Vigilante’s strip was another casualty of page cuts during the period 1952 – 1955: We Don’t Need Another Hero. Despite being a western series, which were popular during the era, Vigilante and his now-white sidekick Stuff saw their long-running series in Action Comics ride into the sunset.
Stuff remained relegated to sidekick status in these late days, there were no stories in these years that centred on him, and while the Vigilante-cycle was used in almost every tale, it also never got the focus it had in earlier tales. Most of the Vigilante’s stories stuck more closely to the western locale that had become his stomping ground, and an awful lot of them dealt with aging cowboys, rangers, miners and bandits. It gave the series a somewhat mournful quality, which I don’t believe they intended.
The tale in Action Comics 177 feels a bit like a Batman story, in that it centres on Vigilante’s bandannas, telling the stories of how five of them were helpful in stopping crimes. So it reads much like tales about the Bat-rope, or Batman’s costumes, or the Bat-Signal.
Vigilante relates these different bandanna adventures to Stuff, which is a little odd, as the boy had been around for so long he really ought to have known about most of them already.
Although none of the Vigilante’s classic villains make appearances during these last years, the hero does face an interestingly armed opponent in Action 182, the Lariat. The bank robber carries three ropes with him, one of which is a mysterious “last chance rope.”
The Lariat uses his ropes in a variety of clever ways, some ordinary, like swinging away from the pursuing hero, and some more clever, such as making a rope look like a snake to slow the Vigilante down, or setting fire to one and whipping it around himself to keep others at bay. The “last chance” rope gets used at the climax of the tale, and turns out to be a fuse for a bomb.
The Vigilante himself shows his skill with ropes in an interesting story in Action 172, as he comes to the defense of a horse that has come to be considered a murderous threat to its riders. Vigilante decides to find out if the horse is really as dangerous as is claimed, and rides Thunder while Stuff is on the Vigilante-cycle.
There are some great scenes in the story, Vigilante horseback riding on the top of a train, and taking the horse down into a mine shaft. Sure enough, there is nothing wrong with the horse, just a series of unlucky events. Vigilante even captures some thieves while proving this, and uses his lasso to control the Vigilante-cycle after Stuff falls off.
There is an entertaining tale in Action 165, which sees Vigilante lose his memory of being a crime fighter, and the costume get found by an impersonator. Greg Sanders has forgotten his secret identity, but still recalls his job as the prairie troubadour. It’s Stuff who helps remind the singer of his other persona. But by then the impostor has publicly unmasked, in order to reap the benefits of Vigilante’s celebrity.
When criminals strike, the impostor is required to go into action. He is wildly incompetent as a crime fighter, but Greg and Stuff show up to save the day, and take back his costume and identity.
The Vigilante series had begun as a cowboy in an urban environment, but slowly moved more and more into being a western series. In these later years, a few stories would take Vigilante out of the wild west, and put him into other environments for his adventures, including a story in Action 193 that returns the hero to the big city, culminating in a chase through the subway system.
In Action 175 Greg is hired to perform on a cruise ship, while Stuff remains on shore. The ship gets hijacked, and Greg manages to sneak off and don his Vigilante outfit. Even more fortuitous, especially for the visuals, is that there is a horse aboard for him to ride.
Of all the venue-changing stories, this is probably the most enjoyable, as the shipboard action is simply so different from what we are used to seeing the hero do.
Greg Sanders heads to Canada to perform in Action 179, and as Vigilante is granted membership in the Royal Canadian Mounted Police, to aid them against murderous fur smugglers. The story appears to be set in Ontario, based on the angle of the border, and the fact that the towns have English names.
Nevertheless, the tale relies on the usual Canadian stereotypes, with a French villain, and a climactic battle on a log jam.
Vigilante goes even further afield just before his series comes to an end. In Action 196 he and Stuff head to Europe, as Greg Sanders goes on an international tour. In France, Vigilante comes across the attempted murder of an American foreign correspondent. Following up on information from the journalist, Vigilante gets on the trail of jewel thieves.
This takes him and Stuff to the Netherlands, where they confront the criminals in a windmill. It may be the most tired visual for Holland, but it’s still a change of pace for the hero.
Issue 197 is loosely a sequel to this story, as Greg and Stuff are still on their European tour, this time in Rome. Criminals are out to capture and unmask the hero, and trap him in a Coliseum to do so.
It’s completely preposterous, plot-wise, but puts the hero into a chariot race and gladiatorial battle. This is also the final appearance of Stuff until the late 1970s.
Vigilante has his final story in Action 198. Greg Sanders is starring in a movie as a singing cowboy, but they are concerned that the stunts are too dangerous for him, and hire Vigilante to do them. So Greg has to run around, pretending to be two people. There is also a man trying to kill him, just to add to the drama.
These late Vigilante stories seem to be the adventures of the Earth-1 Vigilante, a character who would return in the pages of Justice League of America in the early 70s. At some undefined point, the series switched from telling the tales of the Earth-2 Vigilante, who had been sent back in time, along with the other Seven Soldiers of Victory, by the Nebula Man, and began chronicling those of his doppleganger. But that is all retroactive continuity. There is no precise way to determine the difference by reading the stories from this period.