Catching up with Vertigo

One of my goals during the semester break was to complete reading the growing stack of comics on my night table. While it took me longer than I expected, I actually caught up on every periodical on hand. I had been working hard to stay close to Flashpoint then the New 52, but it meant the Vertigo titles were stacking up, forlorn and whimpering.

I like many of the titles and appreciate that all of them have different tones and voices, set largely in their own worlds, allowing for greater personal perspective. The line has waxed and waned and is poised for refreshing in the coming months as a number of their longer running books wrapped up.

The Vertigo books, more than the DCU titles, cry for collection. Some of that has to do with the sometimes erratic publishing schedules but also the fact that none of them are meant to be read in single-issue installments. Just about every book I read was a chapter in a longer arc that was clearly intended to be collected.

Editorially, I object because it makes the books inaccessible. If any DCE titles needed recap pages, it was these books, especially if there were more than four weeks between issues, which happened a lot. As a result, it meant my sitting and reading four to six issues of each title made for a far more satisfying reading experience. Apparently writing done-in-one stories just isn’t the Vertigo model.

Creatively, the most consistent of the books remains Fables which continues to find new and interesting ways to use the fairy tale characters of our childhood. Bill Willingham deserves all his praise for the sustained effort, along with kudos for letting others play along. Chris Roberson did some marvelous work with his Cinderella miniseries.

The book going away that I will miss the most is Brian Wood’s Northlanders. The book, about the Vikings near the end of the first millennium, was about a subject I knew little about and watching them try to tame a harsh wilderness while being spiritually attacked through the spreading Catholicism, was fascinating. At least it’s ending with a strong run of stories following one particular clan.

Jeff Lemire’s Sweet Tooth is a fun read with nicely quirky artwork but it like DMZ and others continues to explore post-apocalyptic worlds that begin to feel a little too familiar. DMZ just ended and was never less than interesting, occasionally moving and brilliant. But it needed a conclusion so the time was right.

I find Unwritten, perhaps the best liked of the last wave of Vertigo launches, incredibly uneven. Some issues are terrific and others leave me scratching my head. Even with reading a huge chunk at once, I was left confused more than once which is not good writing or editing. A more consistently strong launch was American Vampire which started off as being billed as from Stephen King but clearly this is a Scott Snyder production and the storylines have moved along at a nice clip. The view of vampirism is a little different, coupled with some strongly delineated characters.

I find myself enjoying Mike Allred’s artwork more than I am Roberson’s scripting for iZombie so the book is a take it or leave proposition for me. And while I was late to truly appreciate Jason Aaron’s Scalped, I find the final arc impenetrable since I can’t keep track of the characters and he’s made no effort to help the reader. Similarly, I had trouble keeping the cast of Matthew Sturges’ House of Mystery straight and the storylines grew increasingly difficult to follow, screaming for an editor’s strong hand. The series started off with tremendous promise and lost its way, never really coming back from the fringe, despite the late addition of Cain, making the series part of the DCU proper.

Of the new crop, Spaceman from Brian Azzarello and Eduardo Risso, is certainly fun to look at and once more gives us an unpleasant world but trying to fathom how this society works (or doesn’t) makes the nine-issue miniseries more of a chore than it needs to be.

The line has endured corporate neglect, a diminishing audience, and creative unevenness but remains one of the few places in comics where creative experimentation and concept exploration is the rule. All are worth trying since everyone reacts differently to the material. Being truly cut from the main DCU (with the sole exception, it seems, of Hellblazer) may free Karen Berger and her editorial team to reinvigorate the line this year. I’m certainly looking forward to the next wave.

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