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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.

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