Comics / DC Comics History

DC Comics History: Vigilante (Late Golden Age)


By Deejay Dayton
Oct 9, 2015 - 10:41



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The Vigilante remained very popular during this period.  Western comics would boom in the post-World War 2 era, and the character had one foot in that camp, and one in the super-hero genre.  While his earlier stories had all been set in the city, during this period, the Vigilante would begin having more rural adventures.

The biggest alterations in the series would be the result of the Vigilante movie serial: the brief return of his original sidekick, Billy Gunn, and the increasing white-ness of Stuff, who would lose the nickname The Chinatown Kid by the end of this period.

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Action 105 sees the Vigilante in the west, as Greg Sanders travels on a radio tour.  It begins a trend of moving the urban cowboy into a more rural setting.  The western genre had a huge boom in these few years, and the Vigilante series made the most of it.

 
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The story itself is mostly set within a town, and deals with a corrupt sheriff, and a crusading newspaper.  So it has some western stereotypes, as well as a saguaro cactus.

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The Vigilante and Stuff are in the west again, at Benton City’s centennial, in Action 110.

 
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The town elected the great-granddaughter of the founder as sheriff for the centennial year, but she is having a difficult time maintaining her status, as the criminals are trying to discredit her.  Although it is clearly unusual to have a female sheriff, she is shown to be fully capable of her duties.  Vigilante helps her out, but this is obviously meant to be a special case.

 
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Stuff is looking a little less Chinese in this story, although he is still called the Chinatown Kid.  His odd hat, which was clearly meant to convey some sort of Chinese headgear, is nowhere in sight. As time progresses, Stuff gets more and more white. The Vigilante’s cycle is a bit grander in this story than in his earlier tales, moving towards the classic cycle he will acquire in the next era.

 
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The most awkward moment in the story comes when Stuff has to pull the badge off the sheriff’s ample chest, to use to cut them free.

 
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The Vigilante serial was also advertised in this issue.  Greg Sanders is made an actor, rather than a singer, and Stuff is made into a young, white adult.  The actor idea would not take hold on the comics, but Stuff’s race change would.

 
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Stuff remains the Chinatown Kid through this period, and gets a major role in Action 81. Stuff has been learning magic tricks, which he entertains Greg Sanders with.  He hasn’t mastered it yet, and is better with card tricks than animals. They go to an exhibition of lightweight, futuristic furniture, which is apparently so valuable it is worth stealing.  Vigilante and Stuff get captured, but Stuff shows that he has learned the first principle of magic, misdirection, and keeps the hoods entertained while Vigilante sneaks up behind them.

 
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Later, Stuff manages to hold off half the gang, simply by entertaining them with card tricks, as Vigilante takes down the rest of the thieves.  A really good role for Stuff, and the magic tricks are well-used.

 
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Billy Gunn. not seen in this strip for years, returns in Action 109.  His character is now called Pop Gunn, likely to his use, with the changed name, in the Vigilante movie serial. Still in Times Square, Billy meets two former Texas Rangers, and convinces them to get jobs with the police.

 
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Together the Rangers, Vigilante and Billy Gunn stop some thieves.  Stuff is nowhere to be seen in this story, but in a previous tale, he was given his own radio show spin-off from Greg’s show, so I assume this is the night he is recording.

 
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Billy Gunn makes one more appearance, in Action 111, and now runs a shooting gallery in Times Square.  A rival gallery has opened, offering big prizes, to lure customers away.  Vigilante uses his shooting skills to win every prize they have, turning them over to Gunn to offer himself at his gallery.  The assumption is made that the rivals want to drive Gunn out of business, and will then no longer offer prizes, but that’s a pretty weak justification for Vigilante’s actions.  But the rivals than firebomb Gunn’s stand, so all bets are off.

 
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There is a good scene, with Vigilante captured an bound behind a target, which Gunn is encouraged to shoot at.

Each of Vigilante’s three recurring foes return during this era.  The Fiddler gets the fewest appearances, though.  His first is in Action 79.

 
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The Fiddler has figured out how to teach birds to sing like humans, and puts his teaching skills on the market.  He cases the homes of those who hire him – essentially the same set-up as when he impersonated the music teacher. From there on, the story is all the usual formula.  Vigilante and Stuff fall into his hands.  Fiddler puts them in a deathtrap, from which they escape.  They defeat him and send him back to prison.

 
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The Fiddler’s second and last story in this period sees him and Greg Sanders perform together in the same band, in Action 91. Big Band music was in its heyday, and the Fiddler, although contemptuous of the music itself, joins one of the bands.  He uses his outrageous musical antics onstage to communicate with his gang, finally hearkening back to his very first story.

 
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Vigilante and Stuff are on the Fiddler’s trail, but cannot figure out how he keeps vanishing after the crimes.  Ultimately, Greg winds up performing alongside the band the Fiddler is in.  He even shares the stage with him, and does not recognize the man until thinking back on it later.  This is also sort of unforgivable on the Fiddler’s side.  After all the times he captured Vigilante, are we supposed to believe he never pulled that handkerchief down and looked at his face.  Or better yet, the handkerchief slipping on it’s own in the heat of battle?  These two men really ought to have seen each other.  I guess they were both too carried away with the music. Anyway, after the performance, Vigilante figures it out, and the Fiddler is captured.

The Rainbow Man makes three appearances during this period, beginning with Action 77.

 
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The Rainbow Man’s men take advantage of the lax security when their boss is taken to the hospital, and break him out.  Vigilante and Stuff learn from the doctor that the Rainbow Man really is quite sick, but doesn’t realize it.

 
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In an enjoyable twist, Rainbow Man’s illness gives him colour-blindness.  Ignoring his own men’s objections, Rainbow Man wears a green suit to match others wearing red.  Vigilante spots him immediately, but wonders what his motive is in wearing the wrong colour. Eventually Vigilante figures out the colour-blindness, but Rainbow Man basically does himself in, stopping his car at a green light, thinking that it’s red.

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The Rainbow Man escapes prison again in Action 103, and Vigilante is hot on his tail. For some reason, the Rainbow Man spins a colour wheel to determine the theme for his next crime, rather than planning it out in advance.  Perhaps that why this spree does not work very well. He pulls off a gold themed crime, attending a fund raiser disguised as an artist.  Greg Sanders is also performing at the benefit, and has learned to pay attention to those he shares the stage with.  He spots Rainbow Man, who can tell that he has been recognized.  For some reason, Rainbow Man does not put two and two together, and figure out that Greg is the Vigilante.

 
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The Rainbow Man eludes Stuff and the Vigilante, and spins his wheel again.  His red crimes do not succeed, though, and he gets captured. It’s odd that Rainbow Man, who has faded into obscurity, outlasted the Dummy, and made more appearances in the Golden Age than that villain.

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The Vigilante story in Action 115 clips along at a rapid pace, with excellent visuals. It’s more crimes by the Rainbow Man, using his colour wheel.  Unlike the last story that featured that wheel, which seemed to imply that the crimes were only conceived after the colour was chosen, this one makes it clear that the Rainbow Man has a number of plans ready to go, and just uses the wheel to pick the next one. He pulls off quite a few robberies during the course of the story, with Vigilante and Stuff constantly on his trail.  They succeed at capturing him at the end, spray painting him and his men green to aid in their identification.

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The Dummy returns in Action 75.  He gets released from prison after announcing that he will go straight.  For some reason, Vigilante gives his ok to this. A series of robberies promptly begin, committed by a shadowy man called the Lash, who steals old blunderbusses.

 
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We discover that the Lash is working for the Dummy, but Vigilante and Stuff still accept his help in tracking down the Lash.  Once the Dummy leads him to where the villain is hanging out, he reveals his true colours, as they try to kill Vigilante.  Vigilante triumphs, of course, and learns that stolen money was hidden in a blunderbuss, but the Dummy didn’t know which one it was, so they were stealing all they could find.

 
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The Dummy meets an experienced counterfeiter and forger while in prison, just before his men arrange a breakout, using a trained dog, as he returns in Action 87.

 
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The Dummy then uses the forger as a front, opening a gallery, which really operates to copy famous paintings and sell them, replacing them with the forgery.  As the Vigilante already knows the Dummy is on the loose, it doesn’t take him long to track them down.  And the dog shows itself to be more useful in a fight than the forger.

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The Dummy makes his final appearance in the Vigilante series in Action Comics 96.

 
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While on the run from the Vigilante and Stuff, the Dummy runs into a troupe of midgets, who work as dancers.  They know who he is, but he manages to convince them that he has been unjustly persecuted, simply for being a midget.  They take him in and hide him.  It’s not long before the Dummy is up to his old tricks, robbing patrons during a performance, and then stealing the box office.

 
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He uses the other midgets as long as they trust him, but has no problem tossing one into a deathtrap, along with Vigilante and Stuff, after he gets exposed.

The Vigilante captures the Dummy, and it’s many years till the character returns. He comes back in the Vigilante series in World’s Finest in the late 70s, and gets his best story to date.

The Vigilante continues in the next period, 1948 – 1951: End of an Era.

Vigilante:  Action Comics 75 – 115 (Aug. 44 – Dec. 47)


Last Updated: May 15, 2017 - 12:13

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