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Arthur Machen
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Vigilante by Marv Wolfman Vol. 1 - Marv Wolfman

I couldn't believe my eyes. I was browsing the graphic novel section at the bookstore a few days ago, I spotted a crazy spine that didn't seem possible, I pulled out the whole book to get a proper gobsmacking and thought "OMG, they are collecting the Vigilante series into graphic novels. I would have bet a Nova helmet this forgotten series would never get reprinted."

 

And, it's happening. It actually doesn't surprise me so much, after a breather from the shock. Marv Wolfman's classic New Teen Titans run had worked its way up to the point where Adrian Chase's family was killed by a bomb; Robin was bloody lucky to have exited the  building only minutes before, after confronting Deputy DA Chase about his above-the-law tactics hassling and bringing in gangsters..."ADRIAN!!", thus ended New Teen Titans # 34, with the debris from the blast raining down on the street.

 

This was the series that brought me over from Marvel to DC, not counting scattered Batman comics here and there. DC was investing in a Punisher type of character; if memory serves, Vigilante got his own series before Marvel's anti-hero with lots of guns and no qualms about killing finally got his own mini series.

 

Adrian Chase, gung-ho Deputy District Attorney debuted in New Teen Titans #23. Marv Wolfman was very clever; he did not try to sell an honorable, true-blue lawman who never broke rules as a likely candidate--a mere 11 comic books later--for taking to the streets at night and slaughtering criminals so they don't go free in the courts later. If the Vigilante had been allowed to germinate for, let us say, 50 issues of Teen Titans, the story could have started out with a Deputy DA with a Superman-type of mindset: never kill, follow the law, uphold principles of justice, and don't get revenge. No, with DC wanting new series from Wolfman after he propped up DC with one ultra-successful revamp of a maligned team-book series, Adrian Chase had to enter the scene as...just a bit embittered, a bit disillusioned, wondering why so many criminals go free on technicalities. He joins assault-team raids to have a personal hand in captures, way beyond the safety of his desk, and gets lectured by assault-team leaders for rushing things and breaking procedure. His link-ups with the Teen Titans get Robin (not Nightwing yet) thinking he's "worse than Batman" in attitude, a man with a growing obsession he doesn't know how to channel.

 

Adrian Chase dupes Robin into some questionable tactics during a takedown of the worst of the worst mobsters. Doesn't work in the long run, though. Robin has left the posh digs of Chase and family in a huff, while Chase finds out that a toy in the living-room came from an uncle...but that uncle doesn't exist. The toy explodes, wife and child gone, Adrian Chase declared clinically dead for seven minutes while they try to save him.

 

Time for some stage-setting in New Teen Titans Annual # 2--who is killing all these killers?--and a new series called Vigilante.

 

It seems there was always a plan. Marv Wolfman plays the long game very well. Vigilante ran for 50 issues, with Wolfman writing, and later just overseeing as editor, for much of the unfolding. The good news is, Marv Wolfman did three things brilliantly wrong in the first 11 issues of his new baby (included in this "Vol. 1" graphic novel, plus the Titans Annual # 2)--wrong if you were really trying to compete with Marvel's Punisher. First, Vigilante, having debuted as a bit of a one-man slaughterhouse, is questioning his tactics by issue 2. Issue 2...and he's worried about killing! Not later? No. Is the series going soft already, are we being gypped here?! Well, yes and no. It's a shocking development early on, but it sets the tone for much of what is to come; we just didn't know it. Adrian starts to question everything he's been doing, when in his other life the world wants to put him on the bench as a Judge with a gavel. He can't reconcile his two sides.

 

The second thing that Marv Wolfman did wrong, that was right if being unique is right, is: he went and gave a Vigilante a mystical origin. A mystical origin! For this guy! Yep. The only reason Doctor Strange didn't drop by, around issues 6 and 7, was I guess DC doesn't control his actions. But if the Spectre had a hand in this, I would not be surprised.

 

The third thing Marv Wolfman did wrong--or maybe it was someone else who controlled this--was just not get gritty enough to compete with the Punisher and his ilk. It's not candyland here, but some fairly bright-color artwork, and a superhero-book tone, that plays against what we may have thought was coming.

 

But I LOVE it. These first 11 issues are strong, with one main plot line, one main behind-the-scenes villain, some terrific shocks, and more reason than ever for Adrian Chase to give in to another vengeful killing spree just when he thought Vigilante could be better than that. The book culminates with a comic-book (#11) that is one of my all-time pure-action issue favorites of any comic--topped only, I would say, by the epic battle with the Health Club Bomber, up in issue # 35. Of course, that's a different man in the Vigilante costume by then--hmm, the third man to don the mantle after Adrian, and the "Psycho Vig" who took over in the middle of the series, killing a cop around issue #22 (yes, Adrian hunts for this wacko, who goes way beyond what Adrian ever contemplated; but I better stop because all this is later, if there are--I hope! I hope"--follow-up Volumes).

 

If there's a Volume 2, based on the issues I foresee it would collect, it will be fun, but it will be the "problem" volume--the most scattered and random the series ever got, as Adrian has a bunch of quick adventures that fill time as he prepares to quite being Vigilante the day he becomes a Judge. Oh, but Volume 2 would likely contain the 2-part guest writer Alan Moore masterpiece from #s 17-18 of the series. That's where the gritty comes in. Meanwhile, Volume 1 exists--I'm still shocked I can hold it in my hands--and it works well all by itself, works as one tight chapter in the life of a man who can't quite decide what he is, but meets his merciless, vengeful side and deals with it for as long as he can.