James Gunn, Give This Western DC Comics Hero His Own Movie — Now


The Big Picture

  • DC’s cowboy superhero, the Vigilante, is worth revisiting for his unique blend of Western and modern elements.
  • The Vigilante, alongside other Western heroes like Jonah Hex, has the potential for a modern live-action revival.
  • DC Comics has a treasure trove of Western characters waiting for adaptation on screens big and small.

You wouldn’t think that Western cowboys and superheroes would mesh often, but DC Comics would straight up prove you wrong. Before comic books were all about superheroes and science-fiction adventures, they often highlighted Western heroes (real and fictional), fantasy tales, and even horror stories. But one of those cowboys, who has been around almost as long as Superman himself, is Greg Sanders (better known as the Vigilante), and he’s a character worth revisiting after all these years. That’s right, if any DC Comics hero is due for a live-action upgrade, it’s this motorcycle-riding gunslinger.

The Vigilante Is a DC Comics Hero With Western Flair

First appearing in Action Comics #42 in a backup feature following the Man of Steel himself, the Vigilante is thrust into the spotlight with “The Origin of the Vigilante.” Here, longtime DC writer Mort Weisinger (who also co-created characters like Aquaman, Green Arrow, and Johnny Quick before making lasting impacts on the Superman mythos in the 1950s) and artist Mort Meskin envisioned an action hero who blended the Old West style with the conveniences of modern day. Not unlike the Neo-Western heroes we know nowadays from shows like Longmire, Joe Pickett, and Yellowstone, DC’s Vigilante was a man willing to stand up for what was right, no matter the cost. However, he did so with a mask in lieu of a badge.



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Greg Sanders (sometimes spelled Greg Saunders) is a fascinating character. Though he can ride a horse with no problem, he’s often known for his love of motorbikes, shifting the traditional cowboy image into something more contemporary. Additionally, he’s a great shot with a six-shooter and was even a country singer at one point before turning to a life of vigilantism, all after first parting ways with his sheriff father in Wyoming. DC’s original Vigilante (though other DC characters would take up the codename in later years) appeared frequently in issues of World’s Finest Comics, Adventure Comics, and the Superman-helmed Action Comics before he was eventually replaced by the sci-fi hero Tommy Tomorrow in an age-old move that resembles how Woody felt about Buzz Lightyear in Toy Story. The Western has often been set aside for science-fiction, though Vigilante wouldn’t go down so easily.

Versions of Vigilante showed up in the Golden Age of Comics as well as the Silver Age, where he first appeared alongside the Justice League in Justice League of America #78. Having worked with the JLA, the Justice Society of America, the All-Star Squadron, and the Seven Soldiers of Victory, this DC hero has certainly gotten around. But just because he was a part of the greater DCU didn’t mean he didn’t have any exciting adventures on his lonesome. His sidekick Stuff, the Chinatown Kid, might be seriously outdated, but Greg Sanders himself is a cowboy always worth revisiting in the present, especially given how, like the lead character in Rod Serling‘s The Loner, he travels across the American landscape in search of those who need a good dose of justice. It’s this old-fashioned brand that has never worn out with the character, and it’s about time folks recognize him again.

‘Dick Tracy’ Star Ralph Byrd Once Played the DC Character

Lobby card for Ralph Byrd's The Vigilante: Fighting Hero of the West 
Image via Columbia 

But like some of DC’s other greatest superheroes (Batman and Superman), the Vigilante also found his way to the big screen. The character’s popularity contributed to this debut, as did the popularity of the Western at the time. Although he didn’t get his own feature film per se, Sanders found his way to theaters in the 15-part 1947 Western serial The Vigilante, sometimes known as The Vigilante: Fighting Hero of the West. Played by longtime Dick Tracy star Ralph Byrd, Greg Sanders is fully on display here as a masked government agent, codename: the Vigilante. In his incarnation, Byrd’s Vigilante poses as a Western actor while not masked up, and he uncovers a mystery surrounding some stolen pearls. Combining elements from the detective serials popular in the day with the character’s comic book adventures, The Vigilante made its mark, and Byrd was the first (and so far only) actor to bring the character to life in live-action.

But that’s not the only time that the Vigilante has graced fans with his charming presence outside the pages of comic books. In the animated series Justice League Unlimited, the character appears in a cameo role in “Task Force X” (voiced in an uncredited capacity by Michael Rosenbaum) where he holds his own against the entire Suicide Squad before being defeated. From there, the character has two more notable appearances in leading roles in the episodes “Hunter’s Moon” and “Patriot Act” (alongside his Seven Soldiers of Victory unit in the latter), where he’s voiced to perfection by none other than Nathan Fillion. Like Byrd before him, Fillion thrives in the role, adding a Texan twang to his vocals that brings the cowboy Vigilante to life, echoing the actor’s previous Western-themed hero, Malcolm Reynolds from Firefly. Unsurprisingly, Vigilante can hold his own against alien invaders and hulking monsters, but more importantly, his commitment to saving lives is what makes him a force to be reckoned with. He’s also a Clint Eastwood fan, which makes him all the better.

From there, Vigilante showed up in Batman: The Brave and the Bold and via a photographic cameo in the CW series Stargirl, but that’s about it. He’s never held a leading role in live-action since the late ’40s, and he’s long overdue. As a character who was almost as popular as Superman upon his first theatrical appearance, Vigilante has a lot of potential to be revived in a modern capacity. If characters like the Lone Ranger and fictionalized versions of your favorite Western heroes and outlaws can continue to come back for seconds, then there’s no reason that a DC Comics hero like Vigilante can’t either. In fact, given the scope of the DC Universe, he’s not the only one who could be revived on a bigger scale than before.

DC Comics Has Many Western Characters

Vigilante isn’t the only Western hero that DC Comics audiences might want to see brought back to life. Fans may easily recognize the time-traveling, supernatural-fighting Jonah Hex, a character who has appeared in countless animated appearances and his own 2010 film featuring Outer Range star Josh Brolin. Hex has been a fan-favorite for years and continues to make waves throughout the DC Universe, but a sub-par live-action debut kept this Western hero from expanding any further in the public eye. With James Gunn‘s new DC Universe on its way to theaters in 2025 with Superman, there’s no telling what sorts of stories DC Studios is aiming to tell, but one thing is clear: with the revival of the Western, and the massive success of superhero films, why not combine the two?


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General audiences might not realize that the Vigilante and Jonah Hex aren’t the only Western heroes associated with the DC Universe. In fact, DC Comics has quite a few gunslingers and cowboys under its belt ready to be adapted in a Deadwood-like fashion on either the big or small screens. Characters like the masked El Diablo, Bat Lash, or the gun-toting Cinnamon could all make their mark in a Western-themed DC series.

While Vigilante would still be the best springboard for a project like this and if classic DC Comics’ series like Western Comics, Weird Western Tales, and All-Star Western prove anything, it’s that there’s an audience for the genre. Heck, Justice League Unlimited even did a Western episode of their own back in the day (“The Once and Future Thing Part 1: Weird Western Tales”), which highlighted many of these very same heroes. It’s about time DC made another Western, leaving the 2010 Jonah Hex in the dust.

The Vigilante can be found in episodes of Justice League Unlimited, which is available for streaming on Max.

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