HELLBLAZER's End & the Future of Vertigo: SANDMAN to DCU?

DEATH Is Coming TO ACTION COMICS

Comic fans are reacting to DC's announcement today that the long-running Hellblazer is ending, but the title's demise also got the comic industry speculating about broader implications.

Readers have been adjusting to the fact that there have been two John Constantines in "existence" in DC publications:

 

 

- The mature, married and foul-mouthed version in the Vertigo universe, seen in the pages of Hellblazer since 1988.

- The younger, less vulgar, but still-a-bit-bawdy John Constantine who was reintroduced to the DC Universe in spring 2011. He's currently appearing regularly in Justice League Dark and has shown up in other New 52 titles.

Now it appears that the Vertigo version, written most recently by Peter Milligan, is going away. While DC has stopped short of saying the Vertigo Constantine is gone for good, the company did state that he's getting the "bloody best sendoff" in Milligan's Hellblazer #300 in February.

So what bigger implications can we speculate from the announcement?

Sandman to the DCU?

Back when DC announced that Neil Gaiman was returning to The Sandman, Newsarama pointed out that it was notable that the mini-series would be published under the Vertigo imprint.

 

In fact, it will not only carry the Vertigo label, but it will also be edited by Vertigo Executive Editor Karen Berger, who served as Gaiman's editor when The Sandman was first conceived and published.

So why is this notable?

Because we honestly expected any future Sandman title to be published under the DC imprint. First of all, the publication of the non-DCU-continuity Before Watchmen prequels under the DC imprint cleared the way for Gaiman's prequels to also be published under the DC banner.

Also, the incorporation of the WildStorm characters and concepts into the DCU — including the recently announced Whistling Skull series — also makes an Elseworlds Sandman universe possible under the DC imprint.

But more importantly, many other classic DC-turned-Vertigo concepts have returned recently to the DCU, including Swamp Thing, Doom Patrol and Animal Man.

 

Besides, readers have already seen bits and pieces of the Sandman universe in the DCU, even recently. Before DC's reboot, there were nods to Sandman in the DCU, like Death's 2010 appearance in Action Comics.

Even after DC's September 2011 reboot, readers saw a few Sandman-connected concepts peppered through the New 52, including Justice League Dark's introduction of the House of Mystery as a headquarters.

Yet despite all those signs, Gaiman's new Sandman prequel will be Vertigo.

That said, today's announcement that Constantine is ostensibly moving out of the Vertigo universe to instead exist in the DC Universe means Gaiman's upcoming prequel to The Sandman will be the last vestige of the old "Vertigo universe" still there.

So that begs the question: Could Gaiman's mini-series be the last hurrah for Sandman at Vertigo, and will those characters permanently move to the DCU after the story's conclusion?

It's a strong possibility. DC has, in the past, left the door open for characters like Swamp Thing, John Constantine and Animal Man to show up in a "mature" Vertigo book like Hellblazer.

Today's announcement that Constantine is leaving Vertigo indicates the door might be creaking closed.

And Sandman characters could be the last ones to sneak through that door before it slams shut.

Blurry Line

It was once pretty clear what books fell under DC Comics and what were more likely to be Vertigo or WildStorm titles. Although there were sometimes crossovers and blurred lines, it was usually true that "DC Comics" was where superhero characters were published, WildStorm was for grittier superheroes and (later) licensed properties, and Vertigo was for creator-owned comics and mature readers.

But lately, the differences are even less distinct.

Not only is DC publishing their grittier "Dark" books like Swamp Thing and Animal Man, but the current DC series Lot 13, by horror writer Steve Niles (30 Days of Night), is solicited as being for "mature readers."

And since the end of WildStorm, licensed property comics fall under "DC," including some video game tie-ins that give the imprint a much, much broader description than just "superheroes."

When Newsarama recently pressed DC executives to clarify the purpose of the Vertigo imprint, they simply named titles that would be coming out under the banner.

 

In fact, the execs pointed toward Django Unchained as a Vertigo title, even though that comic was originally announced at a DC Comics Before Watchmen panel and hadn't previously been reported as "Vertigo"... because... well, who could tell?

In August, a blogger at The Beat noticed there was even a blurred line between the separate weblogs dedicated to Vertigo and DC. Lately, Vertigo's blog has been touting DC comic titles.

And last but not least, the imprint's offices have been sharing an important executive, because Vertigo's Berger is now editing a DC book, the gritty Dial H by China Miéville.

Iconic Image?

Perhaps the most obvious implication of today's Hellblazer/Constantine announcement is that Vertigo is different from the imprint that first launched in 1993. And much of that evolution has occurred in the last few years.

Even before today's announcement, there were clues about the evolution.

For example, Newsarama has confirmed with sources that Vertigo changed its creator contracts around 2010 so they would be less profitable to writers and artists with original creations (something rumored at the time by blog site Bleeding Cool).

It's also been rumored that the sales success of Image Comics and its attraction of top-name talent has made DC editors rethink their approach to allowing creator-owned work from DC writers.

All that adds up to the possibility that DC might now be utilizing Vertigo in the same way that Marvel approaches its Icon imprint. Marvel launched the Icon imprint and publishes its titles just to give Marvel's exclusive writers and artists an outlet for creator-owned work. In other words, they keep Marvel writers at "home."

 

 

The recent announcement that DC superhero writers Jeff Lemire and Scott Snyder are both launching new Vertigo titles certainly supports that comparison, although they were both already in the Vertigo family with Sweet Tooth and American Vampire.

Evolution of Vertigo

However, Vertigo clearly isn't only publishing work by DC's superhero writers. A look at current and upcoming releases shows that there are still plenty of viable, creative titles at Vertigo.

Some of the best-selling non-superhero titles still reside at Vertigo, like the Fables and Fairest comics and graphic novels, as well as the critically acclaimed series American Vampire and Sweet Tooth. And as mentioned earlier, Lemire and Snyder intend to release more titles soon, plus R.M. Guéra recently told fans he would be back at Vertigo with Jason Aaron after their Scalped series finished.

The imprint is also getting close to reaching 50 issues of the ongoing Mike Carey series The Unwritten, which got its own "event" last summer. And just this week, Newsarama talked with writer Paul Cornell about his new Vertigo title, Saucer Country.

 

The imprint also just kicked off its new anthology series, Ghosts, and will soon launch the previously mentioned Quentin Tarantino comic Django Unchained. And the highly touted novel adaptation The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo just released its "Book 1" graphic novel under the Vertigo imprint, with sequels in the works.

So although characters like Constantine and Swamp Thing may be gone, Vertigo far from dead. Instead it appears to be simply evolving, and the end of Hellblazer will likely be a significant step in that evolution.

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