Vertigo has seemed somewhat like a label in search of identity recently – the imprint lost some of its best-known characters to the mainstream New 52 DC Universe, flagship title "Hellblazer" was ended after a 300-issue run, and founder and longtime guiding light Karen Berger made her exit. And while Vertigo is still home to a few high-profile comic franchises (Bill Willingham's "Fables," Mike Carey's "The Unwritten," Scott Snyder's "American Vampire"), and some spectacular limited series (Scott Snyder and Sean Murphy's "The Wake"), the edginess and constant innovation that became the imprint's calling card over the past few decades haven't been the content presences that they once were.
But it seems that tide is shifting. DC is sinking time and effort into a line-wide Vertigo initiative, and new Executive Editor Shelly Bond is spearheading a number of new series launches and special publishing events over the second half of 2013. And the Vertigo: Defy panel at San Diego Comic-Con gave early looks at much of what's to come. Panelists included Bond as moderator, along with Will Dennis, Mark Doyle, Mark Buckingham, Marc Andreyko, Sean E. Williams, Jeff Lemire, Simon Oliver, and Scott Snyder.
The program began in uninspiring fashion, with a DC marketing person at the podium hyping various DC and Warner projects (none of which were especially Vertigo-related), but once he finished his sales patter and ceded the stage to the creators and editors, things started to take off. It was a ridiculously full stage: ten men and one woman crowded at a long table, discussing new and upcoming projects, enthusing about their work, and poking affectionate fun at one another.
The main event began with Shelly Bond talking about Neil Gaiman and J.H. Williams III's upcoming "Sandman: Overture", and providing the audience with an exclusive first look at one of Williams' interior pages. This quickly transitioned to a discussion of the new "American Vampire: Anthology" series – an admittedly jetlagged Scott Snyder enthused about the work creators are doing on this title, and offered details of a few particular installments. ("Becky Cloonan's story is about Skinner wandering onto the set of this movie…It's modeled on "Greed," a legendary movie from the early days of cinema. And then everyone on set keeps dying!") He also offered details about his upcoming return to the main "American Vampire" series, and his plans for the next story arc ("it's bikers in the '60s, and Skinner, and 'Straw Dogs' and…") until he was cut off by his editor, so as to not give too much away.
The next series in line for discussion was "The Wake". Snyder began by thanking the audience for the support and encouragement, and expressed some amazement at the reaction this series has received. As he put it, he came up with the story and never considered any collaborator other than Sean Murphy to provide the art – it grew out of both of them, and they're pushing each other to new highs in creating it: "It's beyond what we've done, it's a place where we wanted to go, in the spirit of Vertigo." Snyder offered teases about where the series will go ("In the second half it turns back into a sci-fi adventure story...") and credited his experience writing for Vertigo with giving him the courage to experiment and expand his horizons. He also spoke of how much trouble he has explaining the concepts of the story to new readers: "…A marine biologist discovers a creature that's kind of a killer mermaid…it sounds kinda shallow."
Next, Jeff Lemire spoke of his upcoming series "Trillium": a "sci-fi love story" about a scientist working in deep space in the far future, and a World War I veteran exploring the amazon in 1921. As with Snyder, Lemire spoke of Vertigo's encouragement of experimentation: "The first issue is a double-sized flip book…and depending on which side you read first, it'll change your perceptions of the story."
Then, it was on to the entire family of "Fables" titles. Editor Shelly Bond read a message from Bill Willingham (who was not in attendance), Mark Buckingham offered up the cover to "Fables" #134 and told a little bit of the premise for the story ("It's only Bigby Wolf and Boy Blue in this issue, and that's what it's about..."), and some hints for what comes next in the series, when Rose Red steps into the spotlight to build a new Camelot and a new Round Table.
The discussion then proceeded to other angles of the Fableverse: Buckingham spoke of brainstorming the "Unwritten"/"Fables" crossover with Mike Carey and the collaboration between the respective artists on that storyline ("It's an amazing collaboration, with all of us inking over one another..."), Bond gave a couple sneak peeks at the upcoming "Fables Encyclopedia," excitement was expressed about Marc Andreyko and Shawn MacManus' upcoming run on "Fairest" (the first arc of the series that will tie concurrently into the main "Fables" book, and brings Cinderella back into the Fairest world), and details were revealed about the upcoming "Fairest In All The Land" original graphic novel (set for release on November 20th) which features art by Chris Sprouse, Fiona Meng, Phil Noto, Renae De Liz, Adam Hughes, Tony Akins, and many others.
Another project that got a moment in the spotlight was the forthcoming "Deadboy Detectives" monthly series. Mark Buckingham again did much of the talking ("We wanted to get to grips with these characters and give them an interesting new narrative..."), gave hints about how this series will explore the Deadboys' personalities in greater depth than any previous stories, and even mentioned a detail that could well prove to be a major plot point of the new series: a dead girl jointing the Deadboys in their sleuthing escapades.
Next, author Simon Oliver talked about his upcoming sci-fi "Collider" series ("In this world, there's a federal bureau of physics, who're kind of like Ghostbusters…nobody knows why the laws of physics are suddenly beginning to deteriorate..."), and his enthusiasm was echoed by Scott Snyder ("I've read the first three issues!").
And from that point on, it was a fast and furious mess of announcements. "The Witching Hour" anthology series (launching in October) promises to feature a truly stellar cast of creators; the forthcoming "Coffin Hill" series seems appropriately loaded with high concepts ("what if the Kennedy Curse went back to the Salem witch trials and had more magic involved..."); "The Discipline" (a new ongoing series by Peter Milligan) was described as being a provocative adventure story with dark sexual undercurrents ("...tapping into a zeitgeist of erotic fiction..."); and editor Will Dennis described the upcoming "Hinterkind" series as being a dystopian near-future fantasy story, where the last surviving humans have to compete for survival with fairies, ogres, orcs, and other warring factions of mythical creatures. And lastly, Bond discussed "Suiciders," a new monthly series written and drawn by Lee Bermejo set in a future Los Angeles that has been cut off from the rest of the country after a massive earthquake; the lead characters are two boxers battling for dominance in the city's largest sporting event.
The panel closed with thunderous applause, and a palpable sense of excitement in the air – Vertigo is still pushing boundaries and innovating, and with this wonderfully diverse slate of titles, they're back to doing what they do best: creating compelling comics for all tastes and types of readers.