VIGILANTE: SOUTHLAND #1 [Review]

Vigilante: Southland 1 Cover
VIGILANTE: SOUTHLAND #1/ Written by GARY PHILLIPS/ Art by ELENA CASAGRANDE/ Colors by GIULIA BRUSCO/ Letters by TODD KLEIN/ Published by DC COMICS

On any other week, Vigilante: Southland might have been the talk of the comics-reading community. Doubtless the same people who complained about a lack of whites on Luke Cage would be decrying it as another example of Social Justice Warriors running amok were they not already occupied losing their collective minds over a comic book staring a polyamorous feminist. Of course anyone who knows anything about the history of American Comic Books and the superhero genre could tell you that they are both built on a foundation of waging war for social justice and Vigilante: Southland is a fine continuation of that tradition.

A former basketball star who washed out of the pro-leagues overseas, Donny Fairchild now works as a maintenance man at his former college. Donny doesn’t care much about politics. Or much of anything beyond playing ball with his friends and his girlfriend, Dorrie Smallwood.

Politically, Dorrie is as active in the community as Donny is stationary. After Dorrie is killed by a hit-and-run driver, Donny can’t help but go hunting for her killer when the police come up empty. Then Donny discovers a costume and an electrified meteor hammer among Dorrie’s belongings, as well as the possibility that her death was no accident!

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Acclaimed writer Gary Phillips covers familiar ground with his script for this issue. Raised in South-Central Los Angeles, much of Phillips’ previous work developed from his own activism. Indeed, Donny’s estranged father – a club owner with friends in both high and low places, whom Donny reluctantly turns to for help in his investigation – could be an Elseworlds version of Phillips’ most famous protagonist, Ivan Monk.

This first issue concerns itself primarily with set-up, introducing our cast and establishing the setting of Southland. Phillips’ prose accomplishes both goals effectively and we get a solid grasp on Donny’s character early on. He’s a likable protagonist and the scenes involving his life both before and after Dorrie’s death prove interesting enough to make-up for the lack of action thus far. Doubtless we’ll have combat aplenty in the issues to come.

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I’m a great fan of artist Elena Casagrande from her previous work on various Doctor Who comics, yet I was blown away by her work here. Casagrande’s excellent character designs and visual storytelling technique display themselves fully throughout the issue. Her inks are slightly heavier than usual, befitting the neo-Noir tone of Phillps’ script. Cassagrande also sneaks some nice subtle touches into the artwork, such as all of Dorrie’s clothes having V-necks with embossed collars that make the V stand out like a superhero emblem. The color art by Giulia Brusco and Todd Klein’s lettering are equally excellent.

Readers who enjoy a good mystery or tales of street-level justice will find Vigilante: Southland an enjoyable tale. My only criticism of the series as a whole is that Donny’s newfound heroism must be born of a fridging. I cannot help but wonder how revolutionary a comic focused on Dorrie would have been. Still, I cannot fault this story for what it is. And Vigilante: Southland is damn good.

Rating 4

About Matt Morrison

Matt "Starman" Morrison is The Grand Exalted High Macha of Raspur - a non-existent but real-sounding country. He has been writing about comics since before the word "blogging" was coined. He enjoys acting, role-playing, movie-riffing and sarcasm. You can follow his adventures on Twitter, @GeekyGeekyWays.

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