It’s been a long wait for the follow-up to events in last year’s Scream! and Misty Halloween Special, Rebellion’s first new outing for the old IPC characters, but it’s finally here in the form of The Vigilant, and it was well worth the wait. Following a fairly brief tease in the previous Special, here creators Simon Furman and Simon Coleby (with letterer Simon Bowland. Hmm, is there some sort of Simonist conspiracy at work?) give us a full-on return for Death Man, Blake Edmonds, Doctor Sin, Steel Commando, the new Thunderbolt the Avenger, the Leopard from Lime Street, Yao and Pete’s Pocket Army, now assembled as a loose team of heroes intent on stopping an evil scheme that begins with a group of largely forgotten arch-villains capturing the time-travelling Adam Eterno!
Perhaps predictably, given the relatively simplistic nature of the source material, Furman elects to tweak the backstories of some of the characters and to give them a bit more depth than they had before. Steel Commando is a creature out of his rightful time and place, the 1940s, acting under the delusion that he’s still battling alongside his old comrade Ernie. The Leopard boy has grown up and adapted his look to the times, but his old-fashioned morality causes problems for the team. And Pete Parker, he of the alien Pocket Army, is crippled by self-doubt and can’t understand why he’s there at all. But the biggest revelation concerns the true nature of Adam Eterno, who it seems is not, and never was, the man we (and he) thought he was; in fact, he’s not a man at all…
Oh, and the team has another member, of sorts, in the shape of Max, the sinister but always entertaining computer intelligence running Maxwell Tower (from Scream!), which has leased them the Thirteenth Floor as a headquarters! But then, no reunion of the old Fleetway mob would be complete without Max.
On the opposing side, we have a continually bickering crew of bad guys nominally led by Doctor Von Hoffman (of Von Hoffman’s Invasion fame, and if you don’t buy the upcoming collected edition of that classic strip, you’re really be missing out) and including the Dwarf, the Iron Major, Doctor Mesmer, unwilling pawn Paddy McGinty’s Goat and the monstrous robot from The Prisoner of Zenga... and those are just the ones I recognize! Furman and Coleby also throw in a bewildering array of minor characters in cameo roles, including the Esper Commandos from Pow! and Crabbe’s Crusaders from Buster, and even Danny Doom, last seen as one of the protagonists in Wildstorm’s Albion limited series back in 2006. Yet somehow, these callbacks to past stories don’t come across as self-indulgent, or distract from the ongoing story… and the final few panels make it clear it still is ongoing, though there’s no indication as yet of when and where we’ll see the next instalment.
As well as the main feature, there are also a trio of tie-in back-up tales, one featuring new(ish) character Yao, the others starring veterans Blake ‘Death Wish’ Edmonds and Steel Commando. The Death Wish story, by Karl Stock and Henrik Sahlstrom, is a rather neat parallel universe tale which gets new readers up to speed on Blake’s origin by having him witness it again in flashback while saving another version of himself from feral kids (and for the benefit of former Action readers, no, the story’s title, ‘Kids Rule’, is not a coincidence) while the Yao tale gives some background on the character but is probably the weakest of the three, to my mind. Arguably the best, though, is the Steel Commando story, a rather poignant tale about the Commando’s ignoble fate after World War II, until pressed back into service by Doctor Sin. Somehow, though, despite the credits, I don’t think it was really scripted by Aaron Stack (who fans of 70s Marvel Comics might remember better as the secret identity of Machine Man).
It could and should have been an impossible task to bring such an odd assortment of characters (most of them not seen for decades) to life again and basically build a world for them that feels familiar and allows the reader to consider this new continuity as being as ‘real’ as more established fictional universes. But Rebellion have clearly found the right people for the job. Hopefully, it won’t be too long before we see the next chapter!
Simon Furman, Bruce Leslie, Karl Stock & Aaron Stack (W), Simon Coleby, DaNi, Henrik Sahlstrom, Warwick Fraser-Combe & Staz Johnson (A), Len O’Grady & John Charles (C), Simon Bowland & Sam G (L) • Rebellion, $3.99
Review by Tony Ingram