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Up In the Air

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A spate of recent cancellations and recent news from DC corporate about certain Vertigo characters has fans worried about the fate of their favorite comics. Do they have a reason for concern?  

Vertigo was once the place to go to see creators push the envelope. It was where writers and artists had the freedom to experiment with the art form. It was a place where sales weren’t as important as the story, and teams had time to develop their concepts to legendary epics. It was a place where disused concepts could be revitalized and looked on in a different light. And those concepts would be protected from any misuse. Do you want to have Swamp Thing team up with Superman? Sorry, Swamp Thing is part of Vertigo, you can’t use him.

Recent shake-ups in the corporate structure at parent company DC, a series of recent cancellations of Vertigo titles, and certain statements the DC hierarchy have made pertaining to Vertigo have caused fans to be concerned that the imprint’s glory days might be over.

This week marks the arrival of the final issue of Air. Within two months time, it will be joined in cancellation by Unknown Soldier and Greek Street. At some point in the future, Madame Xanadu will also be ending.

It does have the appearance of a mass purge. And the fact that it comes so soon after the recent corporate shake-up at DC makes it appear that the reigns are being pulled a bit tighter—that sales are going to appear that much more important.

However, as Chris Eckert has pointed out, Vertigo has never been shy about pulling the plug on low-selling titles. The link above includes a chart listing all the Vertigo books that were cancelled before their thirtieth issue. And three of the four issues cancelled were Vertigo’s lowest selling titles.

We must also remember that not all Vertigo books are a bastion of quality. My biggest complaint with the imprint is that much of their output consists of authors mimicking the esoteric weirdness of Moore, Gaiman and Morrison, but with none of the plotting ability. This means that new books need a great hook to draw in new readers. 

Greek Street was a retelling of Greek myths set in modern-day London which many fans were cold to. Unknown Soldier was set against the backdrop of a war-torn Uganda, which would lead to serious examination yet not exactly something people look towards for entertainment. And Air started off with a plot about a terrorist sneaking plans for a terrorist attack onto an airplane. It soon morphed into a Lost-esque supernatural conspiracy thriller, but many people, especially Americans with 9/11 forever etched into their minds, might have been put off by that opening.

More troubling is the cancellation of Madame Xanadu. Like the titles mentioned above, it has a lot of fans. But it was one of Vertigo’s highest selling titles, outselling other titles such as DMZ, Scalped, and Northlanders. Many believe this cancellation is in line with the recent announcement that any Vertigo character that started out in DC proper would return there. But this does validate concerns that DMZ, Scalped, and Northlanders, now the three lowest selling Vertigo books, are no longer safe.

But we have to be realistic about Vertigo’s continuing health. Fables will most likely end when Bill Willingham wants it to end, and it doesn’t make sense to indoctrinate it into the DCU proper. Hellblazer and House of Mystery both started as DC concepts, but it’s hard to see them fitting in the current DC universe.  And the Vertigo Crime offshoot has just started and has a good bookstore presence.

But if Hellblazer and House of Mystery both go back to DC, this leads to a troubling new reality for Vertigo. It will still be the home to original concepts. But if these new concepts don’t catch on like happened to Air, Unknown Soldier and Greek Street, it could start a vicious circle of books starting, not catching on, and being cancelled. Books like Fables and Y, the Last Man don’t come around every day, and if all the imprint has left is a continuing cycle of failed books, will it be financially feasible to continue operating?

The recent changes in Vertigo can be viewed in two ways. It could be just normal attrition added to a change in corporate philosophy, but nothing that greatly affects a healthy future for the imprint. Or it could be the sign that major changes, perhaps even dissolution of the imprint, is in the cards.

Regardless, if fans of Vertigo are so concerned about its health, there is an easy solution. They should take a chance on the daring or risky titles such as Air or Unknown Soldier. If more of them did, the books might still be around and all this talk would not exist.   

Also out this week:

Harlan Ellison’s Phoenix without Ashes  #1:

To call Harlan Ellison a legend would be a gross understatement. His career spans seven decades and includes such classic stories as “A Boy and his Dog”, ”Demon With a Glass Hand” and the Star Trek episode entitled “A City on the Edge of Forever.”  His genius in writing is almost as legendary as his irascible nature, as evidenced in his squabbles with Gary Groth, Fantagraphics and Gene Roddenbury.

Ellison has always been a fan and supporter of comic books, and he is marking his return to the medium this week. This miniseries appears to be an adaptation of Ellison’s original vision for the syndicated 1973 TV series The Starlost, a property he developed but later disowned due to studio influence.

Harlan Ellison (W), Alan Robinson (A), IDW Publishing, $3.99. Four-Issue Miniseries.

The Boys: Highland Laddie #1:

When The Boys began, Hughie was the ipso facto focus of the book. It was through his eyes that we were introduced to the world of the series and provided a tether for all of us to enter into the comic. Over the years, Hughie has blended into the ensemble as the mysteries and conspiracies of the story took prominence.

Well, Hughie is getting his day in the sun once again with this special miniseries. It involves Hughie taking a holiday from his team and going back to his Scottish home of Auchterladle. What he intends to be a sabbatical of rest and reflection turns out to be anything but. There is something wrong with his hometown, and nothing is what it should be. What will Hughie do about it?   

Garth Ennis (W), John McCrea (A), Dynamite Entertainment, $3.99. Six-Issue Miniseries.

Hulk #24:

Last week, we talked about Incredible Hulk #611 and the confrontation between the Bruce Banner Hulk and his son, Skaar. Well, I guess Bruce is in a particularly combative mood because this week he fights against his old nemesis, Thunderbolt Ross, in his Red Hulk form. If these Hulks keep fighting, there won’t be a lot of property left for them to smash.

This issue is the end of the “Red Hulk” saga in the book and the last issue by Jeph Loeb and Ed McGuinness. The solicitation hints that this might be the end of the Red Hulk as well, but don’t believe it. The series will continue on with the Red Hulk as the star, only now being written by Jeff Parker and drawn by Gabriel Hardman.

Jeph Loeb (W), Ed McGuinness (A), Marvel Comics, $3.99. Ongoing Series.

Honey West  #1:

Honey West is known most for her short lived yet fondly remembered TV show which ran from 1965 to 1966. But she was created almost 9 years earlier in a series of mystery novels by Gloria and Forrest E. Fickling under the pseudonym "G.G. Fickling.” She holds the honor of being the first female private detective in any medium, and her adventures showed a woman can be sexy as well as smart.

Moonstone Comics knows a thing about classic detectives from years past, having published comics based on Pat Novak, Johnny Dollar, Kolchak, Boston Blackie and Bulldog Drummond. Not only is the company keeping the character smart and sexy, they are putting her in the hands of two legendary female comic creators—Trina Robbins and Cynthia Martin. So, if you like strong female characters—or strong female creators—this is a book you should look into.

Trina Robbins (W), Cynthia Martin (A), Moonstone Comics, $3.99. Ongoing Series.

Phantom Jack: Nowhere Man Agenda:

There are few comic books that have a more turbulent publication history that Michael San Giacomo’s Phantom Jack. Giacomo, a Cleveland-based journalist, created the first Phantom Jack series as part of Marvel’s Epic experiment in 2003. Work on the title was completed but Marvel pulled the plug on Epic before it was ever published. San Giacomo gained the rights back and had the series published by Image. A difference between the creator and the company resulted in the trade collection being published by Speakeasy Comics.

This is the follow-up, which was originally solicited as a three part miniseries from San Giacomo’s own Atomic Pop Art Entertainment way back in 2006. Low orders caused the release date to be pushed forward a number of times before the project was repositioned as a graphic novel. The graphic novel was originally supposed to arrive in early 2008, but ran into the same difficulties as the miniseries did. Now, finally, the next installment in the franchise has the power of premier publisher IDW behind it. Perhaps this means at long last the series will see the light of day.

Michael San Giacomo (W), Andy Belanger, Sean McArdle, & Andy Finlayson (A), IDW Publishing, $19.99. Original Graphic Novel.

The Last Phantom #1:

When Dynamite announced that it was going to adapt the Phantom comic strip into comic book form, it created a lot of waves in the comic fandom. Not because Phantom fans were longing for a Phantom comic book, but because there already was one. Moonstone has held the license for a number of years, and King Features Syndicate licensing the property to two competing comic publishers is odd to say the least.

This version seems a more radical adaptation than the one Moonstone offers. Instead of a costume, it looks like the new Phantom will be wearing a suit made up of freshly spilled blood. And the title might indicate that one of the long-standing aspects of the Phantom mythos—the lineage of the identity passed down from father to son throughout the years—might be coming to an end. A little more gritty than the version of Phantom you read while drinking your coffee each morning.

Scott Beatty (W), Eduardo Ferigato (A), Dynamite Entertainment, $3.99. Ongoing Series.

Dark Rain: A New Orleans Story:

One of the reasons why naysayers who worry about the longevity of the Vertigo imprint are wrong is books like this. The imprint is one of the few pages you can write stories deeper than just one guy hitting another and actually get the exposure they deserve.

This graphic novel is a layered look at a post-Katrina New Orleans—a crime caper with overtones of political commentary and slice of life realism. A pair of thieves is stemming the human tide of refugees to get from Houston into New Orleans in order to rob a bank. However, a security force hired to protect the area have the same idea. It’s a race against time through one of the worst disasters in human history with winner getting the spoils and the losers possibly losing everything.
 
Mat Johnson (W), Simon Gane (A), DC/Vertigo Comics, $24.99. Original Graphic Novel.

Shadowland: Power Man #1:

Power Man is a great name for a comic book character, and it has belonged to Marvel Comics since the 1960s. But it has been over a decade since it has been used in the comics (the last Marvel Power Man has been known as Cage or Luke Cage for all that time).

But, with trademark and copyright law being what they are, it was only a matter of time before Marvel had another character wear that moniker. Just so everyone knows that there’s a new Power Man on the scene, they’re using the Shadowland event to introduce him. One thing for sure, the new Power Man won’t be Luke Cage. But he might be a new Hero for Hire.  

Fred Van Lente (W), Mahmud Asrar (A), Marvel Comics, $3.99. Four-Issue Miniseries.

Star Wars: Legacy #50:

Anniversary issues are a good time to celebrate a title’s longevity, but it’s also a good time to wrap up a series, too. That’s what’s happening this week as this comic ends after a four year run telling the tales of the future generations of the Skywalker clan.

The galaxy is at war, and it will be a conflict that will reshape the entire universe. Right smack dab in the middle of the battle is Cade Skywalker, a descendant of the legendary Jedi, Luke Skywalker. There will be a new galaxy created after this great skirmish, but there’s a very good chance that Cade won’t be alive to see it. Will this be where the Skywalker legacy ends?

John Ostrander (W), Jan Duursema (A), Dark Horse Comics, $2.99. Final Issue.

###

William Gatevackes is a professional writer living in Mamaroneck, NY with his wife Jennifer and daughter Vanessa. He also is a comic reviewer for PopMatters, has written for Comic Foundry magazine and is the comic book movie editor for Film Buff Online. Links to his writing can be found at his website, www.williamgatevackes.com.

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Comments

  • Andy Oliver

    Andy Oliver Aug 17, 2010 at 7:03pm

    I, for one, will miss both AIR and UNKNOWN SOLDIER. Excellent books both. :(

  • Eric Lindberg

    Eric Lindberg Aug 17, 2010 at 7:44pm

    And I'm going to miss Madame Xanadu. One of my favorites. It's worth noting that Unknown Soldier has its origins in the DCU as well. I wonder if that was a factor in the cancellation, as it is assumed to be with Madame X. One would hope not, as neither of these characters get a lot of face time in the DCU-proper so taking them back seems like an empty gesture unless there are plans for them.

  • Andy Oliver

    Andy Oliver Aug 18, 2010 at 9:04am

    This "reappropriation" of characters does seem kind of arbitrary. Much as I would like it I don't think we will ever see John Constantine as part of the DCU ever again and HOUSE OF MYSTERY isn't going anywhere either.

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