Last week, DC Comics announced a series of major publishing changes, chief among them the end of the beloved Vertigo imprint by year’s end.
Founded in 1993 by Karen Berger, Vertigo would publish some of the most highly regarded comic books of the late ’90s and early 2000s, with stories from the likes of Alan Moore, Grant Morrison, Tom King, and Brian K. Vaughn, among many, many others. These stories were groundbreaking and vastly different from anything else being published at the time, offering creators a chance to tell stories with nary a concern of silly continuity.
So, while Vertigo is shutting down, its many memorable characters and stories are still very much alive. Earlier this week, some of our writers paid homage to their favorite stories. Today, we provide some excellent recommendations from across the Vertigo canon. Here’s hoping you find your new favorite story or series.
– JJ Travers
Rory Wilding: The Sandman by Neil Gaiman, Sam Kieth and Mike Dringenberg. Before Vertigo and before he became a household from writing acclaimed fantasy novels , Neil Gaiman wrote a comic book series that is about storytelling itself and how Morpheus, the Lord of Dreams, is captured and subsequently learns that sometimes change is inevitable. The basic format helps established numerous artists, each putting their style in this unique world, with Gaiman able to tell any story he wants from dark fantasy to horror to black comedy, leading to subsequent spin-offs, including the adventures of Dream’s older sister, Death. Eventually becoming Vertigo’s flagship title, the original Sandman comic book ran for 75 issues is available as a series of ten trade paperbacks. Get ready for your mind to blow up and be dazzled by the rich imagination that Gaiman and Co. presents, infusing the DC Universe with truly unique flavors.
Nathan Simmons: With 300 issues of his original series, three separate cancelled ongoing titles from DC Comics since the New 52, and a multitude of guest appearances in other books, it may be hard for a fledgling fan to know where to start with John Constantine. Look no further than the standalone graphic novel John Constantine, Hellblazer: All His Engines. Written by Mike Carey and illustrated by Leonardo Manco, it’s a mean one-and-done mystical mystery that serves as a veritable tasting menu of everything good and rotten about the man in the trenchcoat. If you know the basics of John and his dealings, then you’re able to follow along with this tale. What you may not expect, especially if you’re more familiar with the relatively more hands-on JC of the modern comics, is how John goes about handling things in this story, preferring to stick to the shadows and position his enemies against one another. This graphic novel received a relatively faithful animated adaptation as Constantine: City of Demons, but even that ratcheted up the action quite a bit. For a moody slow burn and an introduction to what makes DC’s least popular magician tick, you can’t ask for better than All His Engines.
JJ Travers: Preacher, written by Garth Ennis and illustrated by Steve Dillon, is not only one of the greatest comic books in the history of the Vertigo imprint, but also the comic book medium itself. Controversial is perhaps the best word to describe this epic American masterpiece tale bursting at the seams with sex, booze, violence, life, death, and, oh yeah, angels, vampires, and the Almighty himself. The Reverend Jesse Custer’s entire congregation is burned down to the bones at the exact moment he becomes possessed by a mysterious entity, born out of a forbidden affair between an angel and a demon. God is the only being in existence who can help Jesse, but unfortunately, he’s abandoned his throne to live on Earth among mortal men. Joining Jesse’s flock to hunt down a missing God are his tough as nails ex-girlfriend Tulip O’Hare and the hard-drinking, wise-cracking, Irishman Cassidy — who’s not only Jesse’s best friend, but a bloodsucking vampire as well. Preacher is 66 regular, monthly issues, five one-shot specials and a four-issue limited series that leaves us with a total 75 issues and one hell of a ride. Oh, and don’t worry, the entire run is available in nine trade paperback editions.
Connor Christiansen: Sheriff of Babylon by Tom King and Mitch Gerads. If you want a gritty, modern tale of war grounded in the real world, look no further than Tom King and Mitch Gerad’s 2014 masterpiece. Based off Tom King’s own experiences as a CIA operative in Baghdad following 9/11, Sheriff of Babylon explores the messiness of the American occupation of Baghdad with a sobering investigation of patriotism in a scary new world from various perspectives, including American, Afghani-American, and Afghani. It’s an amalgam of genres and styles that feels part neo-noir, part black comedy, and part war story that never shies away from criticizing America’s prolonged involvement in the Middle East while not being inherently or overtly anti-American. It’s simply an honest and remarkable tale about one man’s experiences in Baghdad. Vertigo had put forth some of the most fantastical and wildly-imaginative stories ever-told in comics, but for those on the hunt for a Vertigo book firmly planted in the real world, Sheriff of Babylon is king.
Patrick Hellen: Y the Last Man by Brian K. Vaughn and Pia Guerra. For those of you who only know of the tales of Yorick, Ampersand, 355, and Dr. Mann from the multiple failed attempts at adaptation, let me emphatically suggest you read this entire run, cover to cover. The premise is classic apocalyptic fodder: What if every man on the planet suddenly died … except for one? That lone survivor is Mr. Yorick Brown, an underachieving English major and amateur escape artist. As the possible last male alive on Earth, he makes rash decisions, gets himself into trouble more often than not, and has his ass saved by 355, an agent of the Culper Ring, a spy network founded by George Washington, as he treks across the country to uncover they mystery and why he was spared. I think it’s one of the most deftly crafted narratives ever put on comic paper, with tiny details and small pieces of the story becoming relevant dozens of issues later. There’s love, loss, humor, and horror, all in 60 issues of my absolute favorite comic. Put on your gas mask, grab your monkey, and hit the road with the best version of the apocalypse Vertigo has ever put out.
Nicole Herviou: To some, Doom Patrol by Grant Morrison is probably just a fun romp through the weirdest comic world ever created. But if you look closer, it is so much more than that. Through Morrison’s run on the series, he worked with a number of artists, including Richard Case, Scott Hannah, Michelle Wolfman, John Nyberg, and more. And even when the look of the book would change slightly, you could tell in one glance you were reading Doom Patrol. The series has always challenged conventions, making you uncomfortable and then asking you why you were almost squirming in your seat. It confuses readers, and then asks why your head hurts. And even so, it’s not inaccessible or accusatory. It just wants you to reflect, to examine the human condition, as well as what the hell a social norm is to begin with. People are far from normal; we’re utterly strange. That’s why a book with a robot man and a character who is literally a street can still be so relatable and so incredible.