|DC/Marvel: Age of Infinite Heroes|
Greg Saunders bears a striking resemblance to a famous Western singer and movie star of the same name who was popular in the 1940's and 1950's. But since -that- Greg Saunders would be well past his dotage, this 40-something cowboy couldn't possibly be the same man. If pressed, this Greg Saunders will admit to being a rancher who did well and retired early thanks to a hefry inheritance. He'll also infer he might be the son of The Prairie Troubadour he so much resembles, and that he still owns family ranches in both the East and the West. He can often be found visiting with friends around Grant's Gym or having a drink at Warriors. He's also a regular at open mic nights in various clubs, playing the guitar and singing traditional Western songs.
The Vigilante is a Western-themed 'mystery man' who appeared shortly before the Second World War and served with the wartime All-Star Squadron. He also fought crime alongside a group of heroes called The Seven Soldiers of Victory, and was active well into the post-war years. As an older hero, The Vigilante popped up occasionally, always riding his motorcycle and taking shots at crime using twin Colt Peacemakers. This Vigilante is younger, but his methods and ride are still the same as the original.
Greg Saunders was born in Wyoming shortly after the end of WWI, and hailed from a long line of frontier folk. His grandfather had been a famous Indian fighter in the Wyoming Territory prior to statehood, and later became a Deputy Sheriff. His father followed in the lawman tradition and served almost thirty years as a Deputy Sheriff and finally Sheriff himself. It was taken for granted that a Saunders boy-child would naturally follow in those famous bootsteps, and his father raised Greg in the frontier tradition. He taught his son to ride, to rope, to shoot and to track from the time the boy was out of diapers. The Code of the West was instilled in Greg by example, and with tales of his grandfather's and other early lawman exploits in the untamed wilderness of the American Frontier. Sheriff Saunders involved Greg in his cases as a lawman when the boy was older, preparing him for the proud day he'd pin on a badge himself and take an oath to serve and protect the peaceful folks of their town from all manner of owlhoots, outlaws and no counts. But Greg had other ideas.
Greg had been born with a song in his heart, almost literally. His first recollections of home included listening to the big console radio playing Country Western tunes, with him pretending to strum an imaginary 'gee-tar' along with the crooners. His parents saw no harm, at first. Many cowboys had a musical talent they liked to express during county fairs and barn dances and the like. They bought him his first used guitar and paid for lessons from the Widow Trahearne. Soon, Greg was using money earned as a young ranch hand to buy his own guitars and songbooks, studying the music and writing his own compositions, and buying early records of the performers he admired. He taught himself to sing, and was helped along by local choir leaders and music teachers. By his later teen years, he was making more money playing and singing for weddings, jamborees and in the occasional honky tonk than he could as a wrangler. After High School, he began traveling further and further to play and sing for bigger money, and he cut a few records of his own. They found play on some area radio stations, and Greg was invited to perform on-air as Greg Saunders, the Prairie Troubadour. All of which brought the young performer to the attention of some radio station owners back east, who offered the twenty year old steady employment for their stations musical programming, as well as a standard recording contract. It was everything the young musician could have hoped for, and despite his father's disappointment, Greg accepted the offer and headed East.
It was an exciting time for a kid from the sticks. Audiences loved Greg, his easy-going Western manner, and even more...they loved his music. His name began to be keep good company in the public consciousness, with other performers like Gene Autry, Tex Ritter, and Sons of the Pioneers. And Greg got his first taste of city life, hanging out with a variety of diverse and creative folk involved in the powerful radio medium...Orson Welles, Bob Hope, Kate Smith, Bing Crosby, Glenn Miller, Jack Benny and Edgar Bergen. When a kid from Wyoming found himself trading quips with Charlie McCarthy and getting his own laughs, it was a good sign a star was on the rise. But somber news from back home brought Greg Saunders down to earth with a single telegram.
While interrupting a gang of criminals trying to rob a large gold shipment, his father had been killed and the outlaws made good their escape. Greg Saunders knew exactly what he had to do. He cancelled his appearances, cleared his schedule, and took the train West to settle his father's affairs. All of them. Disguising himself, Greg took up the case his father had been working on and using his notes, he tracked down his father's murderers and brought them to justice. To his surprise, the gang was actually a group of criminals from back East who had an inside track on the gold shipments and figured they would be easy pickings in such a rustic, backwater setting. Saunders had seen the criminal underbelly of New York and other large Eastern cities and been unimpressed by the efforts of their law enforcement officials and courts to cope with the underworld. He was shocked to see this weed of crime spread so far, far enough to try and choke justice from even small communities like his home. Maybe, Greg Saunders decided as he stood over his father's grave, what was needed was a dose of Western justice, applied to these gangsters on their own turf. But this justice wouldn't come from lawmen with badges and rules set up by pettifogging lawyers and corrupt court judges that tied their hands tighter than a freight line. This justice would be the justice of The Vigilante, the frontier dispenser of comeuppance who worked outside the law to see that right won out...even when evil tried to manipulate the law as a shield. He vowed over his father's grave to become that Vigilante, and to carry the fight to the enemy, wherever they might be.
Greg Saunders returned to New York City and resumed his radio and recording career. And, on the street, a new mystery man made his appearance: A motorcycle-riding Western themed hero with six-guns blazing, leaving gangsters bleeding and roped for convenient police pick up, all courtesy of The Vigilante. Greg found his skilled marksmanship, pugilism, motorcycle riding bravado and lariat tricks were more than enough to handle most street criminals, especially since they were fighting methods far outside what these gangsters had ever encountered before. Law enforcement officials on the East coast were originally skeptical, and more than once The Vigilante found himself having to outrun local authorities who saw him as dangerous, his acts as criminal, as those he battled. But results and public approval slowly began to win out as crime rates dropped thanks to The Vigilante and other masked men and women like him.
Like any good mystery man worth his salt, Greg began to warrant his own recurring set of outlaws to cross paths with. Most were of the non-powered, costumed variety. Villains like the Rainbow Man who committed crimes according to a color scheme and The Rattler who specialized in serpent-themed heists opposed Vigilante on several occasions. But no villain tested the mettle of the cowboy hero as often as The Dummy, an assassin and weapons master who dressed to resemble a ventriloquist puppet. Greg always held that, in some strange way, The Dummy was karmic revenge for stealing scenes from Charlie McCarthy on screen and in radio programs.
And like most mystery men of the time, The Vigilante warranted his own youthful sidekick after a run-in with a Japanese spy known as The Head who attempted to fuel a Tong war in New York's Chinatown. Daniel Leong, grandson of the White Lotus tong's leader Lin Chou, helped Greg clear his grandfather of wrongdoing during the adventure and proved himself a very skilled practitioner of judo, Hapkido and to a lesser extent, kung-fu. The Vigilante recognized him as a good man to have your back in a scrape, and invited him on many cases after the White Lotus affair. Stuff also agreed to teach Greg some of his fighting style, making The Vigilante an even more effective combatant when fisticuffs trumped gunplay. When Stuff was unavailable, and as he grew into manhood, Vigilante also enlisted as a sidekick a crusty older man named Billy Gunn. Billy was an Eastern, born and bred, but was enamored with the Old West and had read extensively about the cowboy life. He had become a Times Square arcade owner to pay the bills, but Billy also trained himself in the skill set common to men of the frontier, and took jobs as a 'Wild West' stage performer, where he came to Greg's attention. When Daniel Leong was killed as an act of vengeance by past enemies of The Vigilante, his number one son Jimmy Leong took up the Stuff mantle to help catch his father's killers. He also rode with Greg on several cases, but was killed himself before reaching adulthood in a gang war during the early days of Las Vegas. Jimmy's brother, Victor Leong, became the third and final Stuff. He retired as a young adult to attend college, but his family would later aid Greg Saunders even further, in a very different manner.
As a new decade dawned, The Vigilante and other costumed adventurers became important to the homefront officials as World War II loomed, and then erupted in American society with the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor. Concerns for the safety of US shores, and for rampant criminal enterprise with so much attention focused on the war effort, led to President Franklin Delano Roosevelt asking all of America's mystery men and women not volunteering for armed service to combine forces as a Justice Battalion, or All-Star Squadron, to defend America. The Vigilante answered the call, and thus ended any law enforcement opposition to his efforts on their behalf. It was in the workings of the All-Star Squadron in a case against a figure called the Iron Hand that he first met and teamed up with several heroes who would become his ongoing crime-fighting pardners: Sir Justin the Shining Knight, the Star-Spangled Kid and Stripsey, the Crimson Avenger and Wing, and a rotation of other heroes including Stuff, TNT, Dan the Dyna-Mite and The Spider worked as a 'group within a group' and called themselves The Seven Soldiers of Victory, as well as sometimes promoting their efforts as Law's Legionnaires.
During the war years, The Vigilante and his posse kept the home fires burning while Greg Saunders continued to entertain a generation of Americans as they rolled up their sleeves and went to work building an Arsenal of Freedom. More than ever before, the songs and ballads of cowboys fighting against outlaws and the elements struck a chord with his audience. And more than one soldier on leave enjoyed the last dances they would ever share with their sweethearts listening to the love songs of The Prairie Troubadour. Saunders was exempted from military service due to his morale-building efforts as a celebrity, so he volunteered as a USO performer and toured the country to put on shows for servicemen and servicewomen. This also freed him up to travel into trouble spots and apply some Vigilante justice against Black Marketeers and saboteurs. Some of these adventures took him back West, and some all the way to the West Coast where Greg met folks involved in the movie business. Before he knew it, he'd been tapped to do some 'Buy Bonds' shorts for the major studios, and then offered some motion picture deals as America's newest singing silver screen cowboy. Though his singing career and careful investment of his earnings had left Saunders wealthy by most folks' standards, the movie deals represented a cash flow that would last well into his retirement years...and fund his Vigilante efforts until he retired from that as well. Over the next few years, The Prairie Troubadour starred in such minor Western epics as "Pistols on the Pecos", "Radio Rodeo" and "Maverick Melody". He also starred in serials as a character called 'The Prairie Troubadour', where Greg's screen character mirrored his own showbiz career, except that the crooner was also acting as a government agent to combat organized crime. In a strange case of life imitating art, Saunders was offered the lead in a serial based on The Vigilante, but turned the part down since it might compromise his secret identity...life and art -too- close together. Ralph Byrd instead got the part, and the on-screen 'Vigilante' bore very little resemblance to the real crime-fighter.
Following the Second World War, Vigilante continued his crime-fighting activites and Greg Saunders continued his celebrity career well into the next decade. Victor Leong went to college and obtained a business degree, becoming a successful investment broker and settling down to raise a family. Saunders also called on his former partner in crime-fighting to oversee his own portfolio and investments, to continue creating self-supporting revenue based on his earnings so that his retirement years, and Vigilante funding, would be secure. Greg also kept in touch with his Seven Soldiers posse, joining them on several post-war adventures. They began to encounter more atomic-age, powered opponents but the experience and bravery of the mostly human, street-level heroes in Law's Legionnaires continued to carry the day. Times, however, were obviously changing.
When the Seven Soldiers discovered their old nemesis the Iron Hand involved in a plot to call upon a dimension-spanning, monstrous entity called The Nebula Man, they tried to thwart the villain that had brought them together years earlier. Nebula Man was preparing to pave the way for an alien invasion of Earth, and so Law's Legionnaires again saddled up to fight the good fight. This time, however, they drew the dead man's hand. Though they defeated Nebula Man by exploding the Star Spangled Kid's cosmic rod, the energies unleashed killed one of the Soldiers and hurled the others through a rift in time, placing them into various eras of Earth's past. Saunders ended up in America of the 1880s, which, all things considered, was not a bad fit for him. He spent two decades there, and for Greg it was a lot like going back home to a simpler time and a simpler place. Though this period is largely unchronicled, Saunders has alluded to having met up with some notable personages of the time during his adventures there. He's been known to quote Wyatt Earp, Wild Bill Hickok, Bat Masterson, Johnny Thunder, Jonah Hex, Cinnamon, Nighthawk, Bat Lash, Annie Oakley, Pow-Wow Smith and others following his chronological exile in the past. What is known is that Greg spent his time working as a part-time Deputy Sheriff, playing guitar and singing as a hobby, and still operating when the need arose as The Vigilante. Eventually, Saunders was rescued by the combined Justice League and Justice Society squad of Green Arrow, Black Canary and Johnny Thunder with his Thunderbolt. Thanks to the Thunderbolt's strange and unpredictable mystical powers, Greg's rescue had come after he'd spent 20 years in the past, while his other Soldier compatriots had been in their exile for much less time.
Returning to a world several decades older than the one in which he'd faced the Nebula Man, Greg truly felt himself suffering a double-tap of time-lag. He still managed to lend a hand to the Justice League and even Superman on one occasion when the Last Son of Krypton faced a supernatural foe in the form of a werewolf, but he was no longer a young man. Or even a middle-aged man. He also took time to help a nephew, Michael Carter, establish himself as a new breed of mystery man, Swashbuckler, in the Houston, Texas area. He mentored the young hero, who eventually assisted Batman on a case before setting aside the hero business to live a normal life. Greg accepted Michael's decision, but it seemed to signal for Greg a change in his own life. The time had come for him to hang up his guns and his guitar and try to catch up on this brave, new world he'd found himself in.
Greg re-connected with his old partner, Victor Leong, and found that the business holdings he'd left in Victor's hands before his exile in time had paid off very well. Victor was himself getting ready to retire, but his son, Victor Leong, Jr., had also attended prestigious business schools and was meeting with much success as an investor. Victor, Sr. and Greg offered Victor, Jr. the position of CEO of a new business venture, something Saunders had always wanted to do in his sundown years: a restaurant called 'The Last Round Up', where modern folks could get a taste of Old West cuisine and a good steak. They opened three locations in Wyoming, California and Arizona, and within five years they had turned the venture into a food franchise across the country. Greg met an older lady friend when he settled down in a newly-bought ranch in Dos Rios, Texas, and asked her to marry him. Together, he and Helen enjoyed a laid-back lifestyle while Greg caught up with the modern world and all he'd missed out on. He studied the current crop of 'superheroes' as the kids were calling themselves, and when a museum collecting memorabilia from his singing and acting career was to be dedicated, Saunders participated. This brought him into contact with El Diablo, a young Western hero he'd read about. Saunders once again strapped on the six-shooters to help El Diablo on his case for 'old time's sake'. He also lent a hand to his old pards in the Justice Society of America during their confrontation with the so-called 'Princes of Darkness'. He also dusted off his adventuring duds to attend the funeral of Lee Travis AKA The Crimson Avenger, one of his past compatriots in the Seven Soldiers of Victory.
But the frost was on the pumpkin, and Greg Saunders was slowing down far too much to be a viable 'masked adventurer' any longer. He split his time between Mesa City, Arizona, where he still owned a dude ranch and movie town set and where his prize herd of Arabian horses roamed, rural New York where he had a more modest spread and ranch-style home, and the ranch in Dos Rios. Putting in an appearance at the Country Music Awards, signing autographs for music and film fans, and attending an occasional serial film fest was all the excitement he wanted at this point, and it seemed not a bad way at all to watch the sun set after a long and fulfilling career.
But when Greg caught wind of a spider-monster threatening communities around Miracle Mesa, a critter he'd thought he had dealt with in a case many years before, he knew he couldn't leave the business unfinished. He also knew The Vigilante couldn't tackle it alone. Greg reached out to several modern legacies of his Law's Legionnaires companions. Five of them...The Whip, Spyder, Boy Blue, Gimmix, and Dyno-Mite Dan...answered the call, while one hero offered a slot on the team, the Bulleteer, declined. The six heroes entered Miracle Mesa, and six heroes including Greg Saunders perished there while fighting the good fight.
The Saunders estate was bequeathed to his widow, Helen, and when she died a year later, all of the Saunders holdings went to Greg's long-time friend and business partner, Victor Leong. But as folks like Jim Corrigan and Lazarus Lane can tell you, the honored dead are not always allowed to rest. In this case, the spirit of Lee Travis, the original Crimson Avenger, reached out to Greg Saunders in death and offered his old friend an option. Since Travis's own death, his enchanted guns had come into the possession of a young woman and were compelling her to act as the new Crimson Avenger, a minor Spirit of Vengeance dedicated to slaying the murderers of innocent victims. While Travis had spent a time of spiritual cleansing in the mystic city of Nanda Parbat before taking up his mantle of Crimson Avenger, experience that allowed him to temper and channel the Spirit of Vengeance in his guns, the new Crimson Avenger had no such preparation and was suffering the unbridled manipulation of the enchantment. Travis proposed a deal that would give the new Crimson Avenger more control over her mystic firearms, while giving Greg Saunders a new lease on life. By agreeing to syphon some of the Spirit of Vengeance magics from the .45 automatics and placing them in his own Colt Peacemakers, the guns of the Vigilante would become likewise enchanted so long as they were used in the cause of justice. Saunders would be resurrected as a 40 year old version of himself to wield them, and would not suffer the interference of the Spirit of Vengeance; his guns would hold the enchantment of what Travis called the Spirit of the Gun. So long as the Peacemakers remain in The Vigilante's possession, the guns would never need to be re-loaded, and their projectiles would have magical properties making them formidable weapons against even the mightiest opponents. Should Greg lose the guns, within a week he would slowly revert to his actual age and die. The Vigilante agreed to consider i if he was allowed to get a message from beyond the grave to Bulleteer. Travis helped him send the ghostly message, a warning to his wayward Seven Soldiers recruit to try organizing another group to face the threat that killed Greg and his team, as it appeared that the monster spider entity was merely the start of the Nebula Man finally enacing his plan to invade our reality with extra-dimensional monsters.
As far as Lee Travis's offer, Greg was content with his life and with his death. As much as he hated seeing his recruits fall in battle, they all went down fighting; they had nothing to prove and nothing to be ashamed of. Greg really didn't care about returning to life. But Lee had been gone from the prime material plane too long to return, and could only watch helplessly as his namesake was driven relentlessly by his guns to kill without consideration of circumstances, without remorse. Travis needed his help to put the new Crimson Avenger to rights, and Travis had always been a good friend when they rode together. If you don't ride with the brand when your pards need you, what kind of man are you? Greg Saunders agreed to Lee's terms, and as a final warning Travis warned him of drastic changes on the horizon for the reality the two men once shared. Greg had been there for a Crisis or two, and recognized the sort of 'change' Lee was talking about.
Once Greg had agreed to the resurrection and heard Lee's warning, he found himself alive and breathing and set smack dab into the middle of a place called Warpath, New Mexico. It was a border town going through a rash of super villain crimes, and it appeared the Spirit of the Gun had chosen this location for a reason. Saunders also found that he had been mystically assigned as Sheriff of this strange village, and set about curtailing the criminal and super villain activity. That was when Daily Planet reporter Jimmy Olsen showed up on an investigative assignment. Greg helped him get the lay of the land and a grasp of the situation with the super villains. To Jimmy's credit, he surmised Saunders's identity and gave his account more serious consideration than he might have otherwise. In any event, Olsen helped blow the lid off the super-powered underworld, and Greg sensed his duty here was done. It was a timely end to his first case of this new life, because the prophecy of Lee Travis was starting to come true: Reality was re-weaving itself.
Saunders sought out Victor Leong, Jr. and explained to him how he'd come back from the dead. Leong helped the deceased hero set up a fake but passable ID as 'Gregory Travis Saunders', and also set aside a considerable part of Saunders fortune to be used as he continued his Vigilante activities. Leong also deeded the Mesa City ranch and the New York home Saunders once owned back to him, to use as bases of operation. Lastly, Victor placed into a perpetual trust fund a percentage of 'The Last Round Up' annual profits for Greg's use. By the time Greg Saunders had set himself back up with Vigilante equipment and resources, and worked his way back to New York City, the Crisis had finished its re-weaving of reality. Now, The Vigilante had a whole new frontier to explore, and a different world to protect from the tyranny of evil men.
Code of the West: Saunders comes from a long line of Western adventurers, his father being a lawman in Wyoming during the late 19th and early 20th Centuries. When Sheriff Saunders was killed by a bandit gang stealing a gold shipment, Greg dedicated his life to upholding the law. But his fight would not be confined to the complicated legalities of modern courts. Greg determined instead to battle crime as vigilantes once did in the Old West, enforcing the code and laws of the American frontier which he saw as a vastly superior and more honorable system. The 'Code of the West' is not a written set of rules, though a few have tried to list them (like Gene Autry's 'Cowboy Code' for his younger fans). However, a few that seem agreed upon and which Greg Saunders tries to uphold would include: Always finish what you start. Be tough but fair. When you make a promise, keep it. Ride for the brand (be true to your friends, allies, pards). Some things shouldn't be for sale. Don't grumble about the cook unless you are ready to tie on the apron. Be modest, not all gurgle and no guts. Complaining is what quitters do, and cowboys are not quitters. Let the past lie, and take the measure of a man by what he is today.
Performer: Though raised to follow in his father's footsteps as a man adept with firearms, the lariat and skills useful in a life on the wide-open frontier of America, Greg Saunders first love was music. As a youth he learned to play the guitar and had a natural talent as both a song writer and a balladeer. As a young man, he worked his way into the Western music business and was earning a good living as a radio performer and recording artist when his father was murdered. He eventually became one of America's most beloved singing cowboy celebrities, as famous as Roy Rogers and Gene Autry. Saunders also starred in Hollywood films like "Pistols on the Pecos", "Radio Rodeo" and "Maverick Melody", adding box office clout to his considerable public profile. He still knows how to work a crowd when the need arises, and entertain groups large or small with music, story-telling and general banter.
Rural Upbringing: Greg's formative years were spent in small Western towns and among rural folk. Even when he's transplanted into large urban areas like New York City, that downhome charm and personality is still in evidence. You can take Greg out of the country, but you'll never take the country out of Greg. His rural upbringing always comes out in his turns of phrase, his manners and the way he interacts with other people no matter what strata of society they may come from. Even when he lived for a time in the 1880's Old West, his approach to the people and life of that simpler time was a natural fit.
Posse Up: Greg operated as a solo mystery man on many cases, but as The Vigilante, he was also a joiner. This was especially true during the dark days of World War II when masked adventurers, powered and no, banded together to increase their effectiveness in combatting crime and would-be saboteurs. During this time, The Vigilante was a member in good standing with both the All-Star Squadron and eventually The Seven Soldiers of Victory. In both instances, he proved a valuable member of the group who contributed to the ongoing efforts while working closely with diverse heroes very different from himself in power levels and outlook.
Honorable: Both as Greg Saunders, singing cowboy and "prairie troubadour", and as The Vigilante, Greg has always conducted himself in an honorable fashion. Like any man of the Old West, his word is his bond. As a performer who rivaled Gene Autry and Roy Rogers as a role model for youth, Greg was aware of the responsibility he had to live up to the ideals put forth in his music. Public drunkeness and displays of bad habits or questionable conduct was not something he'd be part of. As The Vigilante, his sense of honor also guided his contact even while manhunting. Shooting unarmed opponents or punching even the worst owlhoot who was in the process of surrendering was not an option for him. By the same token, he also felt honor-bound not to hold back against criminals doing their best to perforate him with machine gun fire or sucker punch him. The same sense of honor also extended to helping anyone being victimized, especially women and children. That sense of honor, seen as quaint by modern standards, is still firmly in place.
- 2014-02-24 - Monkeys on a Train - A normal day in the life of New York as the cowboy Vigilante saves a train, has pizza with Starfire, and then we segue over to Daredevil fighting alongside Hit Monkey to save his partner Foggy Nelson from the Hand.
- 2014-02-28- The Cat and the Cowpoke - Vigilante sashays by Grant's Gym.