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Joel Grineau
by: Joel V. Grineau
DC Comic's Vertigo

Just a few hours ago I read a comic book with an in-depth plot, great characters, course language, full frontal nudity and NO heroes, villains, costumes, super powers, sidekicks or secret identities! Impossible you say? Not really.

About five years back, DC Comics was faced with a problem. You see, the comic book companies know that their medium is mostly targeted towards young teenagers, most of whom will stop reading within about 3 or 4 years. The question was, how do you keep adults interested in a medium that is primarily aimed at young teenagers? (Also, the marketing gurus will point out that adults tend to have larger disposable incomes than teenagers.)

The solution was the creation of a new line of 'mature reader' comic books, known collectively, as "Vertigo". Vertigo was both a new and old idea. Other comic book companies had previously wrestled with this issue of maintaining adult readership: Marvel created the Epic line in 1982. Among the smaller companies, for example, Pacific Comics in the mid-1980's, purposely published material without the Comics Code Authority seal that was intended for older readers.

Of course, neither the Epic line, or any of the other non-CCA approved comic book companies are around anymore (Dark Horse of course, being the exception). What has DC done with Vertigo when the others have failed?

First off, some are quick to point out that Vertigo has first rate creators, such as Grant Morrison, John Ney Rieber, Steven T. Seagle, Garth Ennis, Neil Gaiman, Rachel Pollack and Alan Moore. This is true, but let's not forget that Epic included such luminaries as Jim Starlin, J. M. DeMatteis, Sergio Aragones, Frank Miller, Walter and Louise Simonson, Bill Sienkiewicz, and Bernie Wrightson in its stable.

Second, some would point out that Vertigo allows for adult theme stories, such as John Constantine's bout with cancer in "Hellblazer", or the fractured personality of Crazy Jane in "The Doom Patrol" (vol.2). However, "Dreadstar" (Epic) discussed the incestuous rape experienced by one of the characters. Similarly, "Elric" (Pacific), depicted an incestuous love affair the title character had with his sister.

Third, Vertigo has decided that when they do costumed super heroes, they'll be unlike any other super heroes out there. Thus, the revisionistic psychotic "Unknown Soldier", sadistic sexual thriller "Extremist", weird "Doom Patrol", and the downright incomprehensible "Shade, the Changing Man" and "The Invisibles". Other companies, when creating their 'mature reader' heroes, tended to stick to the more tried and true heroic formulas. For example, despite the hype, "Havok and Wolverine: Meltdown" (1989), was not really all that innovative. Although I will concede that Elektra: Assassin" (1986) was outside the established norms.

Fourth, Vertigo decided that they'll stay away from the costumed super heroics whenever possible. This is where I think the true strength of Vertigo lies. People will read good comic book stories about non-super heroic but still interesting beings. Ever wonder what Cain and Abel have been up to since Biblical days?- check out "The Dreaming". What's it like to have the potential to be more powerful than Merlin, and be only 14 years old?- read "The Books of Magic". What does the immortal lord of dreams do with all that time on his hands?- see "The Sandman". What's it like to live in a house that is dedicated to uncovering the secrets we all hide? Find out in "House of Secrets" (vol.2) (By the by, that is the comic book I was referring to in the first paragraph of this column).

Are you tired of standard super hero comics? Check out Vertigo. You just might be surprised.

Joel Grineau is a former Writer/Contributing Editor for "Chaos" Magazine. "Iron Man" 146 (purchased in the spring of 1981) was his first comic book, and time has not worn down his enjoyment of them. Joel holds a BA from the University of Guelph and an MA from the University of Saskatchewan. He is currently an officer with the Canadian Forces.

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