In the DC Universe, the name “Vigilante” doesn’t signify a specific character so much as it does a handle: sure, Batman, Nightwing, and the like are vigilantes by trade, but the first person to specifically call himself Vigilante was the country-singing “motorcycle cowboy” Greg Saunders all the way back in 1941, and arguably the most well-known costumed crimefighter who adopted the title was district attorney Adrian Chase, a creation of Marv Wolfman and George Pérez who took on bad guys who got off the in the courtroom during his off-hours beginning in 1982 and ending, in a stellar moment of inspiration for youthful readers everywhere, with his suicide several years later. Now, though, there’s a new bolo-swinging masked adventurer who’s apparently cut from the Chase cloth: Meet failed- NBA-draft-choice-turned-college-campus-maintenance-man Donny Fairchild, who’s making his debut in the pages of Vigilante: Southland #1 just in time for some iteration or other of the character to make his small-screen debut on the CW’s Arrow TV show a few weeks from now.
Donny seems like an interesting enough cat from the outset here, and writer Gary Phillips is giving him a solid origin story that reads like a modern-day updating of CHINATOWN, to wit: his girlfriend stumbles on a conspiracy to steal LA-area water rights through a series of ultra-shady land development deals and is killed for her troubles, but when our newly-minted hero doesn’t buy the bogus “hit and run” story the cops slap over her death and decides to get training in the art of ass-kicking from an old-time neighborhood righter of wrongs who calls himself The Eastsider, he finds himself a target, as well — and the explosion that takes out his apartment building at the end of this first issue would seem to indicate that he’s on the right track.
“Lean and mean” is the order of the day here, and everything from Phillips’ sparse but effective script to Elena Casagrande’s effectively straightforward art and Giulia Brusco’s realistic color palette get the job done with minimal fuss but plenty of gritty, street-level style. This comic takes all of about ten minutes to read, but at least they’re ten enjoyable and involving minutes, and odds are you’ll probably feel like reading it again before the next issue comes out. Casagrande might be the standout talent of the bunch, as her work here shows a solid improvement over her run on the recently-completed Boom! Studios series Suicide Risk, but honestly, everyone does a damn good job on this issue and this series looks to be a fresh and interesting contemporary take on a previously-mothballed concept. Phillips has promised that his six-part story will touch on issues ranging from gun violence to class struggles to Black Lives Matter, so who knows? Maybe this book will turn out to be everything that Black Mask Studios’ Black promised to be. An honest appraisal of these pressing urban challenges is sorely needed in comics right now, that’s for sure, and while the new, dulled-down, Rebirth-era DC is probably the last place I’d expect to find it, this opening installment gives me hope that these creators are both up to the task and, crucially, being given the editorial freedom to go for it.
On a purely economic level, the $3.99 cover price is a bit of a drag, and provides the first indication that DC’s recent roll-back to $2.99 across the board will probably be somewhat short-lived, but the funny thing is that I didn’t feel particularly short-changed by this comic despite the fact that it’s a quick read. There’s plenty happening in Vigilante: Southland in terms of imagination, action, and social relevance, and while this series seems to largely be flying under the radar, you’d do very well indeed to make sure that it’s on yours.