Topps Comics produced a four-part story in 1994 that pulled no punches for this duo. Literally.
The first panel of the first story depicts Tonto slugging the Lone Ranger, an inconceivable action given the historical bond between the two characters. Coincidentally, Sherman Alexie’s 1993 collection of short stories entitled The Lone Ranger and Tonto Fistfight in Heaven shoed a similar scene on its cover, although the stories had minimal connection to the characters.
In the Topps story, the Lone Ranger and Tonto split, a breakup the likes of which hadn’t been seen since…well, since Dean Martin and Jerry Lewis went their separate ways in 1956. As expected, the Lone Ranger and Tonto reconcile by the end of the story.
Topps explored Tonto’s struggles with the popular perception, or misperception, of Indians furthered by a new real-life element it added to the Lone Ranger canon. Ned Buntline, a writer, features in the story’s background as the author of dime novel stories showcasing the Lone Ranger and his sidekick, sarcastically self-described as heap big faithful Indian companion. Tonto’s frustration is clear.
A sheriff exclaims, “You and your Indian sure done good, feller.”
Tonto explains, “I’m not his Indian. I’m not anyone’s Indian. I’m Tonto.”
Tonto then confronts his cowboy companion. “You know, it’d be nice if one time you didn’t leave it to me to explain I’m not your Indian.”
The Lone Ranger’s reply that Tonto fends for himself quite well on his own allows Tonto to reveal the core of the tension. “I’m not sure I ought to have to do it alone.”
Timothy Truman and Joe R. Lansdale guided the comic book story. In Comics Scene #47 (November 1994), Truman explained the team’s thought process. “We wanted to show that he had a mind of his own. We never thought of him as working for the Lone Ranger, but as being an equal partner. But due to these dime novels and it’s early in their careers and they’re establishing their own egos and jockeying for position, the Lone Ranger sometimes forgets their equality and inadvertently views Tonto as the Tonto of the dime novels. Tonto is a hero, instead of just a subservient lackey who goes into town to get the horses.”
In Comics Buyer’s Guide #1095 (November 11, 1994), Truman answered Cat Yronwode’s critique of the team’s decision regarding Tonto’s syntax. “[We decided] to have Tonto speak more than passable English, rather than the ignorant-savage pidgin-speak that our generation grew up with. While most of us became used to Tonto speaking this way via our exposure to the character on TV and radio, the fact remains that the character has been talking in proper English for many years now. I refer readers to the movie Legend of the Lone Ranger and to the splendid comic strip by writer Cary Bates and artist Russ Heath, which appeared in newspapers at about the same time.”
Topps Comics’ version of the Lone Ranger and Tonto contains science fiction elements. A robbery by the Wind Wagon Gang inadvertently frees an alien assumed to be a mummy. During an encounter, Tonto realizes the alien’s Achilles Heel. Salt. Or, as the alien puts it, the bleached whiteness of the sea.