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Monday, August 13, 2018

The Vigilant #1 (August 2018)

When Rebellion purchased the old Fleetway Publications archive of characters, they promised to make the most of the material they had purchased and they've lived up to that promise. We've had collections of strips from Scream!, Misty, Jinty, Tammy, Thunder and Buster in book form and a Tornado strip turned up bagged with the Judge Dredd Megazine not so long ago.

Then, last year, the Scream! and Misty Special reintroduced a bunch of characters, many of whom had not been seen for over forty years. In "Death-Man: The Gathering", an oversized group of heroes were brought together by the not-so old Death-Man (2016) and Doctor Sin (2015), who were presumably required by HR to add a bit of diversity to the group. Oh, and Thunderbolt the Avenger is now a girl.

This story introduced The Vigilant, who (with the addition of another new female character) are the stars of their own title. I was not a fan of the earlier story – nor am I a fan in general of shoehorning disparate characters into the same comic universe. Inevitably the results are not the sum of their parts; rather, everything muddles along as characters you don't know and don't care about do things you don't understand because you don't know their character quirks.

But with a script by Simon Furman and art by Simon Coleby I feel we're in safe hands here, so let's give it a chance...

And, you know what? It's not so bad. The story motors along at a terrific pace and the central McGuffin – the entrapment of Adam Eterno – is intriguing, albeit a little throwaway. Where there is interplay between the characters it is fun and the tone is definitely more MCU Avengers than DCEU Justice League.

However, the main strip still suffers from the same problem that the last British comics' universe team-up, Albion, also failed to solve. There are nine main protagonists here, not counting Pete's alien army or the bad guys (Von Hoffman, Iron Major, The Dwarf, Dr. Mesmer) in a 24-page story. With other elements or characters added along the way (the first, the Prisoner of Zenga on page 2), by the time Death Man calls in ultra-obscure reinforcements The Esper Commandos (Pow Annual) and Crabbe's Crusaders (Buster), readers, especially newcomers, are going to be feeling overwhelmed.

But my main complaint is actually a story point. Despite having all these heroes in play, they do not resolve the plot. Instead, two alchemists are introduced at the last minute (one of whom has never been previously mentioned). They wave their hands around for a couple of panels and solve everything.

The strip does end on an intriguing note, with the introduction of Beth Rogan, who, with her brother, was a ghost-hunter from the pages of Scream! ("The Nightcomers"). And why stop with her... I can't wait to meet up again with the Carrie-like Moonchild, now a mother of two and using her telekinetic powers to make sure she gets a parking spot on the school run, and Bella, former gymnast, now a masked vigilante.

Of the other strips, two occur when characters disappear from the main storyline into other realms. "Yao" serves as a proper introduction to the character (she turned up in a couple of panels of the "Death-Man" story) and Blake Edmonds, the danger-obsessed burns victim with a "Death Wish",  is sent to the world of Action's "Kids Rule UK", a desolate alternate dimension where Blake has to save... well, that would be telling.

The last strip explains how the Steel Commando ended up on the team in what is my favourite of the three stories as it is genuinely quite moving. It only goes to emphasize that The Vigilant should have been created in reverse, with the various characters (the new versions of those old Fleetway stars) introduced in stand-alone stories/serials and then brought together once readers had got to know them and their related characters (both friends and enemies). I mentioned the Marvel Cinematic Universe a minute ago, and that's the way you introduce a team: a few standalone stories before you slam everyone together. I fear that without the backstories and a period of getting to know the characters so that readers give a shit about them, The Vigilant might follow Albion into obscurity.

The Vigilant. Rebellion, August 2018, 52pp, £3.99. Cover by Simon Coleby.

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