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Who was that masked man? Episode two

The story continues:

Now you have to understand that the Lone Ranger and his trusty friend and sidekick, Tonto, in effect, were superheroes in that iconic panoply featuring Superman, Captain Marvel, Batman, and Aquaman — even Wonder Woman made the cut — legends all. The deal with the Ranger was that he had been around for a while, appearing in Dell Comics beginning in 1948.

Of course, all of us seated in the balcony that day had collected Lone Ranger comics. But what had firmly placed the Ranger in that hallowed universe of superheroes was when ABC created a television show, “The Lone Ranger,” starring Clayton Moore as the Ranger and Jay Silverheels as Tonto. The weekly show ran from 1949 to 1957, and always began with “Return with us to those thrilling days of yesteryear. From out of the past come the thundering hoof beats of the great horse Silver. The Lone Ranger rides again.”

And it was from that show that we learned about the Ranger’s origin. He had been the lone survivor of an ambush carried out by the evil outlaw Butch Cavendish and his gang, gunning down six Texas Rangers in Bryant’s Gap. It was Tonto who came upon the slain Rangers, finding one that barely clung to life. He nursed him back to health and called him Kemo Sabe, meaning faithful friend.

To conceal the Ranger’s identity, Tonto dug a sixth grave and wrote the name John Reid on the cross. Reid made a black mask from the vest of one of the dead Rangers and thus began the legend. John Reid would never appear again without his mask, and throughout the old West, the Ranger and Tonto would devote their lives to truth and justice and the American way.

That the Ranger possessed no extraordinary superpowers mattered not a whit to any of us. He was mythic, larger than life, a man who rode a massive white stallion named Silver, packed two guns that only shot silver bullets, and seemed impervious to gunfire. He and Tonto possessed an aura of mystery and magic that completely captured our imaginations.

Of course, thinking back, and comparing him to the Marvel Comic Universe (MCU) and its vast array of high-tech, suspend-your-disbelief characters, the Ranger was, well, pretty tame. There actually was something about him that was monkish. But we loved the guy and hungered to see what he looked like without the mask. You have no idea.

Now there were times when the Ranger actually removed it, but always covered his face with a disguise of wire-rimmed specs and burly beard, looking like an old prospector in order to venture into town to gather intelligence about the bad guys. No mask, sure, but for us still no cigar. But it wasn’t for want of trying.

So you can imagine when, in that singular moment, the agent-guy looked down at the map, spread out on the hood of the car, and spoke in a voice that was so familiar, well, it took our collective breath away. And when that brief, indelible moment passed and we fully realized we had missed getting a good look at his unmasked face, well, most of us wanted to cry. Leaving the theater was exiting a funeral.

Of course, we returned the following week to the Laurel Theatre and to the balcony, and we came back the week after that, hoping and waiting to see if that G-man, whoever he was, just might show up and look out at us, sans the mask, and say something. Anything. But we never saw him again.

Naturally, the heiress was rescued from that damp, rat-infested warehouse. And shots were fired. Evil men, in handcuffs, were pushed into the back seats of squad cars. The young woman’s parents wept. She was hysterical. The ransom was returned. But our hunt hadn’t been for the young woman. It had been for the Lone Ranger.

Chris Honoré is an Ashland Tidings columnist.