First, I want to say that this Vigilante has no relation to DC’s golden age Vigilante that appeared in 1941 (cowboy who rides a motorcycle).
I did a lot of research on Vigilante before I posted this, and found there were not that many reviews that thoroughly examine this series. After digging out my old back issues I have come to the conclusion that this may be THE definitive comic book series of the 1980s – I even created a new hash tag just for this entry.
Created by Marv Wolfman and George Perez, the Vigilante was a character introduced in the pages of the New Teen Titans – which was DC’s “it” book of the 1980s.The origin of how the Vigilante came to be is a multi-issue sub-plot that concludes in the New Teen Titans Annual #2 (1983). From then on, the Vigilante gets his own series.
Despite being a spin-off of the New Teen Titans, this series is very much a stand-alone book. One of Wolfman’s main goals in creating this series was to keep it as realistic as possible, which explains the minimal interference from other established DC characters. I’m going to presume that keeping the series grim and violent kept it as close to realistic as possible (observe the newspaper headlines showing in the house ad).
It was a direct edition comic (so it never wound up on newsstands) and did not carry the Comics Code Authority seal – which is fitting because the Vigilante shot and killed criminals. The ‘antihero’ was still a relatively new concept in the early 80s, and the fans were squeamish. This series was mired in controversy since the get-go. Fans complained about the cold-blooded killing and the Vigilante took a vow of “no killing” after issue #1. Fans then complained he was too soft, so the writers hardened him up again. At some point fans complained the Vigilante lost his edge and he became a super-hero for a while. Critics panned it for it’s blatant ‘implied’ sex scenes. Wolfman wrote and edited this series for the first year, from then on Paul Kupperberg took over writing chores (presumably because Wolfman was busy with Crisis On Infinite Earths and other projects, but I’d be surprised Wolfman didn’t quit because the readers were too fickle). Wolfman stayed on as editor and Kupperberg stayed on as writer to plot out one of the best whodunnits I’d ever read.
In my opinion, this series really hits it’s stride after Mike Gold becomes the editor (issue #35) and allows Kupperberg the freedom to write stories that would involve as many 80s action/crime film clichés as possible (yes, the protagonist gets arrested and imprisoned and has to fight his way out of jail). By issue #39 a “suggested for mature readers” label is added and the series gets way more extreme with graphic violence, implied sexual abuse, vulgar language, images of drug use, and nudity.
What really makes this series stand out is that it covers a lot of social issues that would never be brought up in a mainstream comic (ex: racial profiling, drug addiction, homelessness, immigration, inflation/economic downturn/jobs being sent over seas, child kidnapping, rape, pedophilia, the war on drugs, corruption in the government/police/law, homosexuality, terrorism, religious extremists, how vigilantism affects society, consequences of killing, innocence, etc…). Which in my opinion was one of the major hallmark of comic books in the 80s: raising awareness of what was going on in our culture/society rather than brushing over the subject and creating a false sense of security. This is NOT a comfortable book.
A few things worth mentioning:
- Alan Moore was a guest writer for issues #17 and #18
- Very subtle Crisis on Infinite Earths tie-in in issue #22
- John Byrne contributed a cover for issue #35
- Mike Grell contributed covers for issues #36, #37, and #38
Vigilante lasted until 1987 with 50 issues and 2 annuals. The adventures of the Vigilante’s supporting cast is continued in Checkmate v1 (1988).
I’ve had the first half of this series since I was a teen and had trouble tracking down the rest of the series until recently. Unfortunately, someone spoiled the ending of this series before I had a chance to finish reading it*. I won’t do the same to you. Pick it up, now.
As of this writing, this series has not been reprinted by DC yet, so if you want it you’re going to have to go digging in back-issue bins. Rumor has it that it’s really difficult to find issue #50 – not due to it being highly sought after, but because sales were so bad near the end of the series that retailers were stocking very low numbers of this title.
*Fun Fact: Apparently Wolfman was not pleased with the way the series ended, but had no say in it. Oh well.