Thursday, April 24, 2008

The Ones That Got Away: Part One

It felt familiar.

April 2008. Vertigo Version 3.0 is, in my opinion, a failure.

July 2002. I run the comic shop.

Neil Gaiman long ago ended Vertigo's Version One era (Alan Moore's Swamp Thing, Grant Morrison's Doom Patrol & Animal Man) with the gold standard of Sandman. Six years on, Vertigo offered us Vertigo "ghosts" such as Merv Pumpkinhead, Agent of Dream.

Also, Mike Carey's acclaimed Lucifer run is nearing its end.

July 2002. The Books of Magic, Preacher and The Invisibles have come to their respective ends. Their writers, John Ney Reiber, Garth Ennis & Grant Morrison have moved on to Marvel.

July 2002, Vertigo hasn't had a true "hit" since the 1999 launch of 100 Bullets. (And
Transmetropolitan doesn't count. It was a transplant from DC's failed Helix imprint.)

July 2002. Vertigo offers me Y: The Last Man by writer Brian K. Vaughan, fresh from closing out a failed Swamp Thing re-launch.

May 2002, I look out upon the comics and see the corpses of the failed and failing.

American Century. Outlaw Nation. Codename: Knockout. Flinch. Crusades.

At this point, Fables had yet to arrive.

May 2002, I order 12 copies of Y #1.

Smartest decision I ever made comics-wise.

I'd followed Brian K. Vaughan's work. I loved his two-issue stint on Wonder Woman. I still believe, that while still a bit "green," his work on Swamp Thing was pretty good. I loved his "fill-in" work on Batman. Do you know who he was filling in for?

Ed Brubaker, writer of the soon-to-be-canceled Vertigo series, Deadenders.

I bought the first issue of Y for no other reason than the nifty JG Jones cover.

And then, I read the comic. And, then I told people about the comic. And, then I recommended the comic so then, I had to re-order the comic. Others did the same and the next thing you know, with Fables, 100 Bullets & Y: The Last Man drawing rave reviews and more than respectable trade sales, Vertigo was on the map again.

Let's look at those three series I just mentioned. Fables. 100 Bullets. Y: The Last Man.

What does one have that the others don't? No end in sight.

Fables is ongoing. 100 Bullets and Y are finite series.

After a five-year, sixty issue run, Y is finished and with 100 Bullets reaching issue 90, it is rounding the corner to its planned ending with its 100th issue.

Of the V2 group, The Losers, with its slick art and gritty dialogue, looked to be the clear choice to pick up the 100 Bullets mantle but alas, it seemed no one bothered to ask the writer whether or not it was an ongoing series. Its story came to a close long before Bullets' did.

April 2008. And much like July 2002, Vertigo is, again, left without "definitive" Vertigo.

Vertigo Version 3.0 has been less than stellar. Vertigo, knowing that their "definitives" were coming to their respective ends, let loose with a sea of new titles. Titles that, thematically, bore some striking resemblance to its some Vertigo 2.0 brethren.

American Virgin, let's face it, was Y: That Other Man.

Army @ Love is satire and is the province of the beast or MAD Magazine.

Testament, while interesting, had too much going on.

Brian Wood's DMZ & Northlanders are good but don't pack the wallop of his earlier works such as Channel Zero.

Loveless written by Bullets' Brian Azzarello looked to have the most promise but due to delays and slow pacing lost its momentum.

Deadman had two knocks against it out of the box. One: It didn't feature DC Comics' unliving trapeze artist Deadman, Boston Brand. It featured some guy who was a... dead... man.

Two: it was written by a man known for not knowing what story he wants to tell.

The clever Exterminators, Crossing Midnight and Un-Men are all soon to be canceled.

Vinyl Underground has that early old Vertigo "Brit" feel to it but, if possible, feels almost "too Vertigo."

Of the V3 lot, there is one contender for "definitive" Vertigo status and it comes in the form of the wonderfully written and well-paced series Scalped by current Wolverine writer and Marvel exclusive Jason Aaron.

Marvel. Exclusive. Jason Aaron.


Damn, DC/Vertigo, why'd you let this one get away.

I've had this feeling before. It feels like deja vu and much like in June 2002, it sees Vertigo at a crossroads and an emerging talent gone to the other side.

What DC work have we seen from this man? In July, we get a one-off Penguin story.

It resembles when Brian K. Vaughan wasn't offered Batman full-time and instead went to Marvel and created Runaways?

It feels like when Brubaker went Marvel and became a breakout star.

Vertigo develops writers and has inadvertently become a farm team for Marvel, where they go off and sell comics in the tens of thousands.

That old feeling? Oh yeah, I know what it is.

It feels like Vertigo.

Part Two of "The Ones That Got Away" and how DC Comics and Geoff Johns plays into all of this next week...


Nate said...

...because despite the claim by DC that their editors are better than Marvel editors, they really take fewer risks than Marvel does.

I know that goes against the conventional wisdom, but let's face it, Marvel's been taking big chances with these risky writers.

Kill Captain America and run his series even better without him? DC never would have let Ed Brubaker do that with an iconic figure.

BIG MIKE said...

Yeah... Marvel will maybe let its creators run wild with any idea... 'Hey, maybe Spider-Man should make a deal with the devil to erase his marriage from history'... *sigh*...

But it is true that Marvel throws their weight around and gives big name work to unproven writers coming out of places like Vertigo.

I think it's important that Vertigo writers find the right fit. Runaways was perfect for Vaughan... I'm not sure how successful he'd be on Batman over a long stretch. Fables is really good, and Shadowpact was great with Willingham at the helm, but War Games? Not so good.

Nate said...

Hey, risk doesn't always deliver good...hence the definition of "risk"

I believe DC is controlled too much by WB. I don't think they're allowed to take the risks Marvel can without answering to the suits who really control things.

Anthony Strand said...

Interesting post, with a lot of good points. That said, the three titles you mentioned as being from Vertigo wave one - Alan Moore's Swamp Thing and the two Morrison books - were never Vertigo titles. Vertigo didn't exist until those runs were over.

Vertigo wave one looked more like this:
Swamp Thing by Nancy A. Collins
Animal Man by Jamie Delano
Doom Patrol by Rachel Pollack

Not nearly so inspiring.

Harvey Jerkwater said...

Not having the least bit of knowledge of how DC or Vertigo is actually run, maybe it goes like this:

1. Find bright young talent that's dying for a break. Someone with enough of a track record that you know he or she will produce good work, but not so much of one that they'll ask for a lot of money: small press folks and imports.

2. Allow said talent a (mostly) free hand, though keeping them in very rough sync with the "Vertigo vibe" of the day, whatever that is. Encourage experimentation to broaden the brand.

3. Should the book be a success, it'll live on as a trade paperback for ages. Should it tank, well, they didn't pay a lot for it, so no great loss.

4. If the book is a success, count on artists' commitment to telling their stories their way to keep them around. Do not cough up big dough unless the book is a runaway hit. If they leave, they leave. There's always more young talent willing to work their hearts out for beans.

It seems like DC is using Vertigo as a sandbox for new intellectual properties. Unlike mainstream DC, Vertigo creates new characters and titles at a rapid clip. Create enough of them with enough young talent, and something's bound to stick sooner or later.

Keep the operating costs for Vertigo cheap, and I imagine it'd be profitable Vertigo books, once successful, live on as trades much longer than standard mask-and-cape books.

All this would explain why they keep losing their big names to Marvel--they aren't interested in keeping their newfound talent in-house if it costs big dough. There's always more new talent around to exploit somewhere, and no outlet in the industry remotely like Vertigo, with its free-ish hand, massive corporate backing, and market cachet.

Provided they can hit on a book once in a while, I'd think that'd be a fine business model.

But I'm just guessing. Anybody who knows better, please correct me.

Jason Aaron said...

I appreciate the kind words about SCALPED, Devon. It's true, you won't see me working within the DCU anytime for the next couple years, but I hope to continue working with Vertigo for as long as they'll have me, even beyond SCALPED.

Devon Sanders said...


Thank YOU!

I mean every word of what I said.

Scalped and Wolverine have just been damned good reading.

Thanks for taking the time to check us out and commenting.