A Crisis of Chronology: The Magic of Vertigo

By | June 6th, 2010
Posted in Columns | % Comments

If you’ve been reading comics for a while, then you’ve most likely read at least one comic from DC’s Mature Readers imprint Vertigo, or at least heard of it. While a lot of Vertigo titles are completely self-contained (Y: The Last Man, Seaguy), others still have a tenuous connection to the main DC Universe. While some of these, such as Grant Morrison’s Doom Patrol, are more mature examinations of superheroes, most of those that overlap are related to the magical and supernatural. Follow the jump for a cursory glance at some of these great titles, which includes many of my favorite series.

Now, the great thing about Vertigo is how most of these series don’t really need to be read in any particular order. For example, even though John Constantine is introduced in Swamp Thing, you don’t absolutely need to read Swamp Thing thing to understand Constantine’s solo series, Hellblazer. As such, one might find this sort of chronological approach a bit unnecessary, and I would agree that it might be better to read each of these series in any order you want first, but it’s always interesting to go back and view the progression over the years as one would read famous writings from Homer to Nietzsche (except on a much smaller scale). Did I just compare a list of comics to a Great Books List? You bet I did.

A lot of titles that are now considered the classic Vertigo books actually started well before Vertigo was created, thus resulting in their ties to the DCU. The first title on our list, published years before Vertigo’s creation in 1993, is Alan Moore’s revamp of DC’s horror book The Saga of the Swamp Thing. While I wouldn’t call Swamp Thing my favorite Alan Moore comic, it’s definitely another great one from the most respected man in the industry (except by the industry itself, it seems). This book is also important because it was Moore’s first work for DC, so without this we probably would never have had Watchmen. Just some interesting food for thought.

As mentioned before, the streetwise magician John Constantine was introduced in Alan Moore’s Swamp Thing before getting his own solo series entitled Hellblazer (which, interestingly enough, was never actually written by Alan Moore). Hellblazer is actually Vertigo’s longest running title, with issue #268 coming out next week. With a variety of great writers gracing its pages over the years, if you want to read Hellblazer outside of this list, I would recommend maybe reading the first trade and then, if you for some reason don’t want to finish original writer Jamie Delano’s great run, picking out a writer that you like and reading their run. Hellblazer isn’t too heavily laden with continuity porn, so you won’t be harshly punished for skipping ahead.

One of my favorite comic series of all time is Neil Gaiman’s Sandman, which is next on our list. Rivaling Hellblazer for the most amount of spin-offs, though I don’t think it surpasses it, Gaiman’s 75 issue series follows the return of Morpheus, the King of Dreams, and his interactions with various other supernatural beings, from his Endless siblings to Lucifer himself. While I may agree with some that Gaiman isn’t always the most original writer, I feel that very few are as talented a story-teller as he is, whether in comics or prose (#50 is probably my favorite single issue ever published). The most common complaint I’ve heard is that the series starts out slow, but even then a lot of people agree that it picks up by the second trade. Sandman is also probably incorporated into the mainstream DCU much more than any other Vertigo title, from Morrison’s JLA to Goyer and Robinson’s first JSA arc, with other stops in between.

Continued below

Many of my friends have found Shade the Changing Man by Peter Milligan a bit difficult to get into, and I can’t say I blame them. It’s definitely a touch on the strange side, and one of the reasons DC found it necessary to create a new imprint for “mature readers.” I find it very interesting, though, and I owe my love of artist Chris Bachalo to this series. I’ll be honest and say I really have no idea how to describe this to the unfamiliar, but if you’ve a hankering for comic surrealism then this is a great one to read. Unfortunately, DC just got on the ball for reprinting this in trade, so unless your local shop has a great selection of back issues, you’ll have to settle for acquiring the trades at the ridiculously slow rate DC publishes them. I suppose there are other ways, but we here at Multiversity don’t support that sort of thing.

Also written by Neil Gaiman was the miniseries The Books of Magic, which presented a young boy’s tour of DC’s magic scene. A few years later, Vertigo began publishing an ongoing series under the same name starring Timothy Hunter, the same boy from the first mini. Originally written by John Ney Rieber, the series was taken over by writer/artist Peter Gross as of issue #51. Currently Rieber’s 50 issues are the only ones collected in trade, despite many (meaning me) believing that Gross’ issues are just as good. If you enjoy Rieber’s run and are able to find the issues written by Gross in your shop’s back-issues, I highly recommend picking them up.

As Hellblazer spun out of Swamp Thing, so did Mike Carey’s Lucifer spin out of Sandman. And I have to say… Lucifer may be better. It just presents a very interesting view of religion and the devil, and that’s the sort of stuff that I just eat up. Granted, it’s based off of Lucifer as written by Gaiman, but only Mike Carey could take such a character and truly make it his own. If you’ve already read Sandman I particularly recommend this one, as it slightly spoils some bits of Sandman. Supposing you’re a loser and don’t want to read Sandman prior to this, it remains easily accessible without prior reading. This is probably my choice for the weekly if-you-don’t-read-anything-else-read-this, so get on that as soon as possible. Yes, you.

Wrapping up this list is the currently being published title Madame Xanadu by Matt Wagner. Do I really need to say anything more than Matt Wagner? As I’ve said in previous posts, while I wouldn’t call Wagner my absolute favorite writer, I don’t think I’ve read anything written by the man that I didn’t like, and Madame Xanadu is no exception. Only 23 issues in, it’s completely possible that you may be able to find all the issues in your shop’s back-issue section, otherwise you should try to pick up trades until you catch up with the singles of this highly underrated book.

I’ll admit: there’s a lot not on this list. There have been tons of spin-off series, from The Dreaming to Lady Constantine, and I certainly don’t mean to imply that Alan Moore is the only person to write Swamp Thing. However, these series are some of what I view to be the “core books” of Vertigo. By all means, if you enjoy a certain series be sure to check out spin-off books (I particularly enjoy Ed Brubaker’s Sandman: The Dead Boy Detectives). As usual we have our final list:

Ok, I lied. There is no list this week. You very well could read these in the chronological order presented, but I feel that most of these read best straight through rather than by reading an arc of one, an arc of another, etc. All things considered, you should just read them in whatever order strikes your fancy. My suggestion? Read every series minus Hellblazer in the order presented, with a few Hellblazer arcs in between each. It’s the perfect way to get your occult/magic fix on!

//TAGS | A Crisis Of Chronology

Walt Richardson

Walt is a former editor for Multiversity Comics and current podcaster/ne'er-do-well. Follow him on Twitter @goodbyetoashoe... if you dare!


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