Ok, so we didn’t see this Hail Mary play coming.
When the resurrection of Doom Patrol was first rumored, starting as a Becky Cloonan pitch before seeing Gerard Way’s name attached, we assumed this was a Vertigo move. This is, largely, because of the problems Vertigo had when moving away from its edging of the mainstream DC Universe. As it moved away from that in the 1990s it still maintained its fan base and critical acclaim, but as it lost any internal continuity, lost its post-modern and adult take on superheroes, and shifted entirely to creator-owned books, it did not have the same cultural cache. With the new Vertigo relaunch seeing Lucifer brought back, especially a version of Lucifer that openly references “in continuity” Vertigo books of the past like Hellblazer, we had high hopes. Mix that with a failure to make Swamp Thing and John Constantine hits in the DCU, and we thought we were seeing the past revived.
Now, we are not entirely opposed to the new trajectory of Vertigo, but we like a little bit of both (that is, the dark superheroes AND the Image-esque creative indie titles). What we got from DC at Emerald City Comic Con 2016 was something else entirely.
Gerard Way, formerly of My Chemical Romance and the middle-school fantasies of mid-2000s pre-teens, “crashed the party” to announce a brand new imprint that he had been handed by DC. Called Young Animal, it is meant to be a “mature readers” brand for DC that is intended to be superhero focused. This means that all of the adult-oriented, creative, and radical superhero books that marked the first incarnations of the Berger-verse (old Vertigo head Karen Berger) are now in their own world. This brought in an exciting new line-up of four books, but it also cemented the fact that Vertigo Comics is out of the superhero and shared-universe game for good. Coming with a “Comics for Dangerous People” tagline, Young Animal is attempting to straddle the line between DC and Vertigo with something new, and this could turn out to be really special indeed.
The first title on the list is directly from Gerard Way and is going to bring back the crazy psychedelia that made the resurrection of Doom Patrol by Grant Morrison the new post-superhero standard.
DOOM PATROL – This September, in the spirit of Grant Morrison’s legendary run on the series, along with other classic incarnations of the characters, writer Gerard Way and artist Nick Derington will put their unique stamp on the world’s strangest heroes taking on the universe’s strangest villains.
The next book on the list is just as nostalgic for geeks of early Vertigo flare. Shade, the Changing Girl is going to revive the early concept helmed by Peter Milligan.
SHADE, THE CHANGING GIRL – An alien takes over the body of a 16-year-old bully and must face the challenges of being a stranger in a foreign land, plus the consequences of a life she didn’t live. Star Wars’ Moving Target writer Cecil Castellucci and artist Marley Zarcone explore themes of madness, alienation, and the bizarre in this sci-fi thriller, with covers by Becky Cloonan. The new series hits shelves in October.
What really makes Young Animal scream early Vertigo is not just what they directly lifted from the early line-up, but the way they play with DC concept. Cave Carson Has a Cybernetic Eye takes an obscure DC character that is many decades old (Cave Carson), and reframe him in a new high-concept creative take. That is what defined early Vertigo work (like, ahem, Doom Patrol), especially with books like Sandman, Black Orchid, Sandman Mystery Theatre, and characters that ran throughout like Mister E and Deadman. With Gerard Way as one of the writers of this one as well, we should be getting a good impression of what we are to expect from this line-up by reading his work like The Fabulous Lives of Killjoys and Umbrella Academy.
CAVE CARSON HAS A CYBERNETIC EYE – Writers Gerard Way and Jon Rivera, along with artist Michael Avon Oeming take readers on a strange adventure with DC Comics’ Silver Age character Cave Carson, his cybernetic eye and his college–age daughter as they travel to dark places deep in the earth and mind. Catch this new series in October.
Last, one wholly new character finishes out this line-up and brings the books in closer sync with the DCU. Mother Panic is going to be a part of the Gotham universe of heroes, which promises to interact with the new direction of the Bat-books promised in the DC Rebirth relaunch. This will include All-Star Batman by Scott Snyder and Tim Seeley’s return of Nightwing (We will miss Grayson).
MOTHER PANIC – Meet Violet Paige, a celebrity heiress by day and brutal vigilante by night as she takes on the underbelly of Gotham City’s high society. Hitting shelves in November, the series is written by Gerard Way and Jody Houser with art by Tommy Lee Edwards.
The title was originally rumored to be incredible violent and mimic Batman: Year One and V for Vendetta, but that language was not included in the final solicit.
As we said, this is far different than we expected, and it has to come from some demand that they are seeing not fully realized. The Bat-book makes sense; Batman has always edged itself towards the Mature Readers side with The Dark Knight books, Man-bat, Arkham Asylum, and several others. A big question is if Astro City will eventually make its way over to Young Animal, or if it is just for “in continuity.”
This may be the biggest addition for Young Animal in that it is returning adult titles to the DCU continuity. Pre-Vertigo books, those that later became Vertigo, were technically in the DCU. In early issues of Sandman you could see some interaction with DC superheroes, Books of Magic revives Mister E and has characters like The Spectre, and there is clearly crossover with Animal Man, Doom Patrol, Shade, and others until they became too segregated in their Vertigo corner.
This is a return to the “corner of the DCU” approach to adult superhero titles. For fans of early Vertigo, there is certainly an appeal, but the problem is whether or not they will let this be new and unique or if they are trying to capture lightening in a bottle. Adult superhero books, those that were dark, deconstructionist, genre defying, and challenging existed because they were the space in which a group of creative writers and artists broke conventions. It was new, and superheroes were simply where they had to start to do what they wanted. Today, these adult superheroes are nothing new, so it is debatable whether or not they can really have anything transgressive here.
We will not know until we see more, and we are slated to start this fall just like we began last fall with the Vertigo relaunch. This certainly does slow down what we are to expect from Vertigo, but with the direction it is heading we should still be expecting at least one or two more creator-owned series or miniseries before the end of the year.