This week sees the release of DC Comics‘ new revival of the classic Vigilante character in Vigilante: Southland by Gary Phillips, Elena Casagrande, Giulia Brusco and Todd Klein, which takes the concept and transports it modern day Los Angeles for a tale of crime, corruption and community tension. ComicsAlliance caught up with Phillips to talk about what separates the new Vigilante from the rest of the DC Universe, and constructing a socially relevant superhero story.
ComicsAlliance: How did the series come about? How much was DC wanting a Vigilante series, and how much was your own take on the concept?
Gary Phillips: Well yes, here’s how it happened in sort of an organic way: Dan DiDio and I had been talking about a couple of different ideas for a while, and the context of that was the idea of reviving this or that DC character, but we’d also been talking about the setting. Where would the story take place? And because I’m a mostly prose crime and mystery novelist, and a lot of my concentration is in the Los Angeles and the Southland of southern California, we thought that would be a good setting because it’s not the usual place you tended to see some of the DCU characters.
Although I had done for Vertigo, some years ago, a private eye miniseries called Angeltown, set in Los Angeles. So those two things were part of the discussion, and so finally when we really got down to who would be the character in that setting and we talked about a number of different characters that didn’t seem to be quite what gelled, the idea of reviving and reimagining The Vigilante as a young black man who has come of age in south L.A., that seemed to be the thing that really worked best, so that’s how we got to where we are now with Vigilante: Southland.
CA: Vigilante is a concept with a long storied history at DC Comics. Did you go back and look at what made the other Vigilantes unique when creating Donny?
GP: Well I did, but I was fairly familiar with the original Vigilante, Greg Sanders, and I’d been a fan of that character. I’d read some of the reprint material and even that character has been revived several different times, and I was familiar with some of those stories. I was also familiar with the Adrian Chase era, which also gets us to the female Vigilante. I was aware of those incarnation and I knew that in a certain way, in some of the aspects of this particular Vigilante, I wanted to pay homage to that.
I think to your point, another aspect to talk about or look at was, neither one of those characters had a superpower, right? They didn’t have a forcefield, they didn’t fly, they didn’t have X-Ray vision, and to me that’s a great character because you can really keep them still on a street level way, but say, “Now we’re gonna put them under pressure. Now we’re gonna put screws to them and see how they react” because they can’t fly away or punch their way through a wall. The bullets don’t bounce off of them, and because they are vulnerable just like you and me.
We’ve given them an edge or two, but they are still human beings, they feel capable of pain and hurt and death so to me as a writer that gives them a great dramatic edge to play with and to set that character in motion against sometimes what might seem like impossible odds.