July Feature – 1980’s Vigilantes.

I know. I know. Heck of a title. How did I come to this? Allow me to explain past research that led to this month’s feature, and the possibility it continues.

This year long concept of looking at media from 1983 has led to some hits and misses. Joysticks was 10 parts but Atari Force had no memory. While looking at lists of titles that came out in 1983 I saw DC Comics “Vigilante”.

Ski goggles aside, that’s an under rated comic book costume. All black with no lines for muscles. Only the best artists have a chance at pulling off this character. You have to be an expert on anatomy or this guy is going to look like garbage on the page. But a comic isn’t enough. Half way through the year I’m looking at connections between titles across forms of media. This Vigilante, Adrian Chase, first appeared in New Teen Titans Annual #2 in 1983, then in his own comic.

Chase was a law abiding district attorney in NYC. Until his wife and child were killed during a mob hit. He dons this new anti hero identity to bring justice to those who use power and money to avoid the law. Throughout the series Chase is conflicted over what he is doing and the title becomes a character study. While the comic is in the greater DC Universe, Chase has no powers. Just a gifted fighter and well trained with weapons. It is a down to earth look at one man deciding he can be judge jury and executioner within the world of capes.

I started to look for a movie with similar themes. Thanks to cable and VHS there is a plethora of titles from this year to chose from. Dozens more in the years surrounding. Thus far I’m leaning towards The Star Chamber. Michael Douglas plays a jurist who watches as guilty men are let go due to technicalities. His anger at the system gains the attention of a secret group of judges. Those who have also seen the flaws and decide to take judgement into their own hands. Douglas’s character is also torn between the methods and the results.

There’s a difference between direct revenge or retaliation and deciding to balance society’s scales oneself. Most super heroes don’t kill. They capture the bad guy, and hand them over to the courts. War zones. Defending your home. But not usually going out looking for a fight. What was happening in 1983 to inspire these stories, and so many more? The influence goes back at least 10 years to Death Wish. It continues into the 90’s. Again, why?

Because that’s when New York was falling apart. Bankrupt, crime riddled, broken. 5,000 police officers laid off. Mafia, muggings, and more. Citizens were literally taking the law into their own hands. The Guardian Angels, the subway shooting of 1984. Vigilantism in the biggest city of the world was not confined to fiction. It was actually happening. These stories didn’t create a new concept. These writers took what was going on in front of them and showed what might happen next.

For July we’re going to take a look at the comic and movie mentioned above. Don’t be surprised if it grows and continues on as readers like yourself help me discover more stories from this time.

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