Comic Review: Vigilante by Marv Wolfman, Vol. 1

Published: 1983-1984 (original single issues run)
Written by: Marv Wolfman
Art by: Keith Polland, George Perez, various

DC Comics, 318 Pages

Review:

I remember seeing copies of the Vigilante on shelves and in long boxes back in the day when I used to spend every dollar of my allowance on comics. I never knew much about the character other than he always had comics with striking covers. At the time, I think I just assumed he was one of a million Punisher or Deathstroke ripoffs and never really gave him a shot. But now that I am an adult with some disposable income, I wanted to see what was beyond the great covers that always adorned this comic book series.

Seeing that Marv Wolfman created the character and wrote this series was a big selling point, as this came out when Wolfman was writing some of his best work. I’m primarily talking about his run on The New Teen Titans, which is also where Vigilante debuted – in the second annual, to be exact.

This collection starts with that first appearance and then collects the first 11 issues of the Vigilante comic.

I guess the thing that’s most cool about Vigilante is that while the hero is a gun carrying vigilante out for justice in an effort to correct a flawed system, his backstory certainly isn’t cookie cutter. While he loses his family in a similar way to Frank Castle a.k.a. The Punisher, it’s almost as if he is a cross between Castle and Harvey Dent. Although, he luckily avoids getting half of his face melted off with acid.

The Vigilante is Adrian Chase, an attorney that has tried to stop the mob for years but constantly sees a corrupt legal system fail, again and again. The murder of his family is the final straw. But his origin, once you get to that issue, is really weird and even has some mystical elements to it.

The Vigilante is probably the best good guy out of all the other characters that embody the “vigilante” trope. While he breaks the law, trying to uphold the law, he is often times at odds with himself and second guessing his tactics. After the first 11 issues of his series, he’s still not settled on what way is the right way or if he’s even doing what’s best for society.

There are a lot of layers and Marv Wolfman gave us a really dynamic series here. Frankly, this is vastly underappreciated and sadly, mostly forgotten.

Adrian Chase got new life in modern times as a character on the TV show Arrow but that incarnation was called Prometheus and he was a straight up villain out to make Green Arrow suffer.

If you like these type of characters, this will most assuredly be a refreshing read for you. It is not a retread of dozens of similar characters. It’s a unique take on the genre and it’s much more intelligent than most of the titles you can compare it to.

Plus, the art is strikingly beautiful and the Vigilante has a really cool costume that’s one part retro and two parts badass.

Rating: 8.5/10
Pairs well with: Marv Wolfman’s run on The New Teen Titans, as well as ’80s stories featuring Deathstroke.

Documentary Review: Jack Kirby: Story Teller (2007)

Release Date: June 5th, 2007
Cast: Neal Adams, Jim Lee, Stan Lee, Jeph Loeb, John Romita Sr., Alex Ross, Tim Sale, Walter Simonson, Bruce Timm, Len Wein, Barry Windsor-Smith, Marv Wolfman

Marvel Studios, Sparkhill Production, 20th Century Fox, 64 Minutes

Review:

I’ve been watching through a lot of comic book documentaries on YouTube, lately. I came across this one that discusses the work and legacy of Jack Kirby.

I’m not sure if this was made as a special feature on a DVD, as it was produced by Marvel and 20th Century Fox. Maybe it was included on one of the Fantastic Four DVD releases a decade ago.

Anyway, if you appreciate and admire the great work of Jack Kirby, this is a really engaging documentary.

It is rather short, considering the long career of the man but it does cover a lot of ground. It also interviews a lot of other comic book greats that worked with Kirby or were inspired by him.

This feels like a quickly thrown together low budget fluff piece and if I’m being honest, Jack Kirby deserves a proper documentary or a real biopic. As much as this does talk about how much Jack did, I still don’t feel like it captures the real importance and scale of it all.

But this is still a worthwhile watch because there really isn’t anything better… yet.

Rating: 7/10
Pairs well with: other comic book industry biographical documentaries.

Comic Review: The New Teen Titans, Issue #2 – First Appearance of Deathstroke

Published: November 30th, 1980
Written by: Marv Wolfman
Art by: George Perez, Romeo Tanghal, Adrienne Roy

DC Comics, 26 Pages

Review:

If you’ve been reading Talking Pulp for awhile, it’s no secret that I’m a big fan of Deathstroke. That being said, I have never read his first appearance. The main reason is because this single issue is pretty expensive nowadays, as Deathstroke has gone on to get more and more popular over the years. Especially, after appearing in live action form in the Arrow TV series as well as the recent Justice League movie.

I read this digitally. This single issue is still on my bucket list for comics I want to own before I die but I really wanted to read this simply because it was the first time the world got to see Deathstroke, the Terminator.

On a side note, it also features Grant Wilson’s first time out as Ravager. He is the son of Deathstroke, which isn’t much of a spoiler, as this story is almost 40 years old.

Anyway, this adds a lot of background context to the events of the more famous New Teen Titans story arc, The Judas Contract. We understand more about Deathstroke’s motivations because of this first appearance.

Like The Judas Contract, this story was written by Marv Wolfman and the art was done by George Perez. They were one of the best tandems in comics history and it’s pretty apparent that they were writing this story with the long game in mind.

Perez designed Deathstroke in the same year that he designed Taskmaster for Marvel in Avengers issues 195 and 196. I mentioned in my review about that story arc that the two characters have very strong design similarities. Also, both are at the top of my list as favorite characters under the banner of their publishers.

This was a really exciting read for me. I have a strong bias towards Deathstroke but Wolfman wrote some of the best team superhero comics ever. Perez’s art is fluid and mesmerizing. The two together are pure dynamite.

This issue also reminds me of a time when single issue comics could tell a self contained story with limited space but cover a lot of ground.

Rating: 7.75/10
Pairs well with: other Teen Titans stories from the Marv Wolfman and George Perez era.

Comic Review: Batman: The Penguin Affair

Published: April 17th, 1990 – June 1st, 1990
Written by: Marv Wolfman, Alan Grant
Art by: Jim Aparo, Mike DeCarlo, Norm Breyfogle, Steve Mitchell, Adrienne Roy, M.D. Bright, Randy Emberlin

DC Comics, 69 Pages

Review:

Really good Penguin stories have been pretty nonexistent for several years now, excluding Penguin: Pain and Prejudice. Although, it’s nice seeing him come back around recently in the Red Hood and Batman titles. But I love the character and want something more out of him than just being some gunrunning, nightclub owning, informant for Batman.

I’ve owned the single issues of this series since it came out back in 1990 but I hadn’t read it since then and didn’t really remember the story, other than I liked it when I was in sixth grade.

Going back to it was cool, as it was pretty good and reminded me how much I loved reading Batman and Detective Comics from this era. This story actually crossed over both of those titles, as it appeared in Bamtan issues 448 and 449, as well as Detective Comics issue 615.

It probably also helps that this was written by the great Marv Wolfman, as well as Alan Grant. Back in 1990, I didn’t know Wolfman’s work well enough but over the years, he’s come to be one of my favorite writers from the ’80s.

And while this book had different artists on all three issues, everything looked and felt pretty consistent. Comics today have real trouble with that, as artists can be switched out so frequently that a comic title can look completely different from month to month. If anything, these issues showed me how good editorial and the planning process was almost three decades ago.

What I really liked about the story is that the Penguin had a really cool scheme. He took in this computer whiz hunchback and used him to develop a secret weapon. While not quite a Death Star, the Penguin’s weapon saw him take control of birds so that he can use them to commit crimes. It’s silly, for sure, but it fits well within the style and the time that this was written. Besides, Tim Burton had mind-controlled penguins in Batman Returns, two years after this, and people ate it up.

The Penguin Affair was fun to revisit and if anything, it makes me want to pick up more old Batman story arcs that I have stored away in my big library of floppies.

Rating: 7.75/10
Pairs well with: other Batman and Detective Comics story arcs from around 1990.

Documentary Review: Necessary Evil: The Super-Villains of DC Comics

Release Date: October 25th, 2013
Directed by: Scott Devine, J.M. Kenny
Written by: Scott Devine, Jack Mulligan
Music by: Kris Dirksen (as Methodic Doubt)
Cast: Christopher Lee (narrator), Neal Adams, Clancy Brown, Kevin Conroy, Guillermo del Toro, Dan Didio, Paul Dini, Richard Donner, Marc Guggenheim, Geoff Johns, Jim Lee, CM Punk, Michael Shannon, Scott Snyder, Zack Snyder, Peter Tomasi, Marv Wolfman

DC Comics, mOcean, Warner Bros., 99 Minutes

Review:

This was just a really cool documentary accented by the narration of the legendary and superb Christopher Lee. It also had a fantastic cast of interviewees.

A great retrospective on the darker half of DC Comics’ long history, Necessary Evil was delightful. I enjoyed it so much and wish that it was actually a lot longer. The DC mythos and it’s rich history could easily fill up a season of a documentary series. I could sit through a Ken Burns’ Baseball length documentary on this subject and maintain the same level of excitement. Assuming its as well produced as this is.

You can’t have a great hero without a great villain and this does a fantastic job at making the audience understand how these characters truly are a “necessary evil” in how they make the heroes better and how they make these stories last for decades. Comic books are America’s mythology and a good villain with a good story is at the forefront of the most memorable moments in these epic tales.

This film analyzes a lot of key villains in the DC universe. Unfortunately, you can’t cover every villain in 99 minutes and frankly, this probably only touches on like one percent of them, as there have been so many in the 80 years since the first Superman comic was published. One of the interviewees mentioned that DC’s villain count was into the thousands and really, that doesn’t seem too far fetched in the grand scheme of things.

I really enjoyed hearing from Jim Lee, Geoff Johns and Scott Snyder. These guys have been at the forefront of many of the stories I’ve enjoyed since the ’90s. We also get to see movie directors Richard Donner, Zack Snyder and Guillermo del Toro chime in.

A lot of comic book documentaries are done on the cheap and can’t round up a very solid cast of people to interview. In the last few years, we’ve gotten some really good documentaries on the subject, though. This is one of the best out there and really, who doesn’t love the f’n villains?

Rating: 9/10
Pairs well with: Other recent comic book documentaries: The Image RevolutionChris Claremont’s X-Men and Neil Gaiman: Dream Dangerously.

 

Comic Review: The New Teen Titans: The Judas Contract

Published: January 31st, 1984 – June 30th, 1984
Written by: George Perez, Marv Wolfman
Art by: George Perez, Romeo Tanghal

DC Comics, 192 Pages

Review:

This is one of the biggest stories in Teen Titans history. Many say that this is the biggest and best tale. I haven’t read this since around 1990 or so but I loved it back then. But does it measure up for me now, decades later, and no longer having an elementary school level brain?

Yes!

In fact, I enjoyed this now much more than I did as a kid where some of the emotional weight of the plot didn’t have as much context. I also don’t think that I was mature enough to really understand this very human tragedy and the significance of the characters’ relationships and trials.

The only down side of this collected edition was the inclusion of the Brother Blood story. I know that it is tied in to the bigger picture and is also sandwiched by Robin and Kid Flash leaving the Titans and then the actual four-part Judas Contract storyline but it just feels like filler wedged in. But it isn’t a complete waste of time as it helps to develop Terra and also adds more depth to Dick Grayson’s transformation from Robin into Nightwing.

And yes, this story is the first appearance of Nightwing, which makes it even cooler, as Nightwing is one of my all-time favorite characters, even if his earliest outfit was a bit goofy.

The biggest theme in this story is betrayal and it manifests nicely, which is due to the skill of writers George Perez and Marv Wolfman. In a lot of ways, it feels like this story was a major influence on Marvel’s New Mutants stories several years later, especially when the team started to grow into adults and started to question their place in the world.

The absolute highlight for me is Deathstroke. Here, he was still mostly referred to as the Terminator. The name sort of got phased out after the success of the unrelated Terminator film series that kicked off just after this story arc.

Deathstroke was still a complete and total villain when this tale was written. It introduces members of his family though and if you are reading the current Deathstroke comic series, a lot of these characters are relevant again and this story arc is good for adding more context to Deathstroke’s current run.

This may be a comic book about a bunch of teens but it is more adult than most of the adult heroes’ books from the same era. Honestly, I forgot about how hard of an edge the old school Teen Titans stories had.

If you are a fan of any of the characters in this book, this is definitely a must read.

Rating: 9.5/10
Pairs well with: The most current run of Deathstroke, as they share a lot of the same characters and plot threads related to Deathstroke’s personal life and family.