Villains & Vigilantes wasn’t the first superhero RPG – that’s generally believed to be Superhero 2044. It was, however, the first superhero RPG to get much in the way of actual traction after its release in 1979. Written by Jeff Dee and Jack Herman, it was originally put out by Fantasy Games Unlimited, who worked on a solicitation-based business model for RPGs – people who’d written their own homebrew games (or released them as small press efforts) would come to FGU head honcho Scott Bizar with their games, and he’d produce them and unleash them on the market with a much higher profile than they’d have had on their own.
An upshot of this model is that in its heyday the FGU portfolio was intriguingly diverse. As well as the occasional attempt to jump on the D&D bandwagon like Chivalry & Sorcery or Swordbearer, you had genuine departures like Bunnies & Burrows and historically-inspired games like Flashing Blades, Bushido and Privateers & Gentlemen. In that context, Villains & Vigilantes, as an experimental foray into a genre that RPGs hadn’t widely explored yet, makes sense as part of that throw-everything-at-the-market-and-see-what-sticks approach; the fact that it was one of the few FGU product lines to get an active flow of support and a second edition suggests that it was one of their bigger successes at the time.