“This is the launch pad for the entire Rebellion superhero-verse!” Simon Furman on reviving classic British heroes in The Vigilant

Classic British Comics are going through something of a resurgence this year, with new volumes of Misty, Scream and Roy Of The Rovers, courtesy of 2000 AD publisher Rebellion. Joining these ranks are The Vigilant, a superhero team made up of classic character from the 1970s and brought to you by Transformers legend Simon Furman and Freeway Fighter artist Simon Coleby. We caught up with Simon Furman to find out more about assembling this new super team!

How did you get involved with The Vigilant? Did you pitch the idea to Rebellion or did they approach you?

Simon Furman: They (in the personage of Keith Richardson) approached me. But it really started a few months before that, when I jumped into a vacant spot at the Orbital (London) signing for the new Scream and Misty Special that’d just come out. Keith was on the panel and we just got talking about Scream (and my involvement with it back in the day) and British comics in general. Something must have seeded in Keith’s mind and germinated thereafter and when this idea for a gathering of old British comics heroes arose at Rebellion he got back in touch. Over lunch, and very quickly, we realised we were both very much on the same page when it came to our thinking on what The Vigilant (though it didn’t have a name then) could and should be. 

You’ve dusted off some classic character from the Fleetway archives, did you get to choose which ones you wanted to use?  Did you have any personal attachments to the characters in the story so far and so knew you wanted to include them?

SF: The character roster was pretty much there from the get-go. That’s all down to Keith and Rebellion. There’d been various build-up stories – two of which, featuring Death-Man and the new Dr. Sin, appeared in 2000 AD FCBD Specials and a third in the Scream and Misty Special which was an ‘in embryo’ Vigilant story which also introduced Yao – that preceded the Vigilant one-shot and laid all the groundwork, membership roster-wise. With eight characters already in place, I wasn’t keen to introduce more. What I did bring to the mix was Adam Eterno, a character I’d loved as a kid. But he was basically the spindle around which this first story revolved. 

Have many of the characters been updated? And were there any challenges in bringing these disparate characters together into a unit?

SF: All the characters – to varying extents – needed a fresh coat of paint for a 21st century comics audience. Slavishly retro is not necessarily a good tack to take, so that meant updating and reimagining characters somewhat. Brit comics of the late 60s/early 70s weren’t rife with ethnic and gender diversity, and without just ticking boxes we wanted a line-up that immediately didn’t look anachronistic. So characters were aged up, roughed up (and given a harder edge), and in the case of Dr. Sin rethought altogether (though with firm links to the original). Thunderbolt became a she (again, which strong/direct links to the original strip) and Yao and Death-Man were brand new creations. All that said, I have the greatest respect for the original characters and their creators, and also because I didn’t want to disappoint the 10-year old me there’s a strong streak of ‘classic’ in them too. 

Artist Simon Coleby has done a fantastic job of giving the book a really modern edge, without losing the classic feel of some of the characters. Was it important for the book to feel like a modern book, rather than a throwback to the 70s? (It reminds me a lot of The Ultimates)

SF: As I say, you run the risk of alienating new readers by making something too reverential or knowing. There are cameos and guest-stars galore and subtle references to what came before and blink and you miss ‘em Easter Eggs, but by the same token no previous knowledge is necessary. This is the launch pad for the entire Rebellion superhero-verse. It all begins here. You might get more out of it if you know some of the history, but we wanted to craft something as accessible and ground-up as possible – both in look and feel. Simon C’s art just adds that extra layer of grit and integrity to the whole thing. Immediately you look at the cover you know you’re getting something fit for purpose in today’s comic book industry.

And finally why do you think there hasn’t been a British superhero team book like this for so long, and what would you like the long term future for the Vigilant to be?

SF: I think nailing down the rights to so many disparate characters has just been a big deal. And took a lot of behind-the-scenes pulling together. But to say Keith was champing at the bit to get The Vigilant up and running and out there is an understatement. He’s got so much passion for and commitment to the project. And having done the hard work, we both really, really want this to work. And spawn a limited or ongoing series. We have so many ideas moving forwards. We’re very much ‘under starters orders’…