Movies & TV / Columns

Favorite Vertigo Series of All Time

June 26, 2019 | Posted by Steve Gustafson
The Sandman Vertigo

I’m Steve Gustafson and thanks for stopping by. Don’t forget to check out 411mania’s Comic Book Review Roundtable, every Thursday! Read up on the best reviews and let us know what you’re reading as well. Click to read the latest Comic Book Review Roundtable! Silver Surfer: Black #1, Superman’s Pal, Jimmy Olsen #1, and more!

On with the show!

Last week we discussed our Thoughts on the Legion of Super-Heroes Return. Here’s what some of you had to say:

Richard H1S: “Legion has been one of the most criminally misused properties of the last decade. Every time it looks like they have it right or are heading in the right direction they seem to just drop it.

I hope they can figure something out, but I’m not holding my breath.”

Al Lobama: “I’m torn on this, as LOSH has been one of the DC books I have consistently collected over the course of my fandom. I’ve got all of the Silver Age and Jim Shooter runs in hardcover collections, in addition to the Paul Levitz run, the post Crisis Keith Giffen reboot run, the Waid/Peyer Zero Hour reboot (my personal favorite), and was even pleasantly surprised by the quality of the Waid/Kitson Infinite Crisis reboot. And while there have been some bad Legion runs in between all of that good stuff, I would still love to see the series come back if they’ve got a creative team that can do it well.

At the same time, I don’t know if this is the kind of book that plays to Bendis’s strengths as a writer. He has been and always will be a guy who prefers dialogue over action, and the Legion of Superheroes has never been the type of heroes that sit around a table eating sandwiches and chit chatting. They’re about action first and foremost; doing incredible things in an incredible setting. The books that get the Legion wrong are the ones that don’t understand that the book is supposed to be FUN, and while Bendis has written a whole bunch of good comic book series throughout his career, I don’t know if he’s ever written a fun one.

With that said, I will go into this new series with the mindset that Bendis is trying to grow as a writer by working in a genre he’s never tackled before. Here’s hoping that he adjusts his writing style to fit the Legion instead of adjusting the Legion to fit his writing style.”

Wrestling Fan: “I ask for 3 things out of the new Legion book:
Starboy/man being his wonderful crazy self
Matter Eater Lad chewing stuff and kicking ass across the cosmos
and Arm-Fall-Off-Boy periodically showing up, looking for his arm.

That’s all I need to truly enjoy the Legion.”

Robert Lehto: “Honestly I’ve always wondered why they never tried a Legion movie. Its probably the only series were people can’t complain about things being different because the Legion is always different.”

Whole F’n Truth: “You’re asking Bendis to breathe life into a super hero team….I give it 8 issues before cancelation”

Paul Smackage: “Who can keep up with all of these reboots and multiple comic books with the same superheroes?”

To read all of last week’s comments go HERE! As always, thanks for the input!

This week we discuss our…

Favorite Vertigo Series of All Time

It’s done. The announcement that Vertigo Comics would be shutting down and merging its current concepts and properties with the DC Universe came quick and without explanation. The legendary line enjoyed many years of success and popularity, giving readers numerous classic and beloved books and stories.

DC’s Vertigo launched in 1993 under the guiding hand of Karen Berger, who had joined DC Comics in 1979. She got her start as an assistant to editor Paul Levitz and by the mid-1980s, Berger was the editor for Wonder Woman and Amethyst, Princess of Gemworld. She began pulling in writers from the UK that included Neil Gaiman, Peter Milligan, and Grant Morrison, finding “their sensibility and point of view to be refreshingly different, edgier and smarter” than those of most American comics writers, and worked with them and others on the superhero/science fiction series Animal Man, Doom Patrol vol. 2, and Shade, the Changing Man vol. 2; the Black Orchid miniseries, The Sandman vol. 2, and the horror titles Hellblazer and The Saga of the Swamp Thing.

These titles all carried a “Suggested for Mature Readers” label on their covers and shared a more adult theme. In a 1993 editorial meeting with Berger, Levitz, DC publisher Jenette Kahn and managing editor Dick Giordano, Berger was given the mandate to place these titles under an imprint that, as Berger said, would “do something different in comics and help the medium ‘grow up’”. Several DC titles bearing the label, such as Green Arrow and The Question, were not part of the new imprint. Other “suggested for mature readers” titles to pre-date Vertigo include Vigilante, Haywire, and Skreemer, and miniseries and one-shots such as Gilgamesh II, Tailgunner Jo, World Without End, Mister E, and Batman: The Killing Joke.

Several of the earliest new Vertigo series came from Disney Comics’ aborted Touchmark Comics imprint. Touchmark was to be helmed at Disney by ex-DC editor Art Young, but when it was jettisoned, both Young and the properties were acquired by DC forming part of the debut Vertigo line. Berger notes that “when Art Young became available with the Touchmark properties… that helped facilitate the line,” and the influx of projects allowed Berger to “double [her] proposed publishing plan.” Touchmark titles included Enigma, Sebastian O, Mercy, and Shadows Fall.

Vertigo has turned out some outstanding series over the years. While this list won’t contain any surprises, I’m interested in what series is your favorite. I have no doubt that if we had a poll, Sandman would come in #1. I’m a huge Sandman fan, even if some of the stories had me scratching my head in a good way. Was it my favorite though? Hard to say.

Some of the ones that don’t make the list, for me, include Enigma. An eight-issue mini by Peter Milligan and Duncan Fegredo about superheroes, sexuality and existential crises that was solid across the board in writing and artwork. You often hear this mentioned when it comes to debates about underrated titles and for good reason. The story is about Michael Smith, a compulsive, telephone repairman living a highly structured life in Pacific City, California. Smith meets Titus Bird, a writer of the superhero comic book series The Enigma and things build from there. Definitely worth your time. Neil Gaiman and Chris Bachalo’s Death: The High Cost of Living series was a treat. Its premise is that Death takes human form once a century, to remain grounded and in touch with humanity. From 2007 to 2012, I was a huge Scalped fan. A crime series the focused on Dashiell Bad Horse, one of the Oglala Lakota members of the Prairie Rose Indian Reservation in South Dakota. Bad Horse, an FBI agent sent undercover to the home he left fifteen years before. The series is prime for a TV series. DMZ is another that would be ideal for a HBO series. Who wouldn’t want to see a near-future NYC with America torn apart by a second civil war? Could happen sooner than you think.

I could easily name another dozen of series but let’s cover some of the more obvious choices for Favorite Vertigo Series of All Time!

Might as well start with The Sandman. It’s hard to sum up the elegance of Sandman. You can simply start with: It tells the story of Dream of the Endless, who rules over the world of dreams. But it’s so much more than that. The main character, of course, is Dream, also known as Morpheus and other names, who is one of the seven Endless. The other Endless are Destiny, Death, Desire, Despair, Delirium who was once Delight, and Destruction who turned his back on his duties. The series uses anthropomorphic personification of various metaphysical entities, while also blending mythology and history in its horror setting. The Sandman was Vertigo’s flagship title and one of the first few graphic novels ever to be on the New York Times Best Seller list. It was one of five graphic novels to make Entertainment Weekly’s “100 best reads from 1983 to 2008”. Norman Mailer described the series as “a comic strip for intellectuals.” It can be read over and over and still, after all these years, have hidden gems be found within its pages.

While the AMC series gets a few things write, nothing can fully capture the the nuances of Preacher. Preacher tells the story of Jesse Custer, a preacher in the small Texas town of Annville. Custer was accidentally possessed by the supernatural creature named Genesis in an incident which killed his congregation and destroyed his church. Custer, bonded to Genesis, goes on a journey across the US attempting to (literally) find God, who abandoned Heaven the moment Genesis was born. His powers allow him, when he wills it, to command the obedience of those who hear and comprehend his words. He is joined by his old girlfriend Tulip O’Hare, as well as a hard-drinking Irish vampire named Cassidy. Stephen King has said that his comic book series The Dark Tower: The Gunslinger Born was influenced by Preacher, exemplifying its impact. Like most things Vertigo, it’s hard to describe the book in just a few sentences. The supporting cast and characters are among the most unique you’ll ever meet and it’s a mix of dark humor and weighty issues.

Fables follows the various people from fairy tales and folklore, hence “Fables”, who have been forced out of their Homelands by “The Adversary”. The Fables have traveled to our world and formed a community in New York City known as Fabletown. Fables who are unable to blend in with human society live at “the Farm” in upstate New York. You’ll never read fairy tales the same way again and you don’t have to look hard to see the influence Fables has had. ABC’s Once Upon A Time and NBC’s Grimm being two obvious examples. It’s had a number of spin off series, miniseries, a novel, several original graphic novels, and video game.

Next up is Y The Last Man. The plot pulls you in right away: On July 17, 2002, something (“a plague”) simultaneously kills every living mammal possessing a Y chromosome, including embryos, fertilized eggs, and sperm. The only exceptions appear to be a young amateur escape artist named Yorick Brown and his monkey, Ampersand. Writer Brian K Vaughan and artist Pia Guerra tell both a simple, yet layered story that’s filled with compelling characters. I’ve read it a number of times over the years and have marveled at how consistently amazing it is. It runs the whole spectrum of emotions and is one I can always point to when introducing someone to comics. It’s been in development limbo for years and looks to be getting a little momentum at coming to fruition. The series is a truly satisfying read.

If I had to choose one Vertigo series that I’ve favored more than others, it would be 100 Bullets. A perfect blend of mood between art and story. The concept of 100 Bullets is simple. It’s 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. The series has the mysterious Agent Graves approaching someone who has been a victim of a terrible wrong. Graves gives them the opportunity to take revenge by providing a handgun, 100 bullets, and documentation about the primary target responsible for their woes. He informs the candidate the bullets are completely untraceable by any law enforcement investigation, and as soon as they are found at any crime scene investigations will immediately cease. 100 Bullets has garnered critical acclaim and described as “very violent, dark and clever” and “a series of compelling morality tales”. In his introduction for the second volume collection Howard Chaykin wrote “Thanks are overdue to both these guys for producing the most exciting comic book in years”.

Transmetropolitan. Spider Jerusalem. A cyberpunk comic book that follows the renegade gonzo journalist of the future who is an obvious homage to Hunter S. Thompson. Spider Jerusalem dedicates himself to fighting the corruption and abuse of power of two successive US presidents. He and his assistants fight to keep the world from turning more dystopian while dealing with the struggles of fame and power, brought about due to the popularity of Spider via his writing. Armed only with his laptop, a pair of camera-glasses and a ray-gun called “the bowel disruptor”, this series is outrageous. Yet, you can’t escape the pull of Spider. Funny, dark, intelligent. They capture the essence of Thompson but with a wicked spin.

Hellblazer was the longest-running and one of the most successful titles of Vertigo imprint. Also, it was the stepping stone to many British writers like Jamie Delano, Garth Ennis, Paul Jenkins, Warren Ellis, Grant Morrison, Neil Gaiman, Mike Carey, Andy Diggle, and Peter Milligan. That alone makes it worthy of note. The series follows John Constantine, a complex man mixed up in the world of the supernatural and the occult. Probably one of the best written characters of all time, Constantine tries to do good but is a healthy mix of danger and manipulation. Each writer took the series and put their own stamp on it, creating a wonderfully written series that is dark and disturbing. The series has spawned a film adaptation, television show, novels, multiple spin-offs and crossovers. Running for over two decades, it received huge critical acclaim with Warren Ellis calling it as “among the very best horror works of the 1990’s.”

Wish me luck trying to describe The Invisibles. From the mind of Grant Morrison, it follows (sorta) a single cell of The Invisible College, a secret organization battling against physical and psychic oppression using time travel, magic, meditation, and physical violence. From that simple plot comes a complex series of stories that blew the minds of readers. The plots and characters were unlike anything seen before. The leader King Mob; Lord Fanny, a transgender Brazilian shaman; Boy, a former member of the NYPD; Ragged Robin, a telepath with a mysterious past; and Jack Frost, a hooligan from Liverpool who may be the next Buddha coming together to fight the Archons of Outer Church, interdimensional alien gods who have already enslaved most of the human race without their knowledge. To say this series was controversial is a no-brainer and it pushed the boundaries, often times with editors stepping in to tone it down.

Your turn. What did I miss? What was your favorite?

That’s all the time I have. Check out our Comic Book Reviews tomorrow and see you next week!