Vertigo: The Imprint That Changed the Comic Book Industry

July 23, 2019

 

A few weeks ago it was announced that the Vertigo imprint at DC Comics was being shut down. Hearing that news made me really reflect on how much of an impact the comics published by Vertigo had on me. It was a hard pill to swallow, knowing that there would never be another new series with the Vertigo banner. I know we can't deny the magnificent books that Image Comics and other indie companies are publishing right now, but there's just something about that Vertigo logo that I'm gonna miss seeing.

 

A LITTLE HISTORY

 

Vertigo was first formed in 1993 to house the more "mature comics" being published at DC at the time. Titles like SHADE THE CHANGING MAN, SANDMAN, DOOM PATROL, HELLBLAZER, SWAMP THING and ANIMAL MAN were the first books to switch over to that banner. But it wasn't just a place for mature stories starring familiar superheroes, Karen Berger had bigger plans. As Berger described, Vertigo would "do something different in comics and help the medium 'grow up'".

 

It was Vertigo that helped shepherd a new age of comics. The imprint helped show the world that comics could be more than just men and women in spandex fighting crime. They could tell thought provoking tales of the King of Dreams, stories of men waging war against god, or the adventures of a loveable streetwise, cigarette smoking magician. Vertigo had something for everyone.

 

HOW VERTIGO CHANGED MY LIFE

 

When I first got into comic books I was 5 it was 1993, which coincidentally was the same time that Vertigo first formed 1993. As a kid I, of course, gravitated towards superhero books. I read both DC and Marvel. I loved Spider-Man and X-Men from Marvel, but I have to say I was more of a diehard DC fan. I mean my first comic book was FLASH #82 by Mark Waid and Mike Wieringo, (there's a reason Wally West is my favorite character) and the love just grew from there. I asked my mom to drive me to get comics at least once a week, always asking for more Flash, Batman, and Spider-Man. 

 

As I got older my tastes began to change, I still loved superhero comics but, I wanted something more. It was after reading DARK KNIGHT RETURNS that I really fell in love with how mature and thought provoking comics could be. Luckily my LCS, Collector's Paradise, was there ready to help. Immediately I had a whole new world opened up to me. Now I know these aren't Vertigo, but 2 books that continued me on the path towards different genres were PLANETARY and AUTHORITY by Warren Ellis. Both were completely different then anything else I was reading. If you haven't read either of those, I highly recommend you checking them out. From there I entered the world of Vertigo.

 

The first 2 Vertigo series I read were 100 BULLETS and Y THE LAST MAN.

 

100 BULLETS blew me away from the first volume. Brian Azzarello and Eduardo Risso created a world full of rich and diverse characters.

 

The premise of the book was based on the question of people willing to act on the desire of violent revenge if given the means, opportunity, and a reasonable chance to succeed. It was Agent Graves who would present someone, who had been wronged, with the opportunity to get revenge by providing a handgun, 100 bullets, and documents about the primary target responsible for their troubles. Not only were the bullets completely untraceable by any law enforcement investigation, but as soon as they're found at any crime scene, investigations will immediately cease.

 

What initially were episodic stories each focused on different characters, it quickly turned into one of the most epic crime sagas in fiction. As a teenager this book blew my mind, and still to this day is one of my favorite comic series.

 

Y THE LAST MAN was another book that transformed the way I looked at comics. Brian K. Vaughan and Pia Guerra  told the tale of Yorrick Brown and his pet monkey Ampersand, the only males who survived the apparent global androcide. As the only surviving males in a world of women, hilarity obviously ensued. Not only did they have to keep themselves hidden, but they sought to find a reason why they survived this plague. I could literally write an entire article on this series, which now that I think about it maybe I will.

 

From there, I sought out everything published by Vertigo. I picked up PREACHER, TRANSMETROPOLITAN, and FABLES. Which mind you are also some of the best comic series I've ever read.

 

It wasn't till years later that I finally read SANDMAN. The sheer magnificence and scope of that series would have been too much for my young mind to handle anyways though. There's a reason that SANDMAN is considered one of the pieces of literature in existence. Neil Gaiman masterfully wove one of the most grandiose epics ever to grace a comic book page.

 

I couldn't talk bout Vertigo unless I mentioned DMZ and SCALPED. I can't tell you how often I've recommended both of these books. Not only do I talk about them to anyone who will listen, but they are some of the only series that I've read multiple times.

 

DMZ is set in the near future, where a Second American Civil War has turned the island of Manhattan into a demilitarized zone (DMZ), caught between forces of the United States of America and secessionist Free States of America. It is by far one of the most relevant comic books to what our society is and can be. Brian Wood and Riccardo Burchielli created one of the most addictive and thought provoking comic books I've ever read. The entire book is shown through the eyes of Matty Roth, and how he deals with crisis after crisis. It is both brutal and compelling at the same time.

 

Then there's SCALPED by Jason Aaron and R. M. Guéra. One of the greatest modern crime/western stories of our generation. The series is set on the fictional Indian Reservation Prairie Rose, in modern-day South Dakota. It follows Dashiell Bad Horse as he goes undercover to take down Chief Lincoln Red Crow, the head of an organized criminal organization. From there the series covers the poverty and drug addiction/alcoholism that run rampant in this town. It's Aaron's deft hand at characterization that makes this my favorite work of Jason Aaron.

 

I could go on with all of the amazing series that Vertigo has blessed us with over the years. But here is a small list of the Vertigo series I've read and highly recommend.

 

 

100 BULLETS

DMZ

SCALPED
AMERICAN VAMPIRE

TRANSMETROPOLITAN

Y THE LAST MAN

ANIMAL MAN

DAYTRIPPER

SANDMAN

FABLES

SWEET TOOTH

THE INVISIBLES

PREACHER

NORTHLANDERS

HELLBLAZER

SWAMP THING 

SHERRIF OF BABYLON

 

These are just a few of the amazing books published by Vertigo. They're are way more books I just haven't had the chance to read them yet.

 

BEGINNING OF THE END

 

What Karen Berger did at Vertigo was unheard of at the time. She spearheaded a movement that's ramifications are still being felt in comics today. While Berger was responsible for bringing all that amazing talent to DC in the late 80's and cultivating the line of comics at Vertigo, the hiring of Shelly Bond was just as crucial to it's success.

 

While some fans, including myself, were devastated to hear of Vertigo being shut down the writing has been on the wall for years. When Berger left in 2013, it was only 3 short years before Bond left also. It was clear that DC had stopped putting focus into the Vertigo line. Not to mention that many creators were taking their creator owned work to Image Comics or other publishers instead. After leaving DC, Berger formed Berger Books at Dark Horse Comics and Bond formed Black Crown at IDW.

 

WHAT HAPPENS NOW?

 

So while DC has stated that they were trying to streamline their "lines", it's assumed that some of the Vertigo books will be rebranded under DC BLACK LABEL. Only time will tell, what the success of that line or what type of books will be published under that brand. So far it's been a lot of Batman related books. But they recently announced a Question book, Joe Hill is getting his own line of horror books (Hill House Books) and Phillip Kennedy Johnson is launching a new fantasy book called THE LAST GOD.

 

Overall, losing Vertigo makes me sad but I will always be grateful for the years of great storytelling and how it broadened my horizons and showed me a new way of looking at comics. Vertigo was the first step at showing me the greatness of what could be done in the comic book medium.

 

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