Since it was founded by editor Karen Berger in 1994, Vertigo has been a home for 'adult' and unusual stories that don't fit into the DCU. While companies like Image have become the go-to spot for unique, creator-owned properties in 2018, there was a time when the Berger-run Vertigo was one of the most exciting comic imprints on the market.
And it looks like DC is trying to tap into that energy again, as they're releasing a new line of titles under the Vertigo umbrella, with editor Mark Doyle inheriting the mantle left behind by Karen Berger, Shelly Bond, and Jamie S. Rich.
Before you dig into the new Vertigo, get caught up with some of the iconic titles that made the imprint such a creative hotspot over the past 25 years.
Animal Man (1988)
Grant Morrison and Chas Truog's classic 26-issue run technically isn't a Vertigo book. While the graphic novel collections would later come out under the Vertigo name, the Morrison-penned Animal Man ended before the imprint was put together. But in many ways, Animal Man is the prototype for Vertigo books. It subverts and plays with the conventions of comic book storytelling, using superhero tropes to tell larger stories about animal rights and free will.
A lot of the reality-bending/meta concepts Morrison explored in Animal Man (and later in Doom Patrol) laid the groundwork for the kind of material that future Vertigo titles would dig even deeper into.
Related: The Invisibles (1994). Here is the book where Grant Morrison became "Grant Morrison." A story of occult anarchists waging war on reality, Morrison threw all sorts of DMT-fueled ideas into a blender and splashed them onto glossy comic pages. The Marquis de Sade, face-stealing Aztec Gods, secret American concentration camps: it's a one-stop shop of mind-bending grotesqueries.
Grandfathered into Vertigo with Issue #47, Neil Gaiman’s cosmic family drama built on the horror storytelling and mythical scope of Alan Moore's Swamp Thing comics. Like Animal Man and Swamp Thing, the early Sandman comics had some ties to the DC Universe with characters like Etrigan the Demon and Doctor Destiny making appearances. But the scope of Sandman soon spiraled out to encompass Shakespeare, Arabian Nights, the Emperor Norton, G.K. Chesteron, and folktales from across the globe.
Shifting in genre from life-affirming Death stories to Clive Barker-esque horror from issue to issue, it remains Gaiman's crowning achievement as a writer.
Related: Lucifer (2000). Mike Carey took Gaiman's version of The Devil as a retired, amoral playboy and turned it into one of Vertigo's most ambitious books.
Garth Ennis and Steve Dillon pull off an incredibly tricky balancing act on Preacher: they manage to make invest a lot of heart and soul in a bloody, cynical, scatalogical road trip story. Imagine a magical Bing Crosby and a vampiric, junkie Bob Hope in a Road To movie with Dorothy Lamour as a gun-wielding tough gal and you've got the feel for Preacher.
While the book still raises eyebrows for its gleeful depiction of every sexual depravity and gory joke you can think of, it resonates with how it grapples with concepts of masculinity, friendship, and Old Testament morality.
Related: Hellblazer (1991). Speaking of Ennis & Dillon, the two also collaborated on some fine John Constantine stories.
Scalped was a 60-issue punch to the face: a brutal genre book that weaved together elements of noir and Westerns to tell its sprawling story of organized crime, drugs, and crippling poverty on a South Dakota reservation. In addition to telling a ripping yarn, Jason Aaron also uses the book to explore issues affecting the Native American community — like the struggle to preserve one's cultural identity when the rest of the world is trying to ignore or grind it out of you.
Related: 100 Bullets (1999). Brian Azzarello and Eduardo Risso's noir book takes a what-would-you-scenario (you + a gun + 100 bullets + zero accountability) and uses it as the hook to unwind a vast conspiracy story. Like a good Jim Thompson novel, it sucks you in even when the stories it's telling are incredibly bleak.
A ten-issue limited series, Fabio Moon and Gabriel Ba's Daytripper condenses a Brazilian writer's life story into a series of beautiful, sometimes harrowing, vignettes. While it's a story that's rooted in the real world, it includes a magical realist/surrealist element by killing off its protagonist at the end of each issue. As he shows up in the next issue alive and well, with zero explanation, the book leaves you to figure out what Bras de Oliva Domingos' many deaths mean.
Related: American Virgin (2006). Steven T. Seagle's story about a teen sensation/abstinence advocate dealing with the sudden death of his girlfriend is both a fun fish-out-of-water story and a great examination on just how sex-obsessed our culture is.