R.I.P. Vertigo Comics (1993 – 2019)

by James Ferguson

Vertigo, the signature imprint from DC Comics responsible for some of the most influential comics of the medium, is shutting down. It’s tough to put into words how much that banner meant to the comic book industry and an entire generation of creators. Books like Sandman, Preacher, Y: The Last Man, and Fables created a home for people that didn’t fit the mold of your traditional comic book reader. They also served as a gateway to the medium.

Due to a restructuring, DC Vertigo will be shuttered along with DC Zoom and DC Ink (two other imprints that only just got started and barely had any books out yet). The new line-up will be split into three sections: DC Kids (aimed at readers aged 8-12), DC (for readers 13 and up), and DC Black Label (basically everything else, and 17 and above). Any titles currently under Vertigo, DC Zoom, or DC Ink will be moved to the appropriate new banner in 2020.

This whole move hits me hard. Vertigo means a lot to me. I can trace my re-introduction to comics back to Preacher and I picked that book up long after it had ended, while I was in college. I devoured title after title under the Vertigo banner, quickly filling my book shelves with everything I could get my hands on.  Comics had changed so much in the relatively short time I was out of the loop and discovering Vertigo was like opening a treasure chest.

Fast forward to today where I’m a father of two young boys who love super heroes and you can imagine my excitement for DC Zoom and DC Ink. These books were tailor made for my kids, especially my six-year-old who is reading up a storm.  I’m actually more surprised about the demise of these newer imprints as it looks like they were pushed heavily when they were first announced. I can’t tell you how many times we’ve read the Super Sons book already. While some of these will be moved to the DC Kids imprint, there was something special about these upstart imprints as they were designated as out of continuity and made especially for this young, curious audience.

DC publisher Dan DiDio said in a statement:

We’re returning to a singular presentation of the DC brand that was present throughout most of our history until 1993, when we launched Vertigo to provide an outlet for edgier material. That kind of material is now mainstream across all genres, so we thought it was the right time to bring greater clarity to the DC brand and reinforce our commitment to storytelling for all of our fans in every age group. This new system will replace the age ratings we currently use on our material.

DC has been ramping up Black Label lately with a slew of new announcements. These new titles, like Harleen and Joker / Harley: Criminal Sanity all feature characters wholly owned by DC. Although Vertigo is a brand that deserves and commands critical and fan acclaim, at the end of the day, the books are mostly creator-owned. Why would Warner Bros as an organization want to support something it doesn’t own outright? It’s the same reason Marvel Comics shuttered its Icon imprint awhile back. This makes me question any of the creator-owned work that might pop up under Black Label in the near future. It feels like their days are numbered.

Fortunately for creators hoping to get their work published under Vertigo, there are many other options now. I do wonder how this might affect the talent that DC gets for future books as Vertigo was a nice feather in the cap of the publisher.  Look at someone like Joshua Williamson who signed an exclusive deal with DC in 2016 to publish work that included Vertigo titles like Frostbite and Deathbed. He’s had a good amount of creator-owned work published at Image. Does that limit his work to super heroes only?

Obviously, the books already published will never go away. I’m sure DC will be selling Sandman and Y: The Last Man for decades to come. As the comic book industry continues to grow and change, it’s a sad day when something as influential and iconic as Vertigo falls along the wayside.

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