The Rattling Skull – 2

Hello again, denizens of the space that is cybernetic. I’m back, they couldn’t stop me.

Today, I’m going to do a request.

A request from a respected professional comics creator, no less; I mentioned on twitter the other day that I have been greatly enjoying a certain title, and the writer of that comic saw this (I had mentioned the writer’s twitter username in the tweet), and urged me to share my enthusiasm with a wider audience, because, he says “Selling a book this tough is hard”. Which, it occurs to me, would make a pretty good tagline for the comic.

So. Today, lovely, intelligent, discerning and no doubt fabulously good looking readers of the Geek Syndicate website, I am here to speak to you of Vigilante, by Marv Wolfman and Rick Leonardi.

It is my considered opinion that you should be reading this comic.

Why? Well, because it’s very good, and there’s nothing else quite like it out there right now. This comic is lean and mean, and has no time for the fancy fripperies we associate with modern superhero comics. Which isn’t to say that it isn’t a super-hero comic, it is, and it’s firmly within DC continuity at that- but it’s also a crime comic, one that resists the deliberately pop-culture referencing, none-more-noir approach of most modern crime comics. In tone, it reminds me more than anything of the early Punisher comics, before continuity and post-modern posturing turned the character into an over the top parody.

This comic does for the concept of crime/noir storytelling within the DC universe, what Checkmate did for the idea of espionage stories within the DCU. It’s a seamless integration, taking the genre conventions and storytelling style of the one, and then applying the in-world logic and rules of the other. It’s like Criminal with costumes.

So, who is the Vigilante? Well, I’m not entirely sure. I’ll grant you, I’ve not read every single of the eight issues that have been published so far- I skipped issue six, as I was uninterested in the Titans crossover it was part of- but I’ve read the rest of them; and I know this: he’s certainly not the golden age “cowboy in modern times” hero, that would be ridiculous; but nor is he Adrian Chase, the district attorney that donned a mask and costume to dispense lethal punishment on the streets of New York (and fans of DC’s current Manhunter will of course recognise that description, and why such a premise is would be somewhat redundant in the DC universe at present); and he’s not any of the several other characters to bear the name in the last decade or two, either.

I know that his (presumably first) name is Dorian, and he considers himself responsible for the death of his wife, who was the daughter of a New York mob boss. But that’s all I know.

I’m not even sure what he looks like.

Which brings me to the rather clever twist that makes this book so good. The Vigilante has an assistant, who can make undetectable masks of other people’s faces, and is a proficient enough hacker to be able to alter government and police records.

Which means that the Vigilante spends an awful lot of time undercover, spying on the gangs as one of their own. Then, when he has the information he needs, he comes back in costume, guns blazing, and with no pity in his heart.

Throw in an ever twisting plot involving rival gangs and undercover FBI agents, and I think I’ve probably done enough to explain just how cool this book is.

Seriously, if you don’t want to read it now, I don’t know what to tell you; it’s Donnie Brasco meets the Punisher, a dark morality tale that doesn’t waste time on overwrought angst, just keeps the plot turning and the bullets flying. Everyone under these covers is a sinner, and everyone of them is going to burn; it’s just the order that they go that the Vigilante wants to sort out. And sort it out he does.

And one more thing, a quick word about the art: in all honestly, Rick Leonardi was the reason I picked this book up in the first place- I was a huge fan of his work on Spider Man 2099, with it’s energetic spontaneity and gorgeously fluid line. I can’t deny that I was a little disappointed with his work on Vigilante at first- while the energy and spontaneity remain, the fluidity is gone, replaced by a harsh brutalism that borders on ugly at times. It took me a little while to appreciate just how well suited this approach is to the story at hand- but once that clicked, I realised just how great the work Leonardi is doing on this book is. His story-telling is top-notch, and his panel compositions burst with energy and emotion. The surface style is very reminiscent of Walt Simonson (who, incidentally, provides covers for the series) but in the layouts I see elements of Steve Ditko, and the crime-comics master Bernie Krigstein. This isn’t just good art, this is good *comic* art, putting the needs of the story before simple aesthetics. I feel like breaking out in applause after I finish each issue.

So, yeah, Vigilante by Marv Wolfman and Rick Leonardi. #9 is out next month, and promises to be a doozy, if #8’s last page was anything to go by. Be sure to get yourself a copy. This comic is a good deed in a bad, bad world.

How bad is this world exactly? Take a look at it through the Vigilante’s eyes, and you’ll see…

…and that’s me done for this instalment. Next time, I think I’m going to talk about another great comic I think people are missing: Joshua Dysart and Alberto Ponticelli’s Unknown Soldier. Although I might change my mind at the last minute and talk about something else, we’ll see.

See you then.

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