While most of the characters so far discussed in this series have been misfires from the get-go or z-listers that struggled (and failed) to gain traction with readers, ed there is a category of Nobody’s Favorites that consists of ephemerally popular characters which, read more for whatever reason, physician have since taken a one-way express trip down the memory hole. They are the class of characters that — when you come across a complete uncirculated run of their titles in a quarter bin — cause one to pause a second and think, “Oh, yeah, that was a thing once, wasn’t it?”
A fine example of this phenomenon can be found in DC’s Vigilante, an early direct market take on the gun-toting antihero archetype whose title managed a respectable fifty-issue run during the 1980s.
Not to be confused with the Golden Age country singer hero with a racist caricature sidekick, the Reagan Era Vigilante was a district attorney named Adrian Chase. Chase made his first appearance in New Teen Titans v1 #23 (September 1982) as a recurring and sympathetic contact for the team within the criminal justice system. Chase’s commitment to justice over the letter of the law, however, brought him into conflict with erstwhile allies, especially Robin, who saw a troubling parallels between Chase’s obsessions and those of his cave-dwelling mentor.
Events came to a head in New Teen Titans Vol. 1 #34 (August 1983), when a miffed Boy Wonder cuts the overzealous attorney loose moments before the mob boss on the sharp end of Chase’s persecutory zeal decides to engage in a little gangland payback (via an explosive clown and the services of Paul Lynde, Killer for Hire) on Chase and his family.
In keeping with the proper protocols for vengeance-driven heroes, Chase survives the blast that kills his wife and children, thus enabling the grief-stricken hero to show up wearing a paramilitary ski-bum ensemble in New Teen Titans Annual v1 #2 (1983) as the not-exactly-mysterious Vigilante. (I would just like to point out that this is the second Nobody’s Favorites selection with the surname of Chase to debut in a Teen Titans annual. What are the odds?)
His appearance in New Teen Titans served as a springboard by which the character graduated into in his own direct market series at a time when the emerging (and eventually “only”) distribution system was surging on fanboys’ hunger for better paper quality and (arguably) more “mature” subject matter. Granted, “sophisticated” is a chancy word when applied to the superhero genre, but the novelty of a hero who would occasionally shoot an opponent in the face was promise enough to assure Vigilante a sustainable audience…for a while at least.
Both the cover of the first issue and DC’s house ads for the series made use of lurid newspaper articles as both backdrops, placing the character within the context of a world gone violently insane. This bid toward “real world” authenticity was also reflected by the “A Fable for Our Times” title hung on the first issue…
…which makes sense, considering the rampant anxieties the public had about being mutilated by a Punk Colonel Sanders wielding a branding iron during that era. Law and Order could take lessons on versimillitude from Vigilante, let me tell you.
Vigilante‘s quaint mix of mild edginess and superheroics sustained it for a good four years and change, but despite efforts to amp up the violence angle through Chase’s mental deterioration and inability to work past his demons, it would eventually be outflanked by similar comics that better captured (or is that “pandered to”) the underlying appeal of the antihero concept. Having reached the end of Chase’s moral and creative rope, the powers that be chose to cap off the final issue of Vigilante with the title character’s suicide and funeral. (More final issues of superhero comics should end that way. Heck, more first issues of superhero comics ought to end that way.)
The rest was relative silence. Though Vigilante was one the more popular DC titles of its day, there have been no trade reprints, no Showcase collections, or other serious interest — nostalgic or otherwise — in revisiting the franchise. There have been couple efforts to bring back the character in a new incarnation (including a 2009 series which I didn’t even know existed until I checked an old DC solicitations page), but both the fans and DC editorial seem content with letting the franchise fade into the purgatory realm where Nobody’s Favorites dwell.