I’m postponing the series of blogs about the Fantastic Four temporarily today to deliver the goods on the Vigilante movie serial.
During the winter months of the late 70s and early 80s, the BBC screened the serial adventures of Flash Gordon, Crash Corrigan and the King of the Rocket Men. In that tradition , I’ve viewed a number of 40s movie serials in recent years, from the Shadow, to Batman and Robin and Captain America.
This year, I chose The Vigilante, Fighting Hero of the West– “Action Comics magazine’s favourite of millions!” This 1947 Columbia serial starred stolid Dick Tracy actor Ralph Byrd as the Prairie Troubador, Greg Sanders.
The Vigilante is a character I first encountered in this issue of JLA, which was a radical departure from the Fox-Sekowsky interstellar challenges of my early childhood.
I next saw the modern-day gunslinger in a 100-Super Spec and subsequently in the JLA’s 100th anniversary.
Below is a Vig story I’ve yet to read:
Appearing in his own Adventure Comics strip and even teaming with Superman here, Vig was nonetheless a C-lister in the early 70s. But he still turns up from time to time, in last years’s Convergence event, for instance.
In Fighting Hero, singing movie cowboy Greg is secretly a government agent, although I didn’t pick up on this element until the final episode. He investigates the mystery of the 100 Tears of Blood. a string of cursed pearls belonging to Prince Hamil. The pearls have been smuggled in horseshoes and the horses are stolen while Greg is making a movie on the ranch of a nightclub owner. Hooded criminal X-1 makes several attempts to obtain the pearls with the aid of his lieutenants, Doc and Silver with whom he communicates through an illuminated jukebox.
Aside from an obligatory man in a gorilla suit, the serial features rather too many vehicles going over cliffs as too-literal cliffhangers. Ramsay Ames plays Rodeo Queen Betty Winslow, frequently a damsel in distress. The Vigilante’s teen sidekick, Stuff the Chinatown Kid, is played here by George Offerman Jr ( on the phone, above)- a white guy of around thirty and the character seems to be a loyal but dull mechanic. There is also a brief appearance by a character who resembles Billy Gunn, the old-timer who was Vig’s sidekick in his Seven Soldiers of Victory adventures.
The Vigilante was very easy to realise on screen- a motorcycle and a bandana. However, the serial was a trial to watch. Vig had no gimmick like the Masked Marvel’s phonograph record communication and no memorable villain such as the fiendish Dr. Daka or the “Black Tigerrrr”. The revelation of the identity of mastermind X-1 was a complete anticlimax. If this serial had featured the macabre Dummy, how much better it might have been!
While I’m not a fan by any means, I might try James Robinson’s mid-90s Vigilante series:
Next year, I might buy the Spy Smasher serial but I hope it would be more engaging than the Prairie Troubador’s exploits.
Coming soon: more Fantastic Four
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