"Justice League": Exploring How Superman Returns (Again)
Comic Books, Film
Every so often I get ideas for stories that there’s no point in writing, but I can’t help writing them anyway. It happens. You get an idea stuck in your head, you keep thinking of cool refinements for it, and even though you know you’ll never get to use it, it just keeps bubbling up. Peter David calls these “Useless Stories.”
This is one of those… it’s the last adventure of the Lone Ranger.
This was actually a proposal for a Lone Ranger novel, Trail of the Silver Bullet, that I worked out when I got wind of a series of Lone Ranger books that were purportedly happening. But then came the Disney movie, which meant that the license was all tied up. Then the movie was so abysmally awful and performed so badly that it poisoned the well for any Ranger projects. I think Dynamite’s even given up on the comics.
So the proposal just languishes. But I still like it. It was me trying to amuse my inner Wold Newton geek, and tie up a couple of loose ends of Lone Ranger lore. And to answer the question of why, when someone wondered, Who WAS that masked man? that no enterprising news reporter ever followed up on that.
The Lone Ranger and Tonto are riding hard, across the Texas desert.
They pause briefly as they come over a ridge and see a small town on the horizon. “Del Rio,” Tonto observes. “We could stop for the night. Pick up supplies.”
“And see if Amy is still there?” The Ranger smiles slightly. “You are transparent, old friend.”
“So are you, kimo sabe. I know that you think of her. Why not go and–?”
“Because.” The Ranger’s smile is gone. “Because our work is not done. It will never be done, probably.”
“Kimo sabe, that is a poor argument. The work is the work. It is not the man. Sheriffs marry, and other lawmen. The work is still there. Even your brother was married.”
It was the wrong thing to say and Tonto regretted it the instant it was out of his mouth.
“Yes, Dan was married.” It is as though a shadow has fallen over the man in the mask, even in the harsh desert sun. “And now his wife’s a widow. Dan Junior has no father. Because of the work.” The Ranger’s jaw is set, his eyes cold. “I won’t do that to Amy. John Reid is dead, Tonto, and Amy Striker mourned him and moved on. Stop trying to resurrect him.” He twitches the reins of the great white horse. “Silver! Let’s go, big fella!”
They ride on.
Meanwhile, in that same town of Del Rio, a surly Indian is sitting in a jail cell, staring at the wall. A deputy shows up and tells him he made bail. Surprised, the Indian follows the deputy out to the office where a woman in her thirties is waiting. A white woman, the Indian notes. Even more curious.
“My name is Amy Striker,” she tells him. “Are you Mr. Horse?”
“Not Mister. Just Horse. Angry Horse.”
“I have a proposal for you, if you are willing to listen.”
He sizes her up. She might have money; how bad does she want him? “Hungry. Eat first.”
“Yes, I imagine you are, after a night in that jail.” Her tone is not disapproving, exactly, or contemptuous, but it puts the Indian on the defensive.
“I was attacked. I defended myself.”
“But your attackers were not jailed.”
“They were white.”
“They were drunk. As were you.” Amy Striker looks the Indian straight in the eye. “I have done research on you, Mr– sorry. Angry Horse, you have talents and experience I need but my researches have shown me that you do not have a strong head for drink. It is no shame, many do not have that capacity. But I cannot employ a drunkard. I need a man in full possession of his faculties. I will happily purchase a meal for you while you hear me out, but there will be no drinking at that meal. Nor will there be any further drinking, should you accept my offer, as long as you are in my employ. Is that acceptable to you?”
Angry Horse looks at the woman and nods. He is beginning to like her.
At the hotel, after a late lunch, Angry Horse is feeling almost mellow. Amy snaps him out of it with her first question, though. “I am here to ask you about the man in the mask.”
Even now, after three years, Angry Horse can feel the rage well up. “A white man,” he says thickly. “A man with no name, a man with a mask hiding his true face! Red Hawk trusted his word over mine– and I was war chief! I was trying to save us all. The masked man destroyed everything.”
“You kidnapped a white child.”
“For leverage! For ransom! The child’s father was an evil man who wanted our land! I would not have hurt the girl!”
“And the masked man sided with this evil man?”
“…No.” It is a reluctant admission. “The masked man came for the child. He claimed there were other ways for us to fight the evil man. Red Hawk said there must be a challenge. So we fought.” Angry Horse’s face burns with shame and anger. “The masked man and I met in challenge. And… I lost.”
“The masked man took the child. I was disgraced. I lost my position. I had to leave my people. Now I am no one. Because of a white bandit in a mask who has no place in the Nations.”
Amy nods. “That makes you the man I need then.”
“A fallen war chief? A man with no tribe?”
“A man who has fought the one in the mask. One who knows him. Because I am hunting him.”
Now Angry Horse is amused. “You are hunting the masked man. Why?”
“Because I think he is a murderer.”
She has Angry Horse’s full attention now. “The masked man? But he–”
“Shoots to wound? Never kills? Yes, I’ve heard the stories. I don’t believe them.” She ticks off points on her fingers. “He and his renegade friend ride into a town and more often than not there is violence. He has unseated mayors, ruined bankers, rescued men about to be hanged after a fully legal jury trial. There is a myth rising about them, but it is myth. These two men are outlaws and vigilantes. Make no mistake.”
Amy Striker leans forward, her eyes alight with fire. “I have been investigating this outlaw for years, Angry Horse. Since the death of the man I loved. A death I believe was caused by the masked man. Either him or the renegade that rides with him.” She pauses and looks at Angry Horse with appraisal. “Do you know of the Bryant’s Gap massacre?”
Angry Horse shakes his head.
“It was a man named Cavendish,” she explains. “A very bad man. He was building an army, he wanted to re-establish the confederacy, or something– this isn’t clear, and Cavendish and most of his men are dead now. But for a time he was very powerful. The only opposition to him were the Texas Rangers. Here in Del Rio they were led by a man named Dan Reid. He and his men…” For a moment she has to stop, then she gathers herself. “Cavendish murdered them all, he led them into an ambush in Bryant’s Gap. Six good men, men you would have respected. Warriors.”
“Your man was one of them.”
“…Yes.” Now it is Amy Striker who is briefly lost in angry memories. “John Reid. Dan’s brother. A good and decent man, the best man I have ever known.”
She is silent for a moment, then shakes it off. “He was a fellow passenger in the stage that brought me to Del Rio, years ago. He saved my life.” She falls silent again, her eyes moist.
Then she becomes brisk. “I was on my way to San Francisco… but for a time I almost thought I should stay here and marry John. Help my father with his newspaper. But then choice was taken from me when my father was murdered. I had no option but to take on the paper and its responsibilities myself.”
“Because I could not let these bastards win!” Amy’s face is pale with controlled rage. “Cavendish and his men killed my father, and the masked man… I think the masked man was one of them. I think he engineered the Bryant’s Gap massacre.”
Angry Horse is intrigued now. This woman… she is like the women of his former tribe, driven by holy purpose, with no thought for themselves. “Why would you think this?”
“Silver.” She holds out an object. “Do you recognize this?”
Angry Horse takes it, turns it over. “A silver bullet.”
“Yes. It is the masked man’s token.” Amy takes it back. “He hands these out when he travels, he loads his gun with silver. It is like a rich man’s visiting card. Can you imagine how much silver the masked man must have? Either he is rich or he has a rich man backing him. And that’s how we’ll get him, Mr. Horse. By tracking the silver.”
Angry Horse is so interested in this that he doesn’t bother to correct her again about calling him mister. “How?”
“It has to come from somewhere. I think here, in Texas. This is where the masked man first appeared, it’s where the massacre happened. I knew one of those dead men must have had a line on it. It was the only answer that made sense.” She smiled, a feral grin with no humor. “And I’ve found it, Mr. Horse. It took me five years; the path to this knowledge was very well hidden. But I believe I have located the mine. A small tract of land owned by a man named Jim Blaine. Three days’ ride from here, through some very rough country. That’s why I need you.”
“Why Blaine? Is he the masked man, do you think?”
Amy shakes her head. “Too old, and he’s a cripple. But he’s in on it. He’s a co-conspirator, at the very least. You see, that land– it was owned by Dan Reid. Jim Blaine was once a Ranger himself, he rode with Reid until the injury that forced him to retire. That’s how they found out about the mine, I’m sure. Through Blaine. Do you see it, now? The silver mine is on that land. It must be. The masked man and Blaine– somehow they got Cavendish to do their dirty work for them, and they took the mine.”
“How can you possibly know this?” Angry Horse is skeptical now.
“Because, Mr. Horse, I’m a reporter. I know how to track down things like deeds and filings and land ownership.” Amy Striker smiles thinly. “White man’s law is a tricky thing. There are many layers. And records are slipshod out here. Jim Blaine showed up at the land office with some story about a handshake deal made with Reid, a hastily scrawled transfer of ownership with Reid’s signature, and that was enough back then. What’s more, the widow corroborated it. I traveled back east to Boston just to check with her. But when I mentioned silver she stopped talking and threw me out of her home. She was probably paid off.”
“Blaine’s story could be true.”
“It’s unlikely. You see, Blaine said he made the deal with Dan Reid in September, but Bryant’s Gap happened in August. Blaine forged the signatures. He had to have. Reid was dead. Jim Blaine didn’t file on the land till the following May. And it was that same month of May that the masked man and the renegade Indian showed up here in Del Rio. Time enough to have started working the mine and build up a war chest.”
“War? What kind?”
“I don’t know. I don’t care.” Amy Striker’s face is a stone mask of resolve. “I suppose he hopes to create another kingdom, as Cavendish had. Meting out his own brand of justice to anyone he thinks is unworthy. It doesn’t matter. I am going to get him. He will pay for murdering the Reids. The renegade Indian as well, and Blaine. All of them. Anyone who’s helped him. All of them will face justice. This is the cause to which I have devoted my life, Mr. Horse. Are you with me?”
Angry Horse nods. This woman… she is crazy, but she could lead him to not just revenge, but riches. Riches and power. Later, if she becomes difficult, well… she is just a woman. “I am with you.”
“Then we start with Blaine, he’s our way in. We’ll ride up to the mine and take him. And we’ll wait.”
Angry Horse nods again, thinking, But perhaps it will be better, once we are there, if I see to it that I am waiting alone.
That’s how it begins. There are many complications that ensue, as the Ranger and Tonto are forced to rescue Jim Blaine and Amy Striker from a situation that is hugely volatile and could end the Lone Ranger’s career forever, especially since it turns out that there are others besides Angry Horse that have a grudge against the man in the mask. One of them is a corrupt territorial governor and another one is the son of a man named Cavendish. And eventually it develops that the only way out is for the Ranger to do the one thing he swore he would never do until all evil is eradicated from the West… unmask and confess his true identity.
Anyway, that’s the proposal and the sample chapter. It weaves together bits and pieces from all the movies and the novels; it’s my answer to whatever happened to Amy Striker, anyway? which is something that has annoyed me ever since I read the 1981 novelization of Legend of the Lone Ranger. You should skip the movie, but if you ever see the book, get that, because it’s pretty cool.
Maybe someday I’ll get to finish it. But in the meantime, I hope you enjoyed that little glimpse into what might have been.
See you next week.
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