Vigilante (#17 – 18, 1985) – Alan Moore

4 out of 5

It should be noted that I have zero history with the character of Vigilante beyond what Wikipedia can tell me.  He would seem to be a DC Universe Punisher variant, though one with a no-kill policy and who would’ve experienced more moral greys than Pun often faces – questioning his motives, struggling over his actions when his judgements have proven incorrect.  It’s hard to know whether Moore’s contribution to this – two issues with his Skizz buddy, Jim Baikie – moved the needle at all, but this retrospective review suggests that the more daring moral grey stuff came after, so perhaps Alan’s take here, which isn’t all rah-rah-vigilantism, was notable at the time.  Even if it wasn’t, even from my modern-day, jaded, not-a-diehard-Moore-fan standpoint, I found these issues to be compelling, and a very interesting tweak on expected DC style writing / plotting, somewhat reminding me of the purposefully conflicting themes presented in Steve Gerber’s brilliant Foolkiller series, though on a much smaller scale.

The Vigilante is, at the time of this comic, Adrian Chase, DA by day and the titular crime fighter by night.  He receives a call from a woman he previously represented, whose husband had sexually assaulted their daughter.  He’s just been released; she fears for her family’s safety.  Adrian is quick to brush off her concerns – Moore’s first note that this won’t be a usual hero tale – but then hears her being attacked over the line and rushes out in uniform to save the day.  …And is too late.  The girl is gone.

Thus begins a two-issue hunt for the girl, which ends up involving a helpful prostitute or two.  Moore casually inserts his stance on casual drugs and sex – that it ain’t no thang – and pairs it with Chase’s somewhat stuffy demeanor.  In the second issue, we’re narrated to from the father’s point of view, and while it’s by no means sympathetic, Moore doesn’t bias it the opposite way, either; we know his crimes, but his thoughts are normal and human.  He meets his fate at the end of the book – quite viscerally – but it’s certainly not a “victory” for Vigilante, and both the daughter and the woman helping him (a friend of said prostitute) espouse points of view or act in ways that don’t typically align with black and white morality.  Most interestingly, to me, is that The Vigilante isn’t necessarily helping at any point in the two issues.  He’s doesn’t show much emotional awareness for the people around him, and proves to be rather bumbling; there could be a question as to how things would have turned out had he not been involved…

Jim Baikie’s art is energetic throughout.  The second issue’s scuffle is escalated to the front of the book, almost like a flash-forward, which downplays it interestingly; Baikie balances this with photos of the father and daughter, and he manages Vigilante’s actions throughout so that his errors are never comical.

While there’s not enough here to draw any definite conclusions on what Moore was trying to do or say – maybe this was just a usual Vigilante tale, and the deconstructionist elements are included out of habit – and it does come across as rather forcefully “adult” for adult’s sake at points, it’s still a book that reads out of its time, and can be seen as an in-DCU shadow of things happening over in Watchmen.