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OP/ED: Silver Phoenix talks Vertigo!

Written by SilverPhoenix on Thursday, September 23 2010 and posted in Features

The announcement of Wildstorm and Zuda's dissolution lead to concern over Vertigo's future.  Silver Phoenix lays down what's happened and what the possibilities are...

Ladies and Gentlemen, there can be no denying what story has dominated the Comic Book newswires this week, as DC Entertainment has announced even more details (as corporately vague as they can be) about its restructuring into a Multimedia force, to combat the Disney Marvel machine. However, the part of the news that made the most immediate impact has very little to do with some of the offices moving to California. It had to do with the fact that a 20 year old imprint will cease to publish new material at the end of the year.

Wildstorm (along with Zuda) will close their offices after producing some of the most critically (and fandom) acclaimed superhero comics in its illustrious history. A history that some remember fondly, and others remember with less fond memories, which leave no question as to the impact that, the brand had. After all, if you last the better part of 20 years, you did something that kept fans talking and buying your material.

With the Internet buzzing about the latest closing of multiple DC imprints (joining CMX as the imprint casualties of the great restricting of 2009 – 2011), there will of course be buzz about the most lauded of the imprints, and Vertigo has seen plenty of headlines that have made a good chunk of its fans take a cautious and weary pause as the new order settles in. Every since February there have been more questions than answers as to what role the Imprint would play in the future of DC Entertainment, with some predicting huge changes (some of which have already happened), and others predicting (Warren Ellis included) even predicting it being determined obsolete by its new masters. However, like most Vertigo stories, the future of this tale is connected in a way that some people would miss until it hits you right in the face.

If anything, I feel that any conversation about the fate of Vertigo has to be connected to the fate of its Stewardess, Karen Berger. In the 17 year of existence of Vertigo, she has not only been a significant part of the environment that has created so many critical and commercial successes, but has been the only Executive Editor that the imprint has ever known. It also helps that for most of her 17 year tenure as head of this imprint, she has been generally allowed to operate Vertigo without much publisher interference. That changed dramatically this year, as we have had.

1) The shelving of the planned China Neville "Swamp Thing" series, to have said character possibly appear in a J.T. Krul penned Green Arrow comic.

2) The unilateral returning of ALL of the DC properties that were taken under the Vertigo wing over the years. This has lead to the pre-mature cancellation of probably the best book starring ANY DCU character, period, along with taking away an option for characters when they could be flourishing in stand-alone stories, otherwise.

3) The canceling of not just Greek Street and Air, but of Unknown Soldier, which has been one of the most critically acclaimed comics of the past 2 years (and one of my favorite trade reads), which is made worse, because DMZ was selling just as much at this point in its life.

Now let's not forget that most Vertigo books have a natural shelf life of 2 - 3 years, so the third thing shouldn't be a cause for panic by itself. What is disturbing though is the lack of new on-goings to replace them. If one takes a look here, you can see that from 2006 - 2008 Vertigo launched 14 new titles (with one being a spin-off in Jack of Fables, and another being a new volume of an old property in House of Mystery) alone. If you want take in a 5 calendar year trend (2004 - 2008), then Vertigo launched 20 Titles (with 3 being either a spin off, or a new volume of an old property in Swamp Thing Vol. 4, Jack of Fables and House of Mystery). In that 5 year calendar trend, the low end of the spectrum saw no less than 3 new monthly books being launched each year (with 2006 and 2008 being the start off point for 5). Once you take those numbers into account and compare them to what we've seen the past 2 years, it's not hard to see a diverging pattern in the quantity of output, especially if you came on board in the 5 year calendar period that this article pointed out. Needless to say, it's not going to be exactly hyperbole if you said that thing could be changing in front of our eyes.

(It should also be pointed out, that the two books that were launched this year, had either a big name attached to them, or had connections to a big name already working in the fold. What this means for the future, I really don't know, but we could be seeing a trend I am going to point out in the conclusion.)

Taking these things into consideration, the writer of this article wonders if the biggest news of the February promotions wasn't about who got promoted, but was about who failed to get promoted. Not only was Karen Berger not given power to determine the future of the imprint that she runs, but the people that were given that power, consist of people who.....

- Could see this imprint as a threat to the resources that could be diverted to what they want to promote beyond the comics. (This isn't a passive aggressive accusation to what this person likes, or dislikes, but it is a recognition of different properties battling for the same production dollars)

- Will have their attention diverted to other divisions of the company, to where the day-to-day nuances of the Graphic Novel side of the Business will be secondary.

- Don't have the best professional relationship with the Stewardess in question.

Once you take all of that into account, it presents an interesting number of scenarios that could play out from here, and I think 4 of them are the most likely, which range from...

1) 2010 was just another transitional year, and NYCC is where we begin to hear the rumblings of a bunch of new titles. Meaning that Vertigo, while no longer being a place where under-utilized DCU characters can get some spotlight, but where original content by less famous creators can flourish, with DC Entertainment's marketing machine behind them.

2) Karen Berger stays on, but things change even more dramatically. Not only do we see the end of the DCU transplants, we also see the raising of the overall cancellation line for a monthly series, which would cripple the chances of most unknown creators looking to get their big break in the industry though DC Publishing. This will also lead the imprint switching gears to the OGN and Vertigo Crime lines, which are beginning to gain more steam.

3) Karen Berger announces her resignation, and one of her more Senior Editors (Shelly Bond), takes her place. From there, Vertigo's future is open to multitude of possibilities ranging from a combination of Scenario 1 and 2, to the slow degeneration of being a vanity imprint for the big boys, making it DC's answer to Icon.

4) Karen Berger announces resignation, and instead of one of her more Senior Editors getting her spot, it is given to one of the Power Trinity's boys (or girls). From there, whatever isn't considered to profitable or potentially marketable enough, will either be released from their publishing contracts, or pushed to end prematurely. Vertigo is reduced to Icon's Status in a much faster time frame.

And for those looking for it, there isn't going to be a 5th Scenario where Vertigo dies. The last thing Vertigo needs is for an irrational fear about its demise to spread like a wildfire. Instead, let's assume that there's too much printed gold for that to happen, and for DC Entertainment to not be that stupid. Vertigo will continue to live from the writer's point of view, it's just how that's the question.

Written or Contributed by: SilverPhoenix

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