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The Dark Underbelly of the DCU

Lately, there’s been a lot of news and discussion about the DC rooted titles that make up what I’ve always thought of as the “Vertigo Universe.” Here’s an article about DC Main reclaiming Swamp Thing (and other DCU originating concepts, possibly even one of my personal favorites, The Books Of Magic star Tim Hunter.) This spouted lots of conversation on forums, with some people scared that the Vertigo titles would lose their charm (long running Hellblazer, in particular) and others excited that many new stories could be told that previously weren’t possible. Here’s one such thread over at the CBR forums.

Swampy Is Coming Home

Personally, I’m in that second camp. My absolute favorite stories from Swamp Thing involve his interactions with DCU characters. The crossover with Batman in Gotham is amazing. Likewise, his Superman crossover (the one by Moore, not the one with Solomon Grundy pictured) is really something.

Madame Xanadu, a currently running Vertigo title, is already firmly rooted in the DCU – the stories are love poems to the rich history of DC’s magical and strange universe.

I personally think that the editorial separation of some titles was a mistake. Swamp Thing hasn’t exactly flourished outside of the rest of the DC Universe. While Constantine has maintained a steady run in Hellblazer, no one has been able to use him for a cameo – even when his particular brand of snark could have added a lot to many magical DC events. No one says the tights and capes have to show up in his titles – there are plenty of DCU titles that don’t feature superheroes all the time – but just because he disdains them doesn’t mean their interactions wouldn’t be entertaining.

True, a book like Lucifer, although a sequel to Gaiman’s Sandman, doesn’t really need the DCU to function and reads just fine on its own. However, it’s packed with easter eggs for the DC fan who is paying attention – and this move could free up many of the awesome characters created for that book to be used in relevant story arcs. I’m not concerned about contradictions with DCU mythology – I think it’s been made abundantly clear that DC has room for a flowing canvas of deities and magical systems. Lucifer has even made appearances in DC titles like The Demon.

Does it make sense that The Demon is a DCU character but Lucifer isn’t? Not in this age of comics for mature readers. A book can have a warning on its cover and still be part of the DC imprint. There are a lot of titles currently running that deal with themes more intense than the average Vertigo book from ten years back.

And finally, I think Vertigo will be just fine without their DC rooted books. It’s been kind of confusing for consumers that some Vertigo books interacted inside this strange DC mix while others were totally separate. Vertigo has established itself as a purveyor of fine creator owned and self contained content. It’s received critical acclaim and good sales (especially on the collected editions) with titles like Fables, Transmetropolitan, The Invisibles, Y: The Last Man, etc. I think that’s the direction it should continue to go in. Wildstorm has become almost as convoluted and continuity heavy as the main DCU – Vertigo can continue to be the place for content that can be picked up at book one and read straight through.

What’s The Verdict?

Anyway, that’s my take on it. Since characters like Swamp Thing, Tim Hunter, Cain and Abel, and hopefully even the Endless, will soon be showing up in more books – I think all of their adventures should be folded in. I’ve read almost every DC rooted Vertigo book and I can’t think of any that have more contradictions than your average DC Bullet marked title.

However, I want to see what you think. After answering the poll, feel free to elaborate on your thoughts in the comments!

Should all Vertigo Universe releases be integrated into the main DCU reading order?

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30 Comments Post New »

  1. avatar David wrote on at June 12, 2010 4:17 am:

    As for myself, I am relatively new to the DC Universe. Of course I know the basics and major plots, but it wasn’t until very recently that I began an adventure to read most titles and fully immerse myself in the world of comics. So, speaking as a reader who is new to this world, I would want the Vertigo brand in the Recommended Reading List. I can understand why someone might want to leave these titles off the list, but to me it would be consistent to include Vertigo. This is speaking as one who is trying to read all the titles on the RRL, in that order. So, I say that more is better in this case. The more information that I have about Batman (for example), the more information there is to process and better appreciate his story.

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    avatar Ian replied on June 12th, 2010 at 4:21 am:

    Makes sense to me. You’d be able to see which books include Batman (or anyone else) by the tag system anyway – so any Vertigo books without him wouldn’t show up on his list.

    I’ve already added in the Vertigo books that included heavy DC referencing or were released under a DC or combined logo – like the swamp thing books that were only later collected under Vertigo or titles like Books of Magic that were based on extremely DC linked starts (the mini was basically a tour of the magic of DC, almost like the History of the DC Universe books.)

    What I haven’t put in yet is the stuff that seems a little more separate – but still could work as part of the DCU. Like the majority of Hellblazer, the Lucifer series, and a bunch of the Sandman offshoots.

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  2. avatar HellBlazerRaiser wrote on at June 12, 2010 9:39 am:

    “Swampy Is Coming Home”

    “Swampy” never left his home.

    “I personally think that the editorial separation of some titles was a mistake.”

    There was a barely a “separation.” Characters moved back and forth regularly.

    “Swamp Thing hasn’t exactly flourished outside of the rest of the DC Universe.”

    Nah! Not at all!!! I mean, his book only ran up to issue 171. That’s not flourishing at all. Every series routinely runs for 20 years.

    “While Constantine has maintained a steady run in Hellblazer, no one has been able to use him for a cameo – even when his particular brand of snark could have added a lot to many magical DC events.”

    “Constantine” and “snark” should never be used in the same sentence. What will a Constantine cameo in a superhero book actually do for you? What would he actually do in a “magical DC” event?

    “And finally, I think Vertigo will be just fine without their DC rooted books.”

    Some DCU set series belong in Vertigo. HELLBLAZER should always be a Vertigo series. You just can’t do certain things in a DC bulleted book that can be done in a Vertigo series.

    “It’s been kind of confusing for consumers that some Vertigo books interacted inside this strange DC mix while others were totally separate.”

    It’s only been confusing for the idiots. The intelligent reader can discern the differences with ease.

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    avatar Ian replied on June 12th, 2010 at 11:58 am:

    Hey, HellblazerRaiser! Good to see you here. Thanks for commenting!

    So lets see – I probably should have clarified my thoughts on Swamp Thing a bit – I totally agree that that Swamp Thing’s home hasn’t really changed. I have always though of him not having moved, even though editorial direction moved from including mainstream characters in his books.

    By not flourishing, I should have said “lately” – While he’s had an impressive run (and is my absolute favorite character ever!) I think the last series wasn’t nearly as good as his earlier stuff. Sure, a lot of that is because of the talent on the book, but I think this opens him up to some new options that I’m personally excited about.

    About Constantine in superhero books.. well, that’s a matter of opinion, I guess. Though I’ve read every issue of Hellblazer available in trade (which is thankfully, a lot! But never enough) I still have a softspot for his role in the CoIE, and the part he played in getting Swamp Thing out of his swamp and into the rest of the world. I think it was great to show him as someone who had his finger on the pulse (or up the ass, whatever the term is) of the spooky side of the DCU. For my money, that Swamp Thing/Hellblazer/Magic Team crossover with the CoIE is the BEST thing that came out of CoIE.

    I wouldn’t really have a problem with books like Hellblazer being marked with the DC logo AND the Vertigo logo. I just think that if someone has a great use for one of the characters in the main DCU, they should be allowed to give it a shot.

    Anyway – opinion about that stuff aside – how do you feel about the actual reading order? It seems like we may agree on keeping any book related to DC as something to read along with the rest of DC.

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    avatar HellBlazerRaiser replied on June 13th, 2010 at 1:57 am:

    — “So lets see – I probably should have clarified my thoughts on Swamp Thing a bit – I totally agree that that Swamp Thing’s home hasn’t really changed. I have always though of him not having moved, even though editorial direction moved from including mainstream characters in his books.” —

    Statements like that make it seem as if Swamp Thing was in the JLA or JSA and routinely appeared alongside DCU heroes before Vertigo launched.

    It’s just not true.

    Batman, Superman, Wonder Woman, et. al. did not regularly or even frequently appear in SWAMP THING. Out of 171 monthly issues of the second series, I can think of maybe 6 issues where all or some of them appeared.

    Millar’s run had more DCU character appearances in it than the entire 149 issues that preceded it.

    — “By not flourishing, I should have said “lately” – While he’s had an impressive run (and is my absolute favorite character ever!) I think the last series wasn’t nearly as good as his earlier stuff. Sure, a lot of that is because of the talent on the book, but I think this opens him up to some new options that I’m personally excited about.” —

    The last two series tanked creatively and commercially because the writers didn’t know what to do with the characters. Making poor Tefé (potentially the most powerful Earth bound DCU character) into an emo-grunge-punk amalgam was just dumb.

    — “About Constantine in superhero books.. well, that’s a matter of opinion, I guess. Though I’ve read every issue of Hellblazer available in trade (which is thankfully, a lot! But never enough) I still have a softspot for his role in the CoIE, and the part he played in getting Swamp Thing out of his swamp and into the rest of the world.” —

    Constantine had a brilliant bit in CRISIS, but it’s brilliant because it was short (7 panels) and sweet. Extending it or repeating it over and over again would be ridiculous and hackneyed.

    — “I think it was great to show him as someone who had his finger on the pulse (or up the ass, whatever the term is) of the spooky side of the DCU. For my money, that Swamp Thing/Hellblazer/Magic Team crossover with the CoIE is the BEST thing that came out of CoIE.” —

    It was a banner on the cover, nothing more, nothing deeper. It’s not like Constantine or SW affected the outcome of CRISIS. They had their own problems to worry about during that story.

    — “I wouldn’t really have a problem with books like Hellblazer being marked with the DC logo AND the Vertigo logo. I just think that if someone has a great use for one of the characters in the main DCU, they should be allowed to give it a shot.” —

    HELLBLAZER should never (NEVER) go back under the DC bullet. It’s taken 10 years to finally get HELLBLAZER back on track and now you want it ruined by moving it under the DC bullet?

    The main reason Vertigo was created in the first place was because books like HELLBLAZER and SWAMP THING and SHADE and SANDMAN didn’t fit under the DC bullet.

    John Constantine is NOT a super-hero; he’s not a hero at all. He does heroic things when they serve his agenda (i.e. keeping himself alive), but he is NOT a hero and he doesn’t belong in super-hero books running around trying to save the world. The ONLY DCU book that I can accept him appearing in is ZATANNA and that’s because Dini has a good handle on Constantine. Other than that, he belongs in Vertigo books.

    — “Anyway – opinion about that stuff aside – how do you feel about the actual reading order? It seems like we may agree on keeping any book related to DC as something to read along with the rest of DC.” —

    I didn’t even look at the reading order. I don’t see it in this post. Where is it?

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    avatar Ian replied on June 13th, 2010 at 2:02 am:

    I guess my feeling is that DC doesn’t have to mean super hero. There are a LOT of DC books that aren’t super hero books – Jonah Hex, War Comics, and a fair amount of other modern books tied into continuity. DC can do mature non-nights stories now, so there’s no need for the separate logo. Ideally, nothing needs to change about the quality of story telling. But we’ll see.

    I’ve got absolutely no control over what DC does anyway, so in the end my opinion doesn’t really matter for much ;)

    The reading orders are the main purpose of this site, and not part of blog posts – check the sidebar to the right. The Vertigo listing is currently out of order because the Hellblazer trades need to be re-sorted in the database.

    [Reply]

    avatar HellBlazerRaiser replied on June 13th, 2010 at 2:18 am:

    There were a lot of DC books that weren’t super-hero books when Vertigo was launched that didn’t move to Vertigo. There were specific books within specific genres with specific types of storytelling techniques that were moved from DC to Vertigo.

    There are also different standards for sales between DCU and Vertigo.

    HELLBLAZER wouldn’t last 12 issues under the DC bullet, since its sales hover around 10,000.

    “DC can do mature non-nights stories now, so there’s no need for the separate logo.”

    I don’t know what you mean by “non-nights stories,” but you make it seem like Vertigo is obsolete and it is absolutely NOT obsolete. The reasons for Vertigo’s implementation are still valid today.

    [Reply]

    avatar Ian replied on June 13th, 2010 at 2:24 am:

    sorry, that should have said “non-tights” stories. That kind of typo is what I get for doing data entry after working a 10 hour day and trying to hold a conversation at the same time! haha

    I would never say that Vertigo is obsolete – it’s been my downright favorite imprint for years and years. But I think that it can grow as an imprint for amazing creator owned content, which is the direction it’s been going in for some time.

    Regardless of how it goes, I’m sure we both want titles like Hellblazer to continue and prosper. I honestly don’t care too much about the logo printed on it as long as it’s great stuff – and that is more up to the creative team than anything else. I hope the switch doesn’t damage the goods (and honestly, in his own stories, I don’t think Constantine needs things changed from the Vertigo way of doing things) but I’m still not adverse to him showing up in a Zatanna book in the mainstream DCU – or even an Etrigan one.

    [Reply]

    avatar HellBlazerRaiser replied on June 13th, 2010 at 2:45 pm:

    — “But I think that it can grow as an imprint for amazing creator owned content, which is the direction it’s been going in for some time.” —

    With the exception of HELLBLAZER, Vertigo had been exclusively creator owned for the last decade.

    Vertigo has now moved back to basics with the launching of MADAME XANADU and HOUSE OF MYSTERY, both of which are DCU set Vertigo series and with Milligan on HELLBLAZER, who has brought Constantine back to his roots and is also writing Shade into the story.

    [Reply]

    avatar Ian replied on June 13th, 2010 at 5:47 pm:

    yeah, exactly.

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  3. avatar Marc wrote on at June 12, 2010 10:25 am:

    I don’t see why adding some of them (i.e. Swamp Thing, Hellblazer, Books of Magic, and Sandman) would hurt anything. There’s some crossover between these books and the main universe – the Justice League appears early in Sandman, for instance, and Swamp Thing’s story actually continues from a main DC Universe title.

    I don’t mean that as a statement on whether certain Vertigo titles being folded into the main universe is a good or bad thing. I just think that reading certain Vertigo titles alongside main universe titles can’t be a bad thing. Even if the link between some of them is a bit tenuous (or even non-existent), the fact is that most of the comics in question are really good and deserve reading by any serious comics fan.

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    avatar Daniel replied on June 12th, 2010 at 10:58 am:

    I agree with Marc completely on this. The way I look at it is that the link between Gaiman’s Sandman and the DCU is well established (both via the Justice League appearance that Marc mentions and later appearances by Dream in Green Arrow, JSA, etc.), so if a title is in a shared universe with Sandman it must logically also be part of the DCU universe.

    I think a number of DC writers, especially in the last few years, have been putting in references to Vertigo lines with much the same thinking. I recently came across a reference to Lucifer in mainstream DCU continuity that implied, or at least I inferred, that it was referring to the Vertigo Lucifer.

    So, since the point (or at least *a* point) of this kind of reading list is to help a reader make connections between stories and catch references, it seems like those titles definitely have a place.

    [Reply]

    avatar Ian replied on June 12th, 2010 at 3:47 pm:

    Cool, so it’s seeming like for the most part we agree that it wouldn’t hurt to have the stories in there. I’ll let the poll go for a bit, but I feel that’s the direction its going to end up at.

    So lets say we do put the books in – do we put them in by release date, assuming that is kind of where the events are taking place or should be read? It’s a little strange that Constantine seem to age according to some books and the rest of the DCU doesn’t – though that could be the toll of all that messing with magic.

    The other thing is the Vertigo Universe list. I think it’s worth keeping as part of the site as a salute to both a solid publishing history and as a kind of subsection of the DCU. It’s not independent with crossovers, like the Wildstorm list, it’s more of a cross-through.. or something. I’ve already added books that I felt built to the Vertigo U or were heavily pulled from later – like House of Mystery, Swamp Thing pre-Vertigo, and even Deadman and The Phantom Stranger. I feel like, read together like a little magical universe. There’s a lot of subjectivity there, but a lot of times this is my favorite part of the DCU and I wanna share it in a similar manner.

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    avatar Marc replied on June 12th, 2010 at 4:05 pm:

    Speaking of Wildstorm, how complete is the Wildstorm list reading order right now? I’ve been interested in Stormwatch/Authority/Planetary for a long time, but I can’t keep straight what comes first, second, etc. I’ve even spent a few hours researching it on several different occasions, but for whatever reason it never seems to stick for me…I must have some kind of mental block on that entire comics universe!

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    avatar Ian replied on June 12th, 2010 at 4:41 pm:

    How complete? Not at all. The books up there are actually just the ones in my personal collection arranged as they are on my shelf, not really perfect. haha

    My to do list goes like this:

    Add in Archives to the DC List
    Add in DC Animated
    Add in Vertigo/ Complete Vertigo
    Complete Wildstorm

    Then fill in the info on all lists. I should probably post this somewhere!

    [Reply]

    avatar Marc replied on June 12th, 2010 at 8:02 pm:

    Sounds like you’ve got a lot on your plate! But yeah, I’ll definitely be looking forward to seeing the Wildstorm reading order whenever it happens. For now, though, would the current list be a solid framework? Stormwatch vol. 1, followed by Stormwatch vol. 2, followed by Authority, etc.?

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    avatar Ian replied on June 12th, 2010 at 8:07 pm:

    Yeah, actually, that should work fine. If you want to review any of that stuff, by the way – always room for that!

    I read it in that order, basically, which is why it’s on my shelf like that. But now that I’ll be adding in everything, it’s gonna end up shifted around a lot more. But for the books I have read, I can’t say I really missed much. They are a bit more self contained than a lot of regular DC books.

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    avatar Marc replied on June 12th, 2010 at 11:34 pm:

    Thanks for the info, I’ll look into starting on the Stormwatch trades then! One thing that’s always confused me a bit is that the trades start with issue 37. I understand that’s where it gets good and whatnot, but the completionist in me can’t help but wonder what happens in those first 36 issues and whether reading them will improve my experience with the trades at all. Thoughts?

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    avatar Ian replied on June 12th, 2010 at 11:37 pm:

    It’s true that the OCD in me would like to have it start at one… but I didn’t feel like I was missing anything.

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  4. avatar David wrote on at June 12, 2010 7:53 pm:

    Thanks a bunch, Ian! I find this site more and more useful. Is there anything we can do to help out? Rock on.

    [Reply]

    avatar Ian replied on June 12th, 2010 at 8:09 pm:

    No problem, David!

    Eventually, out of beta, there’s gonna be a TON of user interactivity. For now, commenting and giving feedback wherever is really keeping me going.

    I’m going to hopefully have some big news as far as users working with the database goes, though, soon. Ideally in the next week.. though no guarantees, haha. Depends on how much I can push myself – I’m starting to fall asleep at work a little bit ;)

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  5. avatar Alex wrote on at June 12, 2010 9:30 pm:

    Support integration today! How much longer must our Swamp Things and Constantines drink from separate narrative water fountains than our Men, Bat, Super, Aqua, and Hawk?

    [Reply]

    avatar Ian replied on June 12th, 2010 at 9:32 pm:

    hahaha, this makes me want to design some protest posters.

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  6. avatar Alex wrote on at June 13, 2010 12:04 am:

    To be honest… a little part of me wants a listing for every TPB. The crossovers with Marvel, Top Cow, and everything else go on and on until you’re left with a St. Elsewhere-esque continuity web.

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    avatar Ian replied on June 13th, 2010 at 1:28 am:

    That’s a long term goal, basically – the stuff listed above is just what I want up here before the end of the month, if I can manage it.

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  7. avatar Alex wrote on at June 13, 2010 3:46 am:

    End of the month!? THAT is ambitious.

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    avatar Ian replied on June 13th, 2010 at 3:50 am:

    hey I got about 20 days, should be enough to at least list the dc main and dc imprints. No promises about everything given full info, but at least the title should be in order.

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  8. avatar duncanpr wrote on at January 29, 2011 2:17 pm:

    So, I’m just now seeing this post and getting around to commenting. There are some characters out there who have stories crossed over between the DCU and Vertigo. Animal Man, whose Grant Morrison run is Vertigo while “Last Days of Animal Man” is DCU, and post-Morrison isn’t even in trade. Then there’s Deadman and Doom Patrol.

    Personally, I’m using this site as a way to keep track of DCU continuity, so my personal collection here doesn’t reflect every title I won; in fact, it shows less than half! I have quite a few Vertigo titles including The Invisibles and Y: The Last Man as well as Star Wars titles. However, I see the point of not mixing in something like Y: The Last Man, which is a “real world” universe, or The Invisibles, which, though a hero-style universe with time travel and magic, does not inhabit the same realm as the DCU. To complicate issues more, there are titles like Watchmen that used to be Vertigo titles but has since been reprinted as a DC title so as to make it seem accessible. Along those same lines, I have not added Watchmen to my collection here even though I own it.

    My conclusion: I think it’s tricky, and unfortunately there’s no easy answer. My best suggestion is to incorporate those titles related to the DCU and leave out those that aren’t. If you want to play it safe, you could always include the overlap titles on both lists.

    [Reply]

    avatar Ian replied on January 29th, 2011 at 7:18 pm:

    Watchmen may have been printed with a vertigo at some point, but wasn’t originally published as such. It’s kind of an elseworlds commentary, really.

    That’s pretty much what we’ve done at this point. The vertigo universe tag is just for books that are actually in that shared space (or a couple that could be, like war stories and westerns that make sense to share space with the other dc westerns.)

    Besides that, everything is gonna be under Self Contained. Only title I’m not sure about right now is Northlanders.

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  9. avatar Chris D. wrote on at January 29, 2011 11:20 pm:

    Well thanks to the “Recent Comments” sidebar I found this blog post as others have recently. Great post. I know this was polled a long time ago, but I just wanted to say that I completely agree with Marc’s view point. Basically if it would be normal for them to be in any crossovers or “Crisis” books it would only make sense to integrate them.

    [Reply]

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