The original Vigilante was a western-themed hero who debuted in Action Comics #42 (Nov. 1941). Greg Sanders (the spelling was changed to "Greg Saunders" in the 1990s) grandfather was a Native American fighter, and his father was a sheriff in Wyoming. As a young man, Saunders moved east to New York City and became a country singer, radio's "Prairie Troubadour". Greg returned to his home after his father was killed, bringing to justice the gang of bandits who killed him.
The Vigilante, like many heroes of the era, acquired a sidekick to aid him in his crime fighting. Stuff the Chinatown Kid, was introduced in Action Comics #45. He assisted the Vigilante when a Japanese spy known as the Head framed Stuff's grandfather for provoking a Tong war.
The majority of the Vigilante's solo adventures were against non-powered, costumed criminals. He was an excellent brawler, trick shooter, sharpshooter, horseman and motorcycle rider, and an expert with the lariat. These skills gave him advantage over his adversaries in his adventures, which centered primarily in New York City.
The Vigilante fought few foes that could be considered real "super-villains". His arch-foes were the Dummy, a brilliant weapons inventor and professional killer who resembled a ventriloquist's dummy in both size and facial features, and the Rainbow Man, who committed crimes with a color motif. The Vigilante also encountered The Rattler on several occasions, as well as The Fiddler and The Shade, though the latter two villains are not the same foes that battled the Flash.
The Vigilante was also a member of the Seven Soldiers of Victory (also known as the Law's Legionnaires), one of the earliest super-hero teams (appearing in Leading Comics). In these adventures, his sidekick Stuff never appeared, being replaced by an old, somewhat crotchety man named Billy Gunn. The Vigilante was also one of the few super-hero features to survive the end of the "Golden Age" of super-hero comics, lasting as a solo feature until Action Comics #198 (1954), when he was permanently replaced by Tommy Tomorrow.
The Vigilante was revived in the seventies in the pages of Justice League of America, when the Seven Soldiers of Victory were brought back into active continuity. Like Green Arrow, his Earth-2 counterpart was a lost member of the Seven Soldiers, but he did not participate in the JLA/JSA quest to rescue them. All the members were hurled through time after defeating Nebula Man (except for Wing who was killed). The Silver Age Green Arrow, Black Canary and Johnny Thunder and Thunderbolt saved the Vigilante from a tribe of Native Americans in the Old West who felt that eventually the white men would take over their land. The Earth-1 Vigilante's contact with the League was limited to a two-part story where he aided the JLA against aliens determined to over-pollute the Earth. He remarks in his first appearance in Adventure Comics that the League did help him re-establish his career, even providing him with a new motorcycle. He later teams up with, and saves the life of Superman (his marksmanship allowed him to shoot a silver bullet at the shadow of a werewolf who, being a magical creature, was about to kill the Man of Steel). He also received a periodic feature in the pages of Adventure Comics, drawn by both Mike Sekowsky and Gray Morrow, and also in World's Finest Comics.
The short-lived series in World's Finest culminated in the Vigilante coming to Gotham City to meet his old partner Stuff, only to find his friend murdered by his old enemy, the Dummy. At the end of this series, The Vigilante rode off with Stuff's son (who had been trained by Richard Dragon).
Vigilante continued to sporadically appear as a superhero in DC Comics, having been established as running a dude ranch in Mesa City (the former home of Western hero Johnny Thunder).
In Grant Morrison's Seven Soldiers #0, the Vigilante establishes a new Seven Soldiers of Victory to battle the monstrous spider of Miracle Mesa. He is apparently killed alongside the rest of the team, only to re-appear as a ghost in Bulleteer #3 (also part of the Seven Soldiers series). He attempts to recruit a new team of seven to further battle the threat of the Sheeda. He claims Bulleteer's actions will allow him to 'rest'.
In Superman's Pal Jimmy Olsen Greg Saunders appears, alive, as the sheriff of Warpath, a town on the Mexican border formerly known for supervillain activity. Olsen's narration notes that Saunders has been dead and came back to life, but does not go into detail. Olsen also notes that Saunders appears younger, though he clearly retains all of his past experience. Saunders and a mysterious version of the hero known as the Guardian beat back a villainous invasion from Mexico.
Adrian Chase first appeared as the Vigilante in 1983's New Teen Titans Annual #2 by writer Marv Wolfman and penciler George Pérez. A New York City district attorney whose family was killed by mobsters, Chase sought justice in his own way as the Vigilante. After his initial appearance he gained his own ongoing series, initially written by Wolfman, and later included writers such as Alan Moore (issues #17-18) and Paul Kupperberg. In the early issues of the series, it was shown that Adrian took pains to make sure he did not kill his enemies (unlike the Punisher) - he would regularly use non-lethal weaponry to disable his opponents. However, in issue #37, Vigilante allowed a police officer to die as a direct result of his actions. Vigilante then became more violent and cared less about who was caught in the crossfire.
Throughout the series Chase was tormented over the justice of his actions and the pain it had brought to others. As early as the second issue of the series Chase flirted with abandoning his costumed identity after he savagely beat an ex-convict who turned out to be innocent. Eventually Chase abandoned his identity as Vigilante, believing that he could be both more effective and also happier as a judge. However, during his absence the identity of Vigilante was assumed, in succession, by two of his friends without his knowledge.
The first of these was fellow judge Alan Welles, who operated in a much more violent manner, even executing petty thieves. Chase eventually tracked down and killed this incarnation of Vigilante, without realizing it was his friend. The incident led to increased guilt on Chase's part and also increased scrutiny from a law enforcement task force headed by Harry Stein, as he attempted to cover up Alan Welles' role as Vigilante.
Shortly after this Dave Winston, Adrian Chase's bailiff assumed the Vigilante identity. Refusing to kill, Winston traded on the fierce reputation of Vigilante to intimidate information out of thugs. He was murdered by Peacemaker while attempting to stop the hijacking of a plane which Chase was on. In the wake of Winston's death, Chase once again assumed the role of Vigilante, feeling that it was the only way to protect those he loved. Seeking revenge on Peacemaker, the out of shape Chase was beaten in a fight and unmasked on live TV, thereby ending his secret identity and forcing him even further into the role of Vigilante.
As the series progressed Chase became ever more conflicted over his role as Vigilante, the violence he engaged in, and the harm he caused to those around him. He also became increasingly mentally unstable—alternating between bouts of enraged violence, paranoia, and terrible remorse for his actions. Near the end, he even resorted to murdering innocent police officers who got in his way. His mounting guilt culminated in the final issue of his series (#50) where, after contemplating the course of his life, Chase committed suicide.
Before his death, he frequently battled Cannon and Saber and Electrocutioner.
Adrian makes an appearance in the Day of Judgment limited series, as one of the dead heroes in Purgatory. He and the others run interference, battling the guardians of the realm, so other living heroes can escape with the soul of Hal Jordan. When the crisis concluded with Hal Jordan assuming the mantle of the Spectre, Jim Corrigan appeared briefly on Earth, stating that the efforts of Chase and other heroes in Purgatory had earned an appeal in the shining city.
The next Vigilante was Patricia Trayce, a rogue Gotham City police detective who teams up with Deathstroke the Terminator in the Deathstroke the Terminator series written by Marv Wolfman and George Pérez. Trayce found the gear of the second Vigilante (Adrian Chase) and adapted the guise. She was also Deathstroke's lover. She first appeared in Deathstroke the Terminator #6. In Deathstroke the Terminator #11, Pat Trayce takes up the uniform of the Vigilante. She was trained by Deathstroke, and soon started to work alone.
Late in 2005, DC published a Vigilante limited series by writer Bruce Jones and artist Ben Oliver. The identity of the title character is initially left mysterious, but apparently this is a new incarnation of the character.
His name was Justin "Jay" Sutter. When he encountered a murderer as a child, he created a second personality in his mind, The Vigilante. Jay at some point changed his name to Justin Scott Powell and would become the Vigilante subconsciously. While Powell was unaware of the Vigilante personality, the Vigilante knew about Powell. At the end of the miniseries, Powell was able to reconcile the two personalities.
This Vigilante was last seen, alongside Wild Dog and the current Crimson Avenger, on a rooftop in the great battle of Metropolis, raining bullets down on the Trigger Twins, the Madmen, the second Spellbinder, and others in Infinite Crisis #7.
The most recent Vigilante appeared in Nightwing #133-137. While he wears a costume similar to Adrian Chase's, it is a new vigilante under the mask. Note that Marv Wolfman has pointed out the "321 Days" arc was cut short by two issues due to Batman R.I.P. which required the Nightwing title to feature in it, so the final story as seen ended without any clear closure for any of the characters.
This Vigilante also appears in Gotham Underground, set after his initial encounter with Nightwing. He is shown to be a formidable fighter, but is defeated easily by Batman.
Following the events of Vigilante #1 (February, 2009), the new Vigilante is seen out of costume for the first time and is referred to by his ally JJ as "Dorian." He initially operates under the identity of Joe Flynn, a small-time criminal with a rap sheet, but it is later revealed that the real Joe Flynn is dead. Dorian has the technology to graft another person's face to his own and his assistant changes the police records so his fingerprint and DNA point back to his fake identity. At the end of the first story arc, Dorian abandons the Joe Flynn identity and begins to make preparations to assume a new identity of a dead and forgotten criminal. It is also revealed that Dorian is the brother of the late Adrian Chase in Vigilante #9. Little is known about his past, but his wife is dead and he served time in prison for his work with the mob.
At one point, JJ warns Vigilante about the dangers of pushing himself to the point of destruction, commenting that he "saw it happen" with Adrian Chase. Vigilante describes his predecessor as a fool.
This Vigilante plays an important role in the "Deathtrap" crossover with the Teen Titans and the Titans. He targets the unbalanced Jericho for assassination, bringing him into conflict with the various heroes. Vigilante succeeds in tracking down Jericho but, having promised Rose Wilson not to kill him, instead gouges Jericho's eyes out to stop him from using his powers.
The Vigilante had been operating unseen in Europe for several years before moving back to the U.S. and going after local mobs and criminals.
The Vigilante is a superb hand-to-hand combatant, a brilliant marksman, and a master of the lariat.Pre-Crisis, there were both an Earth-1 and an Earth-2 Vigilante. Both were Greg Saunders from their respective Earths. Earth-1's Vigilante was shown for the first time in the pages (and cover) of the JLA issue where the superteam moved to their classic headquarters on an orbiting satellite (Justice League of America volume 1 # 78).
In Detective Comics #493 it was revealed that Greg Saunders had a nephew, Michael Carter, who became a costumed crimefighter too, the Swashbuckler.
In the series Kingdom Come, artist and writer Alex Ross portrays the cowboy version of the Vigilante fighting alongside the rogue metahumans as a steampunk cyborg with a pinwheel/steam engine arm with a Gatling gun on the end.
The ongoing Batman Beyond comic book series introduces Jake Chill, the great grand nephew of Joe Chill, the murderer of Thomas and Martha Wayne. He was a member of the "Quiet Squad", a secret group of four men inside Wayne-Powers security who acted as Derek Powers' personal hit and intimidation squad. He took part in the raid on Warren McGinnis' home, and is in fact the man who fatally shot him. When Derek Powers disappeared after being defeated by Batman and sunk to the bottom of the harbor, Quiet Squad was fired and Jake, left destitute and stricken with guilt over the murder, moves to the slums of Gotham on the ground level. He descended into alcoholism and depression but, after fighting off a gang of thieves from his apartment, finds new purpose in life and decides to become a superhero using his old Wayne-Powers security equipment in an attempt at redemption. Naming himself the Vigilante, he helps defend Gotham during the Jokerz uprising, alongside Batman, the new Catwoman and Dick Grayson. Vigilante proved himself to be both dedicated and competent, but is not yet totally trusted by the GCPD or Batman. He became a frequent partner of Batman, but died from the Jokerz during the "Mark of the Phantasm" story line. During the plot of this, Terry finds out that Jake killed his father, and though he's furious and might never forgive Jake, he appreciates his heroism and thinks he didn't deserve to die the way he did.
The Vigilante (modeled after the Adrian Chase version's costume) appears in The CW's live-action television show Arrow, portrayed by an as-of-yet unidentified actor, and with Mick Wingert providing the disguised voice. He debuts in season five, as a ruthless crime-fighter operating in Star City who mercilessly targets criminals, sometimes harming innocents in the process. The Vigilante's identity will be revealed in season six.
Also in Arrow, "Adrian Chase" is a false alias used by the season five's main antagonist, a serial killer known as Prometheus whose real name is Simon Morrison (portrayed by Josh Segarra), a District Attorney in Star City who uses his cover to get close to Mayor Oliver Queen.
Vigilante appears in The Flash. In the episode "Invasion!", the Vigilante was fighting against Green Arrow and Spartan in a warehouse, but before his bullets could hit them, they were rescued by The Flash to recruit them for his stand against the Dominators.
In Legends of Tomorrow episode "Doomworld", the Vigilante's mask can be seen in a glass display alongside other heroes masks inside Damien Darhk office, who has become Star City's mayor after the alteration in the reality.
The Greg Saunders version of Vigilante appears in Justice League Unlimited, voiced by Nathan Fillion (in the episodes "Hunter's Moon" and "Patriot Act") and by Michael Rosenbaum (in the episode "Task Force X" although uncredited). This version is with his traditional cowboy-style hat, costume and red neckscarf mask as well as rides a motorcycle and appears to use a special pair of revolvers with glowing red chambers that never run out of ammo. Like his comic book counterpart, there was a suggestion that he is a country singer, as he claims to play the guitar. He was usually paired with Shining Knight, as they were close friends, despite the differences between their lone wolf and chivalrous attitudes. In "Hunter's Moon", Vigilante mentions that he was imprisoned by the Thanagarians during their invasion and he openly questions Shayera Hall's loyalty to the league even while working to save her from her own people. In "Patriot Act", Vigilante was a part of the team that paid a homage to the Seven Soldiers of Victory when he and his other non-superpowered teammates were faced against General Wade Eiling.
The Greg Saunders version of the Vigilante makes an appearance in the teaser of the Batman: The Brave and the Bold episode "Night of the Batmen!", voiced by John DiMaggio. While Batman fights a group of mobsters, Vigilante sings a ballad in his honor while also helping him out using his guitar as a gun.
In 1947 Columbia Pictures released a 15-chapter serial loosely based on the original Greg Saunders character, called The Vigilante. It starred Ralph Byrd in the title role but changed several aspects. In the serial, The Vigilante is a masked government agent undercover as a playboy actor starring in Westerns. His mission in the serial is to investigate the disappearance, and possible smuggling into America, of a string of rare blood red pearls. The costume has been slightly changed as well but The Vigilante still rides a motorcycle and wields a gun. This serial makes Vigilante one of the first DC Comics characters adapted to live action film (along with Congo Bill, the same year). Batman was adapted into a serial in 1943 and Hop Harrigan in 1946, but Superman was not made until 1948. The Fawcett Comics characters, Captain Marvel and Spy Smasher, which were later bought by DC, had serials in 1941 and 1942 respectively.
The Greg Saunders version of Vigilante makes a brief cameo appearance in the animated film Justice League: The New Frontier.