I'm a big fan of the early 90s Vertigo-era of DC comics, so I read this book with a very critical eye. I feel like I know a lot about this era of comics and it's main players, so when I'm reading a book like this I'm looking for NEW information — either via interviews with the creators discussed in the book, anecdotal stories about said creators or simply new research the author themselves have unearthed.
Here's a little secret about me: I'll usually start reading a book before I'm ready to go to bed. I find reading relaxing, and reading tends to help me fall asleep. I figured it would be the same deal with this book. Much to my dismay, ten pages in and I could not put this book down. So much for sleeping. I nearly powered through three quarters of this book in one sitting.
What really kept me engaged with this book was that it wasn't a dry recounting of the biographies of three of DC's most prolific writers, it was an examination of everything that was going on in that era. Greg Carpenter creates a wonderful balance of 1) providing context as to why said creator is a genius, and then demonstrating it by deconstructing his work and explaining it's significance in relation to that time in history. There's a bit of a background about what the creators were doing with themselves before they hit their stride, and I find this refreshing as it adds a bit of context and allows us to realize that, once upon a time, they struggled just like the rest of us aspiring writers.
This book covers the entire gamut of early Vertigo genius: Swamp Thing, Animal Man, Doom Patrol, Sandman, The Books of Magic, Kid Eternity, Sebastian O, The Mystery Play, Hellblazer, Flex Mentallo, The Invisibles, Black Orchid and The Tragical Comedy or Comical Tragedy of Mr. Punch. (These were almost all of the titles that made me keep collecting Vertigo comics and watching with eager anticipation for any new releases on the horizon.)
Something I really appreciated was that Carpenter gave special attention to said creator's earlier works, as well. Thanks to this book, I will now be hunting down copies (or collected reprints) of Violent Cases, St. Swithin's Day and various issues of the UK's Warrior and 2000 AD magazines.
This book was not simply Vertigo-focused. Yes, it did speak in great detail of Arkham Asylum, The Killing Joke, The Watchmen and Moore's more famous mainstream DC works (ex: Whatever Happened to the Man of Tomorrow?, Superman Annual #11), but the author gave a lot of attention to the earlier, lesser-known works that made these creators the renowned writers they are today. These included Zenith, Marvelman/Miracleman, From Hell, Big Numbers, V for Vendetta and the aforementioned Violent Cases. I was previously unaware that Alan Moore had written stories for the Star Wars Marvel UK series — one more thing I'll need to check out. The author even devotes a whole chapter to the 'Dr Who connection' among the three creators (and yes, inevitably, there is one).
The book doesn't just stop at the history of Vertigo — it also delves into what became of the creators after the early 90s. It details Moore's falling out with DC. It examines the Morrison/Moore feud (and yes, inevitably, there is one). This book also covers a lot of smaller press material that may have flown under our collective radars the first time they were published (i.e., Lost Girls, A Small Killing, and Signal to Noise). Later on we read about Moore's contributions to Image Comics and Morrison's reworking of the DCU in Final Crisis.
Interview snippets and anecdotes from Karen Berger were intermittently dispersed throughout the text (in a relevant fashion). The book concludes with the author's interview with Berger in it's entirety. I am quite fascinated with Berger and often feel like she is one of comicdom's 'best kept' secrets. Thankfully, this book succeeds in pointing out how instrumental she was in the creation of the Vertigo imprint.
If I had to make one change to this book, while the cover of the publication was good, I feel that it should've been something more epic. Maybe it's because I kept reading references to Bill Sienkiewicz, but I really think this book was deserving of a painted cover. That's just my opinion, however.
If you're a Vertigo fan, I'd fondly recommend this book. I'd also recommend this book if you're interested in comic book history and are especially interested in what was going on in the comic book industry during the 1980s and 1990s. This book is incredibly well-written and something I can see future essayists citing as a research reference.
Two interviews with the author worth checking out:
- Ed Catto: The Other British Invasion for ComicMix.com
- Tony Black interviewing Greg Carpenter for FlickeringMyth.com
For more information about the book (such as ISBN number and where to order it), check out the Sequart page.
Other Sequart articles by Greg Carpenter:
- Tiptoeing Through the Tulips with Neil Gaiman
- The Nostalgia Test: Re-examining Denny O’Neil, Denys Cowan, and Rick Magyar’s The Question
- Delivering the Twentieth Century, Part 1: Alan Moore and Eddie Campbell’s From Hell
- No Country for Old Men: Jack Kirby, The Hunger Dogs, and the Modern Age of Comics