DC/Vertigo Custody Battle: Did Karen Berger Confirm DC Characters To Leave Vertigo?

Posted by on Sunday, July 25th, 2010 at 03:53:50 AM

As you may have noticed, I’ve been thinking a lot about Vertigo lately. So has Rich Johnston! In addition to the persistent hand-wringing about cancellations, there has been additional hand-wringing about how DC proper is going to “take back” all of the characters that originated in the DC Universe. According to Johnston, he told us all this would be happening, and posted of Karen Berger’s “confirmation” of the fact at Friday’s Vertigo panel.

I realize this isn’t blockbuster news on par with movies coming out or someone getting stabbed, but it’s been over twenty-four hours and I haven’t seen this reported anywhere else. Granted, none of the big sites have posted write-ups for this panel, which aside from Johnston’s bombshell didn’t contain any real news. But I’ve listened to audio of this panel (available at DCComics.com) and can’t find any mention of this. The audio file is only fifty-seven minutes and thirty-three seconds, and trails off as Berger languidly polls the audience on their interest in different books being reprinted in the Absolute format, so it’s possible the panel ran one hour on the button and those final two minutes and twenty-seven seconds contained Berger’s confirmation. I realize it’s also equally possible that she confirmed it in a venue other than the official mic’d up portion of the panel.

I don’t mean to suggest that Johnston is making things up out of whole cloth, but context for her statement is important. If this means that DC proper is going to gain sole custody of the DC characters, that seems like something of blow to the imprint, but it only affect a small of Vertigo’s output: only four of the nineteen finite/continuing series Vertigo has put out in 2010 deal with any DCU characters. Of those four, one — Unknown Solider — is on the way out due to low sales. A second — Madame Xanadu — is ending, though that seems to be more a case of the creators moving on than a forced ending due to sales. That only leaves House of Mystery and Hellblazer, two books that are selling well and have people discussing longterm plans for their respective books on this very panel. Very few Vertigo “revamps” of DCU characters have had any longterm effect, as the list below illustrates, and while there always exists a chance of a breakthrough Sonic Disruptors or Amethyst series coming out of Vertigo in the status quo, that isn’t the direction the line has taken in the past decade.

If the statement means that Vertigo is going to be sharing the characters with DC, that change in status quo is almost meaningless, save for a few characters.

Since its inception in 1993, the following existing DC Universe characters have received the Vertigo treatment:

  • Angel & the Ape: given a Vertigo mini-series in 2001, have not appeared anywhere since save for a story in DCU Holiday Special 2009 and a cameo in Darwyn Cooke’s Solo
  • Animal Man: Vertigo series ended in 1995, has been regularly appearing in DCU titles for over a decade. Has not appeared in a Vertigo title since 2000’s Totems
  • Brother Power, The Geek: Got a Vertigo one-shot in 1993, appeared in 2000’s Totems, did not appear again until last year’s Brave & the Bold #29
  • Congorilla: Got a Vertigo one-shot in 1999, the same year he appeared in Martian Manhunter Annual #2. Has since been a member of James Robinson’s Justice League.
  • John Constantine: Since his Hellblazer series went Vertigo in 1993, hasn’t appeared in any DCU books aside from some winking crowd scene cameos. Is currently Vertigo’s longest-running book, and if you ignore renumberings, the fourth longest-running book at DC behind only Action Comics, Detective Comics, and Batman.
  • Creeper: Vertigo published Beware the Creeper in 2003, a book that bore no direct connection to the DCU character of the same name, who received a 2006 DCU mini-series and is currently appearing in The Outsiders
  • Deadman: The 2006 Deadman series bore no connection to the DCU’s Boston Brand, and was swiftly canceled due to sales. Boston Brand has continued to appear in the DCU for the past several decades, currently in Brightest Day (thanks to reader XQ for reminding me of this one)
  • Doom Patrol: Vertigo series originated as a DCU title, was cancelled in 1995. Currently on its third ongoing DC series this decade.
  • Doctor Occult: Got a Vertigo one-shot in 1994 and appeared sporadically as a supporting character in other ex-DC Vertigo books (Sandman, Books of Magic, Trenchcoat Brigade). Continued to appear in DCU titles throughout. Has not appeared in a Vertigo book since 2002.
  • Doctor Thirteen: Got a Vertigo one-shot in 1998, has not appeared in Vertigo books since. Has since been revamped in the DCU in Tales of the Unexpected.
  • Haunted Tank: Received a Vertigo mini-series in 2009. Is slated to re-appear this September in a G.I. Combat one-shot
  • Human Target: Appeared in various formats under the Vertigo banner 1999-2005. Revived this year as a DC book by creator Len Wein, to tie into the television series
  • Jonah Hex: Last appeared in a Vertigo mini-series in 1999. Has had a DCU ongoing series since 2006.
  • Losers: Andy Diggle and Jock’s Vertigo series had no real connection to the DCU characters, ended in 2006.
  • Mister E: Hasn’t appeared anywhere since his last Vertigo appearance in 2002.
  • Prez: Has not appeared since 1995’s Vertigo one-shot Prez: Smells Like Teen President.
  • Phantom Stranger: Received a Vertigo one-shot in 1993, appears sporadically in Vertigo titles up to and including the currently running Madame Xanadu. Has continued to appear in DCU titles throughout this time.
  • Sandman: The Endless are apparently only allowed to appear with Gaiman’s blessing, which was given to Grant Morrison in 1998 and to Paul Cornell this year. Many of Sandman’s supporting characters originated in the DCU, and they alongside his own non-Endless creations appeared in a plethora of The Dreaming branded series over the years, though not since 2003.
  • Sandman Mystery Theatre: Series ran from 1993-1999, revived for a mini-series in 2007. Characters continued to appear in DCU titles throughout the book’s run, including a crossover with Starman.
  • Sgt. Rock: Had a Vertigo-branded OGN in 2003, has since had two DC-branded mini-series and a run in Wednesday Comics.
  • Shade the Changing Man: After a nearly fifteen year layoff, has been brought into Hellblazer by Peter Milligan. In the interim, appeared in various cameos in DCU books
  • Swamp Thing: Saved for some recolored cameos in Ambush Bug: Year None, has not appeared in any books since 2006. Has appeared in DCU books since his “move” to Vertigo.
  • Tattooed Man: Got a Vertigo mini-series in 1993, has since appeared in the DCU, name has been taken by a new character currently appearing in Titans.
  • Tim Hunter: Has not appeared since his third title ended in 2005
  • Tomahawk: Got a Vertigo one-shot in 1998, has since appeared in DCU mini The War That Time Forgot, as well as various cameos
  • Uncle Sam: The 1997 Vertigo mini-series has a tenuous connection the DCU character Uncle Sam, but the DCU Sam was a recurring character for most of the 1990s and has since had two mini-series and a forthcoming ongoing
  • Unknown Soldier: Vertigo character does not appear to be related to the DCU character at all, who has recently returned to the DCU in Blackest Night.
  • Zatanna: Got a 2003 Vertigo one-shot, has since been used regularly in the DCU and has recently been given her own ongoing

So in terms of characters that Vertigo still “owns”, you’ve got Swamp Thing and John Constantine as the Big Guns, and Mister E, Prez, Shade the Changing Man, and Tim Hunter as the rather smaller guns. Vertigo still has custody of Constantine and Shade for the forseeable future, and I’m not really sure who’s clamoring on either side for a Prez/Mister E/Tim Hunter revival, so this conversation really comes down to Swamp Thing.

Swamp Thing is a character near and dear to Vertigo and Berger. It was one of her first editing jobs (alongside the original House of Mystery) series, and she edited all but five of Alan Moore’s seminal run on the series, which in turn was the foundation for “sophisticated dark fantasy” books that sprung up in its wake at DC in the 1980s. Berger would go on to edit Hellblazer, Animal Man, Sandman, and Shade the Changing Man. While these are all books with a recognizable protean Vertigo feel, they were also deeply rooted — particularly Animal Man, Sandman, and Swamp Thing — in the DC Universe proper. She would take these books with her to the Vertigo line, but since 1993, Vertigo has never been able to recapture the earlier success of any of these characters, save Constantine.

Swamp Thing has certainly languished, commercially if not creatively, since Moore’s issues, despite runs by many worthy creators including then-up-and-comers Mark Millar and Brian K. Vaughan. At the time of the original series’s cancellation in 1996, the character was briefly allowed to appear in a number of DCU titles like Aquaman and Batman, but appears to have since been brought back into the Vertigo-only fold, a pool that’s really just Swamp Thing and Constantine at this point. I can’t blame Berger for feeling proprietary over these characters, but at a certain point, perhaps it’s time to give someone else a crack at making them work for contemporary audiences.

So while, if true, this change of custody might be seen as a loss of power for Vertigo, the online reaction on the Bleeding Cool Forums (which as of this writing is the only place to report this) characterizing this as “very troubling news”, confirming that Vertigo is a “dead imprint”, and other angry proclamations of doom — mixed in with, I should point out, several people asking why this is being treated in such a way — is rather confusing. Again, if this is actually happening. Which I wish some of the other news sites would bother to confirm.

Posted in Articles ·

10 Responses