Monday, January 5, 2009

Vigilante #1

DC's new Vigilante series is, in actuality, a relaunch of a remake. The original character, a gun toting, cowboy hat wearing, red kerchief donning Wild West hero, fought crime in Action Comics beginning in 1941. In the early '80s, a second Vigilante appeared on the scene. Inspired by the Punisher, the new character set out to exact revenge for the murder of his family by launching an all-out assault on crime of all shapes and sizes. Take a wild guess which one we're revisiting today.

Marv Wolfman, the writer who originally defined the reimagined character alongside George Perez twenty-odd years ago, is back at the steering wheel for this new series. And though his inspiration may be Punisher MAX, Wolfman adds in enough fresh ideas to make the issue (and the character) his own. His decision to blend the shady, criminal elements of a noir series with the bright, shiny superhero community has resulted in a series that's both vaguely familiar and appealingly original. And from the hints he's dropped in this issue, Vigilante's first storyline could be one for the books.

Frankly, I was worried that Wolfman's long years in the business would show here, particularly when he focuses on the grunts working the streets. If a writer has lost touch, the first place it's going to show is in the dialog and actions of a supposedly street-smart group of thugs. Fortunately, Marv passes that test; his work still feels sharp and authentic, and none of this book's characters talk or act like they belong in a period piece. Time hasn't passed this old hand by just yet, and his writing is as relevant as ever.

Wolfman's partner this time around, Rick Leonardi, provides artwork that's quite reminiscent of Frank Miller's efforts with Batman. It's not the most proficiently illustrated work, with a style that's extremely loose and linework that's quite sparse, but he owns a very firm grasp of the fundamentals and his compositions are often enough to compensate for his shortcomings. In fact, as with Miller, Leonardi's work grew on me as the issue carried on; his grungy take on a dark subway tunnel enveloped me, his under-detailed rendition of the title character enhanced the mysterious air surrounding him. It's strange, because while the style of his artwork is very much in the same vein as Miller's Dark Knight Returns, the story is more in line with the famed creator's preceding work on Daredevil. If Frank had jumped back to the Man Without Fear after his stint with DC, I have to imagine this is how it would've looked.

As first issues go, this one was very strong. Though the lead character has a deep back-story, an encyclopedic knowledge isn't necessary to jump right in and enjoy this series from the word go. Vigilante is smart, but not stiflingly so. It's not as heavy as some of its crime-focused contemporaries, but not as fluffy as a lot of the mainstream superhero fare it's sharing the shelf with. Borrow it from a friend and see for yourself. It's not an instant classic, but it could easily grow into one.

On a scale of 1 to 10, where 1 is poor and 10 is amazing...
Overall Score: 7.5

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