Markey’s Fevered Brain: Vertigo Part Deux

Wayne Markley

Wayne Markley


by Wayne Markley

In my last blog I wrote about my experiences working at DC and Vertigo and some of the books I really enjoyed from Vertigo. Of course over the history of Vertigo there were a number of books that I did not address, and thanks to both my editor, Roger Ash and reader, Steven Caplan, I am going to revisit the Vertigo back list with even more suggestions of things to read, partially due to books I left off last time due to space constraints, and partially due to the suggestions from Roger and Steven. I would also like to make a correction from my last blog. Since it was published DC has announced that backlist titles that that currently have the Vertigo dressing (the Vertigo logo, etc.) will continue to have it in future printings and will not be moved to their Black Label imprint. So at least in some fashion Vertigo will continue to exist.

Sandman

Sandman


Obviously, one Vertigo’s biggest success stories was Sandman by Neil Gaiman. While Sandman did not start out as a Vertigo title it was (along with Alan Moore’s Swamp Thing) ,part of the reason Vertigo was created was to differentiate these books as something different from the traditional DC Universe. As with Swamp Thing, I do not think (actually I know, with the possible exception of Neil) no one thought that Sandman would become the iconic series that it has become. Sandman was not a new character in the DC mythos. He first appeared in the 1940s as a crime fighter in a gas mask, a gas gun and a suit. (For another great series be sure to check out Sandman Mystery Theatre for a modern take on the classic character in a series of great mystery stories by Matt Wagner and Steven Seagle. There are two collections so far and I wish DC would finish collecting this excellent series.) There was also a superhero version of the Sandman by Jack Kirby and Joe Simon from the late ‘40s, then another Kirby Sandman revival in the mid-‘70s as well as other various attempts to use the character. Neil’s take on the character was different from all of these other versions, and Gaiman was able to create a whole world for his Sandman and incorporated a number of other characters from DC’s past (mostly the mystery titles) such as Cain, Able, Brute and Glob. Gaiman’s take was a wonderful fantasy story with a deep horror undercurrent. The basic story is about Sandman, who is the dream master along with his family members, including perhaps his most iconic character, Death. The stories are so rich and complex I could never do them justice by summarizing them here. The book ran for 75 issues and was drawn by a number of talented artists, including Dave McKean and Charles Vess, to mention just two. The entire series has been collected into ten trade paperbacks which have recently been reissued in new 30th anniversary editions. There is also a prelude Sandman story called Overture that was done many years after the original series that tells the tale of how the opening scene in Sandman #1 came to be. I also want to mention that Neil did an amazing job of weaving the history of all of the earlier incarnations of Sandman (as well as many other DC historical nuggets) into his stories. If you sit down and read the entire Sandman saga I can promise that you will be blown away. Also, Sandman has spun off a number of side books with various characters from the series, or tied into the Sandman universe, alas none of them have ever found the success of his original Sandman. Now go read them!

Doom Patrol

Doom Patrol


Doom Patrol is another early 1960s superhero team of three misfits that came together under their wheelchair bound leader, the Chief. The series was a fun run that was fondly remember by comic fans and had a number of attempts to update and restart the series over the years. Sadly none of these ever got that far or were that great, till Vertigo launched perhaps one of most surreal comics of all time under writer Grant Morrison. At the time this book was coming it out it was one of my favorite titles because it was so unlike anything else out there. It is a mix of super-eroes on acid and then stuck in a sensory deprivation tank. But contrary to what you might think from this description, these stories are great. It is common in these stories to find reality bent and for the Doom Patrol to loose members as easily as Superman beats up a villain. I loved how Morrison was able to tell tales that seemly would make no sense if I was to describe it here, but when reading the story it makes perfect sense. I would consider this book as good as Sandman in a completely different way, but like Sandman, reading the series will make a lifelong impact on you. While Sandman would spawn a number of other series, Doom Patrol did not have that kind of success, with the exception of Flex Mentallo miniseries, it never really went much further than what Morrison wrote. But I should note that the recent DC television show Doom Patrol was greatly (if not wholly) based on Morrison’s writings, while having little, outside of the main four characters, in common with the 1960s series. (DC recently once again revived the Doom Patrol under their Young Animal imprint, but it has not caught on like Morrison’s Doom Patrol did). Again well worth reading and is available in three trade paperback collections.

Shade the Changing Man

Shade the Changing Man


After the Doom Patrol, perhaps the most mind bending series Vertigo did was Shade the Changing Man. In some ways I liked Shade more because of the beautiful art by Chris Bachalo even though Peter Milligan’s story telling is also top notch. As with both Sandman and Doom Patrol, Shade was originally a series in the mid-1970s by Steve Ditko. While Ditko’s Shade is the basis for Milligan’s Shade, and he draws from Ditko’s vision liberally, he goes in a much different direction. The first story involves Shade coming to Earth from his home Meta (in a different dimension) and meets Kathy George, and from there they are off on a strange trip across America. While not an overtly political series, there is definitely an undercurrent in these stories about what America had become at the time of Milligan’s writing. This is a perfect companion book to Sandman and Doom Patrol for the reader looking for a change from the typical comic fare and all three books tell an epic story over a long series comics. And all three series will challenge the reader as these are not your villain of the month kind of stories. Unfortunately, only the first 19 issues of Shade were ever collected, so the vast majority of the series has never been reprinted.

Even with two blogs devoted to Vertigo, I have barely touched the vast amount of books they published over the years. There are a number of titles that deserve special attention and perhaps I will devote another blog down the road depending on feedback on this blog. If you have any suggestions or comments or disagreements (such as Steven Caplan had), I can be reached at MFBWAY@AOL.COM or on Facebook at Wayne Markley. While I am writing about disclaimers, everything I have here is my opinions and do not reflect the thoughts or opinions of Westfield Comics or their employees. That is all the words for this time, so…as always,

Thank you.

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