Returning to the Gun: Marv Wolfman on 'Vigilante'

Vigilante #1
Vigilante #1
Vigilante #1

In a world of superheroes, there are those that are bright and uplifting like Superman and the melodramatic like Batman… and then there are those who aren't about saving good people but about stopping the bad ones. In the DC universe, that is Vigilante.

The name has appeared several times with several different people under the mask. From the Wild Western days of the original Vigilante to the modern-day Vigilante introduced in 1983, the general theme of the vigilante known as.. well, the Vigilante… has been of a no-nonsense gun-toting person trying to put a stop to evildoers. But this time there's a new person under the mask.

Introduced recently in Nightwing #133 by Marv Wolfman (who created the original modern-day Viglante in 1983’s New Teen Titans Annual #2), his true identity remains a secret but his style does not. The new Vigilante moves on to his own ongoing series this December, with Wolfman and artist Rick Leonardi in what's been described as an integral part of the DCU Universe. All we know is this --- one DC superhero has turned against the other heroes, and Vigilante must put a stop to it.

For more, we talked with writer Marv Wolfman.

Newsarama: Marv, it's good to talk to you. Let's talk about Vigilante.

In the DC universe you have heroes and you have villains – where does the Vigilante fall into that?

Marv Wolfman: Vigilante skirts the issue. He kills. He's involved with crime. He definitely runs against the law. But he's also someone who is hunting down other villains for reasons that we won't reveal at first but there are definite hints in the story itself. We also don't reveal who Vigilante is too quickly. I worked out the origin of Vigilante and the rough beats of his life before we introduced him in Nightwing, and now we're playing that through here. I will say here that he has served time in prison for crimes he did commit. Other than that you'll have to follow along with the story. I want you to work a little on this to decide who the character is before you learn who he is. But I do promise we won't take too long, either. This isn't something that I'm hiding because it's some major revelation; I just want you to understand the character and what he'll do before I tell you why he's doing it. It's for character building instead of teasing you along. Vigilante doesn't fit into any easy to pin down category.

NRAMA: That's not necessarily a bad thing. The advertisements for the first issue tells of a superhero conspiracy plot that Vigilante is trying to track down – heroes fighting heroes, supposedly. What can you tell us about this first story arc?

MW: I'm not sure how much I can say as it ties in with other titles, especially the various Titans books. I had come up with an idea that I pitched for Vigilante which has grown into the conspiracy and election story. Other than that, I think DC would probably like to reveal the information themselves. Sorry.

NRAMA: Not your fault, Marv. Some things are better left to reveal until we've got the actual book in our hands. In a press release, DC says this new title focuses on street-level crimes and crime-fighters in New York City. What can you tell us about that?

MW: Actually, the New York City location is only in the early issues. Vigilante will go where the crime is and won't stay in any city for too long. Vig, in one of his many identities, works directly with the street level criminals, although he'll also deal with some bigger crimes. I didn't want super villain after super villain, but wanted to write a crime book that is definitely set in the DCU but can when necessary stand apart as well. In the beginning, because we have the Election/Conspiracy story, we will see that Vig is firmly in the DCU but afterward he'll probably have more solo cases that don't always cross over with other titles.

NRAMA: Maybe I'm a fool for asking this with a title like 'Vigilante' – but will there be a supporting cast to this, or is he a strict loner?

MW: Vig has J.J. Davis, his weapons tech, who was created for the 1980s Vigilante comic, so there is an obvious connection between the two titles. Because of his connections with the underworld as well as some police as well as FBI there will be other recurring characters but not issue by issue regulars. Vig doesn't live alone in the world and interacts with others, friends and foes, who will be used as necessary. But since Vig doesn't settle down to one city there won't be endless supporting characters that we have to serve, either. Also, not everyone will survive in Vig's world. It's an extremely violent and dangerous place to be.

NRAMA: You mentioned how this title rubs shoulders with a few others in the first story-arc. How exactly does this new Vigilante fit into the bigger scheme of the DC Universe?

MW: As I stated he exists completely in the DCU although after the Election storyline most of his adventures will be on his own. But the DCU will always be there. So if he's in Metropolis dealing with criminals, he'll probably have to work a bit harder to avoid being found by Superman. The tenor of the stories however will be more down to Earth realistic than what I'd do in a Superman story alone. For Vig, I'm much more interested in doing crime stories than cosmic slugfests.

NRAMA: You introduced this new Vigilante character during your recent run on Nightwing – was it happenstance that he got his own series, or was that the game plan all along?

MW: I think knowing I had wanted to write a more serious crime book, Dan Didio asked me to create a new Vigilante in Nightwing to spin off into his own title if the character warranted it. Because of circumstances, the Nightwing story ended two issues earlier than planned, and the Vigilante title was supposed to pick up on that only a few months later, but for various reasons the title was delayed until the rest of the Election/Conspiracy story could be worked out.

NRAMA: But now it's on the schedule and due in stores later this year.

The identity of this new Vigilante is a bit of a mystery -- is it a mystery we'll be finding out answers to anytime soon, and does it have a connection to previous Vigilantes?

MW: As I said, we will learn who the new Vigilante is, but not in the first issues. Hints will be given but we also won't drag it out too long. Although there are connections to previous characters, who he is in the DCU is less important than his life itself. We will be following a character in the midst of personal redemption and hopefully his personal story will be of interest as well as the individual plots themselves.

Vigilante #2
Vigilante #2
Vigilante #2

NRAMA: Although it's a mystery to readers, how much to you have the new Vigilante's history and origin worked out?

MW: Pretty much all of the important beats. I know who he is, what happened to him, where he came from, and what he went through to get where he is today. I don't know all the smaller specifics because I like to keep characters fresh and surprising, but I know almost all the major touchstones.

NRAMA: In another interview, you said you wrote this first issue in a different style than usual. Can you tell us about that?

MW: I always try to create my stories out of character, and Vig is no different, but I am writing it differently. It's hard to explain but the captions, when used, are first person present tense and that gives a different kind of immediacy to the writings. There are also some dialog and story telling differences but they are nearly impossible to explain in a few sentences. I am trying to write this darker and more realistic but not darker in the usual comic book sense. As I say, it's hard to explain but a bit more obvious when you see it. When I recently wrote Nightwing, for example, I was asked to bring him back to where he'd been so I wrote him in more of my earlier style; a bit more melodramatic and on the nose than I write today. I hope this is written with a bit more subtlety for an older audience.

NRAMA: Will this continue the Nightwingstoryarc "321 Days" in which this new Vigilante debuted?

MW: I intended to and had we come out 3 months after my last Nightwing issue I would have, but coming out a year later I think that would be a mistake. But since Nightwing is slotted to guest in Vig in the next issue I write I may throw in a comment. I just don't want to tie it down to year and a half old continuity. If Vigilante is successful, and these days that's so hard to predict, maybe we could do an Annual or special where I could finish that story, but honestly ultimately the ending would have been somewhat the same as we did only we would have led you to it with finesse rather than with a sledgehammer to fit it in. The story would have made more sense. This is just one of those cases where it didn't work out as planned and you have to move on and do better.

NRAMA: Sometimes the sledgehammer approach works – this is comics!

Let's talk about the faith DC has in this project. Sometimes DC green lights a new series as a miniseries to try it out before committing to an ongoing title, but Vigilante has been solicited as an ongoing from the get-go. How do you as a writer plot out something like this to work in today's market?

MW: Vig was never supposed to be a mini-series so I planned it to be an ongoing series from day one. These days you can't know if things will sell or not, so you have to just do your best. I can't try to figure out the market so I'm writing Vig the way I want to and hopefully others will like it. It's all you can ever do. As for how you plot a story for a continued series you try to come up with backstory that can motivate the character and you can mine for years. You set up a reason for the character doing what he does that can keep motivating him. You try to keep throwing the character off his game so he has to try harder to succeed. It's sorta like living a real life where things never quite happen as you intend them to.

NRAMA: You were the originator of the modern Vigilante, with artist George Perez, back in 1983's New Teen Titans #2. What brought about that creation then, and how do you think he has changed to fit today's times?

MW: The original Vigilante was done because I always wanted to do crime stories. I was the editor at Marvel who put the up-until-then Spider-Man villain Punisher into his own black and white magazine title. I also wanted to do a deconstruction of the super-hero stories I had been writing. Back then I did a Daredevil story where Daredevil and some villain I can't remember destroy the house of some innocent bystander while they fight their battle. At the end I have Daredevil realize what happened. That stuck with me and I wanted to explore the ramifications of being a hero who finds himself getting deeper and deeper into a life style he hadn't planned on. That Vig started out by trying to do good but then found himself mired by what he found himself doing until he killed himself. This Vig is different with a very different attitude, but he does have connections to the previous Vigilante.

NRAMA: Before we go, I wanted to talk about your artistic collaborator in this: Rick Leonardi.

Both you and Rick Leonardi are comic book veterans, and I looked back in the archives to find you've worked together before briefly – on an issue of New Teen Titans in 1986. I won't ask you to remember that issue, but can you tell us how you think Rick's shaping up for this new series?

MW: My God I didn't even remember Rick and I worked together before.

NRAMA: [laughs] I remember reading that in another interview, so I did some digging and found out your paths did cross – albeit briefly.

MW: I've been a fan of his art since the Marvel days and was thrilled when my editor, Michael Siglain, told me he'd be drawing the book. I've seen the first batch of pages and they're awesome so I am completely delighted.

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