is essentially the expanded version of the radio series origin story, straight from the typewriter of the Ranger’s creator some eight years later. The details play out a bit differently than it did on air, and not wholly to my satisifaction, but the basics are there. Why go back to the well? Because it’s been a very long time since anyone told this story properly, and because I’m sick of seeing classic heroes being slapped up on the big screen only to be torn down to the level of dysfunctional society or just played for cheap laughs. They used to inspire us to live better; this book represents that time when they did just that, playing to an audience that are more familiar with hard times than we are today.
There’s nothing overly sophisticated about this book. It’s a classic pulp and all that implies. The characterizations are products of their time, which means some will see it through the modern lens and call it racist, and others will see it through the lens of yesteryear and be astonished at just how equal and complimentary the partnership between the Ranger and Tonto really is. And let’s be honest here: while English is clearly not Tonto’s first language, his broken dialect is actually more grammatically correct than many of the other characters they encounter in the stories. This book has some secondary character expansion that we never really got on the radio or the TV, and it fumbles a bit with the newfound freedom to tell more than an old script ever could. At the same time, that simplicity is a breath of fresh air. This book has its flaws, but this is the template for how it should be. Two American icons out for justice on the plains of the Old West… simple, easy, heroic, and a good setup for the series of books that follow.
The narrator could be better. His straight voice is acceptable for the Ranger, but his female lead is a bit unsteady, and his villains come across more like Yosemite Sam. Actually, that might be in keeping with the tone of the old radio/TV versions. He does, however, project a general lack of enthusiasm, which is unfortunate because anyone who has ever listened to the other versions knows, the dynamic narration is needed to push things along. It’s not Shakespeare, but it does need that extra “umph” that Jeff Wiens didn’t provide for whatever reason. He may not have knocked it out of the park, but he didn’t kill it either, so it’ll come down to personal preference. This reading might actually work better for some because it’s not so over the top.