Word Balloons: DC debuts new 'Vigilante'
Crime novelist Gary Phillips said the setting was the first thing chosen for his new comic-book miniseries from DC Comics, "The Vigilante: Southland."
Phillips said his discussions with DC's co-publisher Dan Didio originally were about possibilities of bringing back certain characters in DC's stable. But the first thing they agreed upon was the location.
"Because of my background as a prose crime and mystery writer, we felt to play to my strengths, the story could be set in the Southland, the greater Los Angeles area of Southern California, showing parts of the town, parts of the landscape that don't usually get shown," Phillips said in an interview with The Oklahoman. "Who is a character to set in that landscape? ... And that's how we get to Donny Fairchild, this young African-American man in his 20s, kind of an easygoing guy."
Donny is a former basketball star who now is working as a maintenance man. While his NBA dreams have ended, his life is fairly comfortable, with a successful girlfriend and a steady job. But an unsolved murder awakens in Donny a desire for justice, and he begins training to become a masked vigilante.
Elena Casagrande illustrated the six-issue miniseries. Mitch Gerads handled the cover art.
New take on character
DC Comics has had a character known as "The Vigilante" going back to its very early days. The first appeared in "Action Comics" #42 in November 1941. Several other characters have gone by the title, including the judge Adrian Chase in the 1980s series by Marv Wolfman ("New Teen Titans"). This Vigilante, however, is brand-new.
"In the course of our miniseries, Donny's going to make some missteps. Just because you put on a mask, it doesn't make you a hero," Phillips said. "Donny doesn't have the luxury of (time). He is thrown into this immediately, it's sink or swim time."
In "Vigilante: Southland," Phillips examines what happens when Donny is faced with pressure like he hasn't been under before.
"What happens when you put the squeeze on, man. When the thumbs are pushing on you, when the scale's weighted against you, what is it that you do?" Phillips said. "You could fold, you could walk away. But if you don't walk away, if you try to meet this head on as best you can, there's going to be times when you're not going to excel, you're not going to rise to the top. ... Things happen, both of a psychological and physical nature, but he still keeps coming. He has to see it through."
Phillips said as a genre writer, he considers it his goal to entertain, but that in creating a world for the Vigilante, he does weave in some of the current cultural dynamics.
"The social political landscape, the racial dynamic, the ethnic landscape, can't help but be infused," Phillips said. "We're threading all these pieces together to give you a sense of this larger landscape."
Though Vigilante is part of DC's superhero universe, it's set largely on the edges of that universe.
"I consider 'Vigilante: Southland' more of a crime comic than a superhero comic, even though he's masked," Phillips said. "He doesn't have any powers, right, he just has his will and his physical ability."
Phillips hopes that crime-novel sensibility will appeal to fans of his many novels.
"I do want to reach more of that prose readership," he said. "You haven't read comics in a long time, you haven't read them since you were a kid, come on over and give them a try."