If you had to name a team of superheroes you’d probably think of The Avengers, The X-Men or The Justice League. This month Rebellion launch the first Vigilant collection, a team books made up of “a diverse melange of heroes and anti-heroes, robots and mystics, the living and the dead”. Does this team of British heroes rise to the occasion or should they be pensioned off to the Fortress of Solitude?
Writer: Simon Furman
Artist: Simon Coleby
Price: £14.99 from the Treasury of British Comics webstore
Although The Vigilant is a new concept, the name bringing to mind both vigilantes and Pat Mills old war cry of “Be Pure, Be Vigilant, Behave!”, the characters that make up the team have been around for decades. Several of the characters such as Pete’s Pocket Army and The Leopard of Lime Street first appeared in classic British weeklies such as Lion, Valiant and Tiger. Over the years there have been many attempts to revise these beloved but for many forgotten characters. Stunt rider Blake Edwards returned in the pages of New Eagle, running until the early 1990s, Dr Sin has turned up in 2000AD and Robot Archie was a regular supporting player in Grant Morrison’s Zenith (although Morrison being Morrison he was renamed Acid Archie, the droid for the rave generation. Well it was the late eighties…). Bringing such an odd mix of characters together from war comics, sci-fi strips and even horror books (Max from The Thirteenth Floor, a regular feature of the fondly remembered Scream! turns up here too) but Simon Furman manages to pull it off.
Furman of course has a history of working with both massive casts and successful franchises as perhaps the most well-known writer of The Transformers for well over thirty years now, creating concepts that have ended up on the big screen and characters as popular as Death’s Head. He’s particularly skilled at marrying epic battles of good versus evil with quirky characters, non-stop action and a wicked sense of humour. There are a lot of cast members to introduce here, some returning for the first time in decades, others completely reimagined and others who are completely new. At time you need a score card just to remind you who’s who!
Simon Coleby’s art is excellent here. You might be familiar with his work from 2000AD (Jaegir, Dredd, Venus Blue Genes) or his work for major American publishers including The Authority, LoboorBatman. Coleby nails it here illustrating hellscapes, war zones and night clubs, moving from martial arts and sorcery to a completely trippy “Totality Storm” that wouldn’t look out of place in a sixties issue of Dr Strange. He does a great job of making the impossible seam real and grounded, similar to the way that Bryan Hitch did in The Ultimates.
The Vigilant works better as a collected edition than it did when it appeared as individual issues. Due to the nature of Rebellion’s publishing schedule only one issue was released a year and the story concluded in an issue of Judge Dredd: The Megazine making it easy to miss. With so many characters and plot threads going back decades, the individual issues could be a little confusing but having all the strips collected together along with background information in the form of “Secret Files” at the start of the collection, as well as all of the solo adventures of the team members (featuring some great art by the likes of Staz Johnson, Warwick Fraser-Coombe and Jake Lynch) makes for a much more satisfying package.
It would be a real shame if this collection was a “goodbye” rather than a “welcome back” for so many legacy characters and their modern-day counterparts. Even though the likes of Steel Commando and Dr Mesmer might seem outdated to modern comic audiences, Furman writes with a scope that reminded me as much of Target: 2006 as it did the old “inkies” and Coleby brings Simon’s story vividly to life, helped in no small part by colours from Len O’Grady. If you fancy a blast from the past or something new and exciting then it’s worth investigating The Vigilant.