Spoilers on! If you’ve read this week’s Brightest Day #23, then you know that Alec Holland and Swamp Thing have returned to the DC Universe. If you haven’t read the issue . . . guess what? Alec Holland and Swamp Thing still returned to the DC Universe. There’s some significance attached to the move based on the fact that Swamp Thing has been exclusively part of the Vertigo imprint for many years. As you well know, though, Swamp Thing existed in the DCU for a long period prior.
We’re not going to rehash Swamp Thing’s big moments; that’s obvious. We will, however, take a look at a few of the characters that have moved between the imprints over time. This doesn’t pretend to be a comprehensive list, but it does pull back the curtain a bit on which characters landed where when. First, a tribute to the green machine:
Swamp Thing: Of course, Swamp Thing first appeared in 1971 and launched in his own series (introducing Alec Holland) a year later. In 1993, Swampy was part of the round-up of Mature Readers titles that shifted over to the Vertigo brand (the first issue being 127, the other titles being Hellblazer, Doom Patrol, Animal Man, Shade, the Changing Man, and, of course, Sandman). Prior to the Vertigo move, Swamp Thing was very much a visible part of the DCU. In addition to playing roles in both Crisis on Infinite Earths and Millennium, Swamp Thing has interacted with everyone from Superman to Batman, The Demon to Mento, Phantom Stranger to Firestorm.
Part of the impetus behind keeping the Vertigo characters more, for lack of a better word, Vertiginous, stems from the fact that the initial books that made the move were Mature Readers titles. Granted, such books as Green Arrow bore that label at the time, but those more traditional narratives stayed. Yes, Animal Man was a super-hero, but he was already 57 issues into the inspired insanity begun by Grant Morrison. Likewise, Doom Patrol, at 64 issues into that series, moved dark and adult with issue 19 and the arrival of, well, Grant Morrison.
Fans have long understood that there’s a “division” between the Vertigo titles and the DCU, but that frankly hasn’t stopped characters from moving back and forth across that line. Many like to (erroneously, as it turns out, in terms of their approach) point to the fact that the Justice League International appeared in an early issue of Sandman as an example of this. That’s true, in the matter of appearance, but that was in Sandman number five from May, 1989; that book was released four years before the advent of Vertigo, and thus came long before any separation. To be completely fair, Swamp Thing popped up in the New Titans Annual #9 in 1993, an instance that is much closer to the “border”. (It should be noted that Grant Morrison borrowed the “Daniel” Sandman for a JLA arc during his run, but that was partially owed to the fact that Daniel’s mother, Lyta Trevor Hall, is from the DCU).
Since those early days, an effort was made to keep (certainly the marquee characters) certain characters and books out of the DCU. Most recently, the barrier was broken for another character from the Sandman world, Death, who appeared in Action Comics for a chat with Lex Luthor. However, it’s actually not unusual at all to see characters that began in the DCU or background characters from certain titles cross back and forth. A few frequent fliers include . . .
Phantom Stranger: A member of Vertigo’s Trenchcoat Brigade, along with Dr. Occult, but always present when the DCU needs him.
Black Orchid: Granted, the concepts are different, but the regular, frequently silent super-heroine version of the character has been seen in the DCU in recent years.
Deadman: The Deadman concept was split a couple of years back, with the regular Deadman remaining in the DCU while Vertigo tried its own spin on the concept.
The Demon: Etrigan kind of goes where he wants.
You’ll note that I didn’t include John Constantine. While he debuted in the DCU, he hasn’t really gone back. Zatanna had one Vertigo special in 2003, but stays DCU. Madame Xanadu seems to be owned by both houses as well.
Characters that went Vertigo but seem to have returned to the DCU to stay include . . .
Animal Man: Buddy showed up in Morrison’s “World War III” arc on JLA and has more or less been a constant fixture in the DCU since. Animal Man got major screen time in 52 and other events, including his own mini.
Shade the Changing Man: Though more or less completely rebooted in Vertigo after his DCU tenure (which included a stint with the Suicide Squad), Flashpoint solicitations indicate that some version of Shade will be showing up. Being that the Secret Seven mini-series is written by his Vertigo series writer, Peter Milligan, this Shade will likely have roots in both worlds.
Doom Patrol: The Patrol came back to the DCU courtesy of a reboot in 2001, six years after the Vertigo take ended. Their name remains prophetic, as they’ve been cancelled (2003), rebooted by John Byrne (2004), cancelled (2006), rebooted in Teen Titans and Infinite Crisis (2006), re-re-booted (2009) and cancelled again (May 2011). They also found time to be killed in an episode of Batman: The Brave and The Bold. Busy!
Now, with Swamp Thing back, one wonders what the policy will be. It appears that if you were a citizen of the DCU and repatriated to Vertigo, your call to come home could happen anytime. While I don’t expect to see the cast of Fables crossing over with the JSA anytime soon, this whole thing does make one wonder what some of the Vertigo talent could do if they got to bring other DC characters into their playground. Granted, Grant Morrison and Jeff Lemire, among others, continue to play in the DCU. But letting some of those creators bring a slightly eccentric take to, say, Wonder Woman, might be interesting indeed. Whatever the case, Swamp Thing’s back in the DCU, marking on the latest character to return to his (ugh) roots.