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Idiot's Guide Weekly: The Sad Strange Case of Vertigo Comics

Written by Christian on Tuesday, July 19 2011 and posted in Columns

IGW examines the fall of Vertigo in the latest weekly column.  Also, news, reviews, Mammon and the first roung of the Pull List Death Match!

Welcome to a weekly column summarizing the good, the bad and the ugly that occurred throughout the week in comics. With fifty billion websites covering all the minutia of the comic industry and dozens of comics hitting the shelves, it's about time that someone has the stones to take it all in and regurgitate it like a mother bird to her chicks.   Idiot's Guide Weekly will cover pertinent news, the best and worst comics of the week, and anything else worth mentioning in a jovial and mocking manner.   So enjoy it while it's fresh: Idiot's Guide Weekly aims to please.

The News:

Top News Story of the Week: Teasers of both The Dark Knight Rises and The Avengers have hit the web. Find them while you can.

DC solicited some stuff for this October. They also "OMD'd" the Super-marriage. I'd post lots of links to all the outrage spreading across the internet, but it's a little if no one really cares about Superman.

Defenders. Matt Fraction. Dodsons. Natch.

The Sad and Curious Case of Vertigo Comics: An Idiot's Guide Feature

As DC's October 2011 solicitations rolled in this evening, I noticed one intriguing tidbit nestled in the last single issue comic solicitation of the month. In the solicitation for The Unexpected #1, a single issue anthology being published in the wake of last month's successful Strange Adventures, a preview is being released for a new ongoing title that will be released sometime in the future. While we don't know the creators involved or even the name of the book, I'm sure we'll get more of an announcement next weekend at SDCC. This kernel of information represents a prospect to the end to one of the most distressing streaks in comics, namely the number of months that has gone by without Vertigo releasing a new ongoing series.

With the release of October's solicitations, it has been eighteen months since Vertigo has released a new monthly ongoing series. During those eighteen months, Vertigo has not only been stripped of its role as the imprint that publishes edgy stories featuring DC properties but has also lost its spot as the groundbreaker and leader in the creator-owned comics.

Let's take a look at how Vertigo ended up where it is today.

Vertigo Timeline of Sadness 

February 2010: DC announces the promotion of Jim Lee and Dan DiDio to co-publishers of DC Entertainment, effectively putting the two in charge of the entire publishing branch including Vertigo Comics.  DiDio mentions that he plans to become more involved

Rumors and speculation began to emerge that DiDio would make a play for the DC characters that were under the control of Vertigo, a point that had allegedly been in dispute between DiDio and Karen Berger, the long time executive editor of DC who (allegedly) had a great deal of sway with Paul Levitz, DiDio and Lee's predecessor.

March 2010: Vertigo releases American Vampire, the first comic to feature original scripting by novelist Stephen King. American Vampire is immediately (and rightfully) acclaimed as one of the best books in the industry.

April 2010: Vertigo publishes i,Zombie, featuring Mike Allred's unique style of art. iZombie almost matches American Vampire's sales, giving Vertigo two smash hits in 2010.   The Losers, a movie adaptation of the Vertigo series, is also released. Things look bright on the horizon for the imprint.

May 2010: DC announces the cancellation of Air and Unknown Soldier, two of Vertigo's ongoing series.

June 2010: Rumors emerge that a planned Vertigo Swamp Thing series by writer China Mieville had been scrapped after several issues had already been written. The rumor began to spread that it was due to an executive decree by Dan DiDio, reversing a policy set forth by Paul Levitz that had placed edgier titles and characters in Vertigo to separate them from their more mainstream counterparts.

July 2010: Karen Berger confirms that all DC properties will be reverting into DC Comics hands, leading to the cancellation of Madam Xanadu. Hellblazer, the long running series featuring John Constantine, is still  Greek Street is also cancelled due to low sales. This marks the fourth series cancelled in the last three months with no replacements named to replace them. 

August 2010: Image publishes the smash hit Morning Glories, which quickly hits Vertigo numbers in both monthly sales and trade paperbacks.

September 2010: DC announces plans to lay off 80 employees. Among the employees laid off are two Vertigo editors, Jonathan Vankin and Joan Hilty. A third editor, Pornsak Pichetshote transferred to a new position in DC Entertainment.  In addition, Bob Harras is named as the editor in chief of DC Comics, pushing Karen Berger further down the totem pole.

October 2010: Vertigo begins to rerelease old Vertigo stories under the Vertigo Resurrected anthology.

Meanwhile, a television adaptation of The Walking Dead is released by AMC creating a new wave of interest in the Image mainstay.

November 2010: Vertigo announces that Jack of Fables will end in March 2011

December 2010: Bleeding Cool reports that DC has changed its contract for creator owned work in order to make the projects more profitable for the company, which while protecting DC, also effectively shuts the door on Vertigo taking risks on lesser-known, lower profile books.

February 2011: Vertigo announces that they will be publishing Strange Adventures, an anthology featuring not only a series featuring Ultra the Multi-Alien (a DC property) but also a preview for the upcoming Brian Azzarello maxiseries, Spaceman.

March 2011: With the official end of Jack of Fables, Vertigo dips down to ten ongoing series, the lowest number of ongoing series being put out by Vertigo in over five years. In addition, Vertigo announces the end of their Vertigo Crime imprint, cutting additional content from their catalog.

On a related front, rumors begin to spread that the long-stalled Sandman television show had been benched, forcing DC CCO Geoff Johns to state that he was working with Neil Gaiman on the adapting the book for television. Since that announcement, there's been no news of any new development of the series.

April 2011: Image releases a slew of critically acclaimed #1 issues, including Nonplayer, Green Wake and Blue Estate Green Wake is picked up as an ongoing by Image. despite its relatively modest first issue sales.

Eisner nominations are announced.  Image earns 12 nominations, Vertigo earns 9. 

May 2011: Brian Wood announces that he's ending DMZ, which will bring down the number of Vertigo ongoings to nine. 

June 2011: Vertigo announces that Northlanders will be cancelled at issue #50 which will drop the number of ongoings to eight. Just one year prior, Vertigo had fifteen ongoing titles out.  

Fox announces the cancellation of The Human Target, a television adaptation of the Vertigo series. The fact that it was adapted from a comic book series was barely publicized and DC failed to cross-promote the book outside of a five issue miniseries released under the DC Comics imprint.

DC Comics releases The Search of Swamp Thing, a miniseries designed to reintroduce John Constantine and Swamp Thing to the main DC universe. At the same time, DC announces the DC Relaunch, featuring a series of titles that just the year before would have been released under the Vertigo imprint. One of the books, Justice League Dark, is a practically a roll call of former Vertigo books, including Madam Xanadu, Constantine and Shade the Changing Man.  The line is collectively called by many on the Internet as "Vertigo lite". 

Image releases Witch Doctor #1, the first book released by Image's Skybound imprint, a recruiting tool that exchanges advance payments and marketing for a share in publication and licensing rights.  

Brian Bendis begins production of a television adaptation of Powers, his creator-owned comic. Casting is completed and filming starts in early July

July 2011: Vertigo announces that House of Mystery (a DC property) is being cancelled in October, which will bring the total number of ongoing monthlies released by Vertigo down to seven.

In the same solicitations, Vertigo FINALLY hints at the release of a new ongoing series, its first since the realignment of power at DC. Although details are scant, we know that the series be magic based and set in New Orleans.

The above timeline illustrates the rough and distressing transformation that Vertigo has undergone, with a few tidbits showing how their competitors have done. Many of these changes were done in the name of profitability, including the personnel cuts, the cancellation of over half of its line and the decision to publish all DC properties under the DC Comics line.

Although Vertigo claims that the changes has given the imprint a chance to focus on creator-owned monthly ongoing series, their ongoing line has dropped to less than fifty percent of what it was last year. Image has used the shrinking of Vertigo's catalog to build its own line of creator-owned titles. When comparing Vertigo's top four selling titles (Fables, American Vampire, The Unwritten and I, Zombie) to Image's top four selling titles (Walking Dead, Invincible, Chew and Morning Glories)*, Image outsells Vertigo handily. Even when taking away the top selling titles (Walking Dead outsells Fables by over 40%), Invincible, Chew and Morning Glories still beat American Vampire, Unwritten and I, Zombie. When combined with the fact that Morning Glories, Chew and Walking Dead are all gaining readers while the Vertigo titles suffer from typical attrition, it appears that Image will increase its lead over the once great imprint.

Competition is always good for the market, but so is a healthy Vertigo imprint. I, for one, hope that this new Vertigo title, whatever it is, will be able to reverse the largely negative slide that Vertigo has faced and pull it out of the dangerous tailspin that threatens to turn the creator of Y, The Last Man, Preacher, Sandman and Ex Machina into little more than DC's version of Icon, the Marvel imprint that exists exclusively to publish pet projects of big name Marvel creators.

Pull List Death Match: Round 1

Here's the first round match-ups for the tournament. Vote for your favorites. Winner with the most votes win, ties determined by me. FYI, there may be a little something for those who vote in all the rounds of the tournament.

Action Comics  vs   Invincible

American Vampire vs  Journey into Mystery

Avengers Academy  vs  Justice League Dark
Batgirl vs  Lady Mechanika

Batman (Gates of Gotham) vs  Morning Glories

Detective Comics (Scott Snyder) vs Red Robin and the Outlaws

Captain America vs  Stormwatch

Chew vs Suicide Squad

Criminal vs The Sixth Gun

Daredevil vs The Unwritten

Demon Knights vs Ultimate Spider-Man

DMZ vs Uncanny X-Force

Fables vs Walking Dead

Fear Itself vs Who is Jake Ellis

FF vs X-Men: Schism 

The Book of Mammon: The 52 

As I was eating with Mammon yesterday, I asked him if he had sent me his weekly submission. He immediately excused himself and returned five minutes later with his submission written on the back of used Panera napkins.

I'm as eager as ever to get my hands on the new DC 52 #1s I'm calling my bets on what will be big!

Suicide Squad- It's got King Shark, how can it fail!?
Animal Man- Interesting covers got me very interested. +1
Aquaman- <----

Some that I hope will be good, but i have my doubts.

J.L.A.- Come on baby, don't fail me when we need you most!
Green Lantern- With the new Sector 2814 Lantern, we will see how long people enjoy this one.
The Flash- Please Francis! I've loved your art so far! Don't let me down!

Last but not least... Some which I don't care for.

Mr. T.- I pity the foo who reads this.
O.M.A.C.- What's wrong with his face?
Superboy- Never liked the character. Unless it was Prime.

I hope to be surprised a great deal when the 52 hit the shelves but im not holding my breath for some.

The Comics (There Be Spoilers Below!):

Moment of the Week: There's only enough room for four Earth Green Lanterns and one of them isn't Hal Jordan. (Green Lantern #67). Yup, we now have a Green Lantern Sinestro ongoing series coming out this September. Potential tagline for the series: Green Lantern: One now in pink, chances are this book will stink.

Comic of the Week: Ultimate Fallout #1: Probably the best book Bendis has written in at least three years.

Surprise of the Week: Captain America #1: Thank you, Marvel, for giving me the opportunity to enjoy my very own Captain America #1. The number one means it matters!

Best Character of the Week: Spider-Man (Amazing Spider-Man #665). I had an argument last weekend about the relative inability for characters to grow and change in the comic book medium. I hold up Spider-Man's actions in last week's ASM that even when faced with various creative and editorial constraint, there is always room for character growth.

Worst Character of the Week: Wolverine (Schism #1): It's funny, Wolverine had no problem exposing children such as Kitty Pryde, Jubilee, Armor, the Young X-Men or his stupid clone the horrors of the real world. What a hamfisted attempt to justify Wolverine's role as the compassionate party in all of this. Let's not forget that Wolverine has a five figure body count and would probably try to bone his own clone if she was over eighteen. 

Other comics of note:

FF #6: First issue that I didn't love. Too many catchphrases, not enough explanation of what was going on.

New Mutants #27: Okay. This book's pretty good. (For those not in the know, I just mirrored a line of the book).

Mystery Men #3: Plans are being created to start a Bring Back Mystery Men campaign by sending surgical masks to Axel Alonso. Please stay tuned for more information.

American Vampire: Survival of the Fittest #2: Nazi Vampires! Mein gott! 

Batgirl #23/Red Robin #25: Two books that really shouldn't be going away in the DCnU.

 Everything Else (Musings and whatnot)

Twenty-four days til the wedding. I forgot to send out some last minute invitations today. I might be writing next week's column with a broken finger, courtesy of Mrs. BlueStreak.

SDCC Coverage next week. We'll rank the panels, the announcements and offer to write a character statement for anyone who punches one of the Twihards who are already lined up outside of the convention center.

In two days: Comic-Con!  

Written or Contributed by: BlueStreak

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About the Author - Christian

Christian is the exasperated Abbott to the Outhouse's Costello. When he's not yelling at the Newsroom for upsetting readers or complaining to his wife about why the Internet is stupid, he sits in his dingy business office trying to find new ways to make the site earn money. Christian is also the only person in history stupid enough to moderate two comic book forums at once.


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