Writer: Cary Phillips
Artist: Elena Casagrande
Release Date: 26th October, 2016
Before we get started, I should probably point out that my prior knowledge of the classic DC “Vigilante” character is almost non-existent. As such, I’m viewing this first issue as a fresh start, and am fully aware that any semblance of context, history or tweaks made to the established character are going to be completely lost on me. So, with that out of the way…
Vigilante Southland introduces us to Donny Fairchild, a failed NBA player who finds himself working as a glorified janitor on a college campus, smoking weed and shooting hoops in his free time. However, when tragedy strikes Donny’s personal life, he finds himself drawn into what may very well be a sinister conspiracy, and comes into possession of a mysterious artifact-slash-weapon.
The first thing that strikes me about this new series is the fact that, with the exception of the first couple of out-of-context pages, this doesn’t feel like a superhero comic at all. Or even a superhero origin story. If anything, it feels like the opening chapter of a street-level crime thriller, which isn’t necessarily a bad thing, it just isn’t at all what I was expecting. Writer Cary Phillips does a solid job of introducing us to Donny here, giving us a brief glimpse at his personality and lifestyle, although it has to be said that there’s nothing particularly likeable – or indeed noteworthy, brief NBA stint aside – about him to this point.
Elena Casagrande’s artwork is of its usual high standard, and without wanting to slight Phillips’ story, is the main reason that the pages kept turning here. Dark, expressive and impressively cinematic in terms of the layouts, she does a good job of establishing the characters and of illustrating the tragic storyline beat which changes Donny’s world forever. Also, while it’s again worth mentioning that it has absolutely nothing to do with the rest of the issue, her work in the action sequence in the opening pages bodes well for the remainder of the series, particularly once Donny (presumably) makes the transition from pothead ex-baller to costumed crimefighter.
Ultimately however, while the solicitation synopsis and press clippings hint at an engaging, politically-tinged thriller, this first issue really doesn’t showcase any of that, coming across instead as a fairly derivative crime story. Framing the rise of a would-be superhero against a backdrop of contemporary, real-world class and race issues is a great hook, but the creators barely touch on any of those issues in this first chapter, instead providing a meandering introduction to a fairly unremarkable character.
While Cassagrande ensures that the comic looks great, I would have loved to see more of the actual story Phillips promised us in this first issue, and as such, I could see a lot of people being put off and potentially discarding this new series before it has a chance to really get going. Which would be a real shame.
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