Vigilante. Artist: Mort Meskin.


Original medium: Comic books
Published by: DC Comics
First Appeared: 1941
Creators: Mort Weisinger (writer) and Mort Meskin (artist)
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Comic books of the early 1940s were rife with costumed vigilantes, upholders of the law without official status. But only one of them was actually …

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named Vigilante. That was the western-themed hero who debuted in Action Comics #42 (November, 1941), published by DC Comics. The story was written by Mort Weisinger (who also wrote the first stories about Aquaman, a knock-off of Marvel's Sub-Mariner; Green Arrow, a knock-off of Fawcett's Golden Arrow; and Johnny Quick, a knock-off of DC's own Flash) and drawn by Mort Meskin (who, among many other credits, was the first to draw Sheena, Queen of the Jungle). Probably because of its double-Mort credits, the feature was signed "Mort Morton Jr."

Despite the theme, the series had a mostly urban setting. In everyday life, Vig, as he was called, was Greg Sanders, a country/western singer known nationwide as "The Prairie Troubadour". He cultivated a genial, mild-mannered appearance, but as the son of a western sheriff and the grandson of an Indian fighter, he was as rough and tough as they come. He was equally at home on a horse, when in his native Wyoming, or a motorcycle, when in New York City, where he lived. He first assumed the Vigilante persona when he tracked down his father's murderers, wearing a basic "western" outfit with a broad, white hat, and hiding his identity with a bandana.

Vig picked up a sidekick in Stuff the Chinatown Kid, who became a permanent addition to the cast in Action Comics #45 (February, 1942). Stuff didn't maintain a secret identity, like most of the kids who assisted comic book vigilantes at the time, but he remained a part of the series as long as it lasted — which was quite long, compared with most 1940s costumed characters. In fact, he remained in the Action Comics back pages until #198 (November, 1954), years after most of his contemporaries had been forgotten. His 157-issue run stands as one of the longest of any of Action's back-up features, longer than those of Tommy Tomorrow, Zatara the Magician or even Supergirl.

He even made the cover once, on #52 (September, 1942), but only in a crowd scene with Americommando, Congo Bill and other regulars. Naturally, tho, Superman, the title's star, was more prominently featured than any of the others.

Vig did appear regularly on the cover of Leading Comics, where, along with The Star-Spangled Kid, The Shining Knight and other costumed adventurers, he was a member of The Seven Soldiers of Victory, a second-string version of The Justice Society of America. And he "sort of" got an Action Comics cover — in fact, an entire issue — to himself in 1947, when DC issued a special edition to give away in theatres where Columbia Pictures' 15-part serial, The Vigilante: Fighting Hero of the West, starring Ralph Byrd (whose most frequently recurring role was Dick Tracy), was playing.

After his Action Comics series ended, Vig wasn't seen again until 1970, when he guest starred in a couple of issues of Justice League of America. Two years after that, the guest star role forgotten (along with all his appearances in the late 1940s and early '50s), the entire Seven Soldiers of Victory group was brought back, in a Justice League/Justice Society crossover story that alleged they'd all been lost in time since the Leading Comics series ended in 1945. Vig, in particular, had spent 20 years in the Old West before being rescued.

Since then, he's had brief series in the back pages of Adventure Comics and World's Finest Comics, and a mini-series in 1995-96. He's been on the guest-star circuit, too; and the 20-year sojourn in the past makes it possible for him to do guest shots with DC's traditional western-era characters, such as Bat Lash and Nighthawk, as well as the modern superheroes. In these latter-day appearances, by the way, his last name is often spelled Saunders (no certain relation, tho with characters belonging to the same comic book company, you never know), which is also how it was pronounced in the 1947 serial.

A more modern-style DC hero tried to take over Vig's name during the 1980s, but that didn't last long. A more modern one yet is running around in the background of the DC Universe now. But "the" Vigilante of DC comics remains Greg Sanders, aka The Prairie Troubadour, and that's probably how it'll be for quite some time to come.


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Text ©2002-11 Donald D. Markstein. Art © DC Comics.