<i>by <a href=http://www.twitter.com/graemem>Graeme McMillan, Newsarama Contributor</a></i> <p>The announcement Monday that <a href=http://www.newsarama.com/comics/karen-berger-leaves-vertigo.html>Karen Berger is stepping down from her position as Vice President and Executive Editor at DC Entertainment</a> doesn't necessarily mean the end of Vertigo, the imprint that she founded at the publisher 19 years ago, but it does throw into sharp relief just how important the imprint has been to the American comic industry as we know it. <p>As we wait to find out who will be taking over as the leadership of the imprint in 2013, here's a quick reminder of 10 Vertigo comics that broke new ground and blew minds in the process. <p><i>Got a comment? There's lots of conversation on Newsarama's <a href=http://www.facebook.com/Newsarama><b>FACEBOOK</b></a> and <a href=http://twitter.com/newsarama><b>TWITTER</b></a>!</i> <p>
When Vertigo launched in 1993, the imprint was clearly a believer in the concept of starting as you mean to go on; alongside Neil Gaiman and Chris Bachalo's <em>Death: The High Cost of Living</em> series was this eight-issue mini by Peter Milligan and Duncan Fegredo about superheroes, sexuality and existential crises that was funny, wise, surprising and consistently beautiful to look at. <p>A metaphysical tale that addresses fandom in an unexpected way, <em>Enigma</em> remains one of the most underrated things to have come from Vertigo in its long history, and also one of the best superhero projects to have come from DC Comics at all.
One of the short-lived (and not entirely successful) "Vertigo Verite" titles that attempted to offer mature readers comics devoid of the genre trappings of the rest of the line, David Wohnarowicz and James Romberger's moving memoir of Wojnarowicz' experiences of living with AIDS in late 20th century New York (and of his childhood hustling on the streets of Manhattan) was to borrow a phrase brave and bold, and the sort of comic that cuts through the cliches to create something that the reader will never forget. <p>Despite the failure of the book at the time, it has since become recognized as a cult classic and been reissued by Fantagraphics Books.
Brian Wood's 72 issue series about a near-future New York City in an America torn apart by a second civil war was as much contemporary commentary as it was science fiction, offering a sobering extrapolation of the social climate it was created in underneath the more dramatic, sensational demands of the genre (a nuclear bomb?). <p>Bringing together all manner of threads from Wood's earlier career, it offered him a chance to work on a larger canvas, and bring a smarter, more mature take on politics than had previously been promoted by the publisher.
One of two titles on this list that started prior to the inception of the Vertigo imprint, <em>Hellblazer</em> was the series that laughed at conventions, even its own (Remember the whole "Only Brits can write John Constantine properly" idea? Brian Azzarello may disagree). <p>Starring a minor character spun out of <em>Swamp Thing</em> who managed to evolve and age in real time once separated from the mainstream DC Universe, <em>Hellblazer</em> mixed horror and comedy and social realism in different amounts depending on which writer was in control of the title, constantly re-inventing both the series and the character on a regular basis but never losing sight of the heart of who Constantine really was.
If DC Comics had been historically been worried about dealing with religious themes earlier in its existence (<a href=http://ohdannyboy.blogspot.com/2011/10/morning-of-magician-swamp-thing-meets.html>and they were</a>), Garth Ennis and Steve Dillon's <em>Preacher</em> quickly demonstrated that the rules were different when it came to the Vertigo imprint with this mix of religion, westerns, and machismo that happily blasphemed even as it quietly posited alternate theories about the bloodline of Jesus Christ and the nature of faith (and danger of blind faith). <p>Hilarious and sneaky when it wasn't being sentimental and honest, this book didn't just make Garth Ennis' name, it pretty much set the tone for everything he'd do afterwards.
From one highpoint in a classic creator's career to another, Grant Morrison's <em>Invisibles</em> took everything that was wonderful about 1990s pop culture and pushed it into a blender to see what happened when you blurred it all together. <p>The answer? A forerunner of <em>The Matrix</em> that brought subcultures into the mainstream for the first time, played around with genre trappings, gave Vertigo its first transgendered hero and was the first DC Comic to ever allow the use of the word "cunt." A series to be proud of, for sure.
The series that arguably remade Vertigo from a supernatural line into something that was more about aesthetic and intent than subject matter, Brian Azzarello and Eduardo Risso's <em>100 Bullets</em> also broke new ground for Vertigo in both its minimalist aesthetic and the fact that it was a long-running series in which the artist was every bit as important as the writer, and not something (and some<em>one</em>) to be swapped out at the start of the next story arc as had become the case post-<em>Sandman</em>. <p>On the face of it, <em>100 Bullets</em> had little to suggest that it would find a home at Vertigo, but it soon became a success story that pointed to the future of the imprint as a whole.
Brian K. Vaughan wasn't the first writer to bring a pop sensibility to Vertigo see Peter Milligan, Grant Morrison and many from the imprint's earliest days but when his <em>Y: The Last Man</em> launched, it was a breath of fresh air with the high concept idea at the heart of the series and the fast-paced, mainstream-friendly tone that each and every issue brought to the table. <p>After a period where Vertigo titles had seemed to fulfill the cliché of being "written for the trade," <em>Y</em> came along and made every issue an event in and of itself, complete with last page cliffhangers that would ensure that you'd come back the next issue no matter what.
The current king of Vertigo, if only for the size of its success (outside of the 100-plus issues of the main series, it has also launched two ongoing spinoffs, a line of original graphic novels, a prose tie-in and the <em>Cinderella</em> minis), Bill Willingham's <em>Fables</em> broke with tradition to create a series in which the world was the star, with space for multiple storylines (and series), and multiple writers, as well. <p>After years of searching, the next <em>Sandman</em> had arrived, and Vertigo had found itself a new base to build around as it prepared for whatever came next.
The book that, in many ways, started it all and remains a high point for Vertigo Comics and DC Entertainment as a whole, <em>Sandman</em> brought a level of intelligence, beauty and self-awareness to mainstream American comics that even Alan Moore's <em>Swamp Thing</em> and <em>Watchmen</em> hadn't quite managed, and its success was enough to allow Berger to convince the Powers The Be to greenlight Vertigo. <p>But there's something else that <em>Sandman</em> introduced to the US comic industry that has become so well-accepted as to be overlooked in recent days: Vertigo (and Berger) allowed the comic to finish when Neil Gaiman was finished with it. No new writer and new status quo, despite its immense success, <em>Sandman</em> brought a new understanding of the importance of the creator to company-owned comics, and a reminder that, sometimes, it's best to get offstage while people are demanding more. (Perhaps something that Berger herself had in mind as she announced her stepping down, yesterday...)