This time, we decided to make a service to all comic book lovers by reviewing the best Vertigo comics series that you must read. And we say this because if you haven’t read them yet, you’re lucky. Because you have some of the best comic material out there ahead of you. Just at the tip of your fingers, at a click of a mouse.
During the 90´s, DC launched a new comic imprint directed to adult readers. This imprint featured many fantastic and horror themed comics, and some thrillers. To say it in not so many words, Vertigo published some of the best comics that were published during the next decade. Some of the most read worthy comic books ever made.
I will only cheat a little bit, but for good reasons. And since I will explain the cheat and the reasons, I think it’s worth to do it. To explain this, I have to make a little bit of history.
Officially, the Vertigo imprint started in January 1993. With Karen Berger as editor, the Vertigo line launched with 6 titles that were already in print: Swamp Thing, The Sandman, Hellblazer, Animal Man, Doom Patrol and Shade, The Changing Man. They also launched three new series, The Sandman Mystery Theatre, Black Orchid and Kid Eternity, and a couple of miniseries.
How will I be cheating? I will be considering material from the pre-Vertigo series as part of Vertigo. As a matter of fact, DC also cheated that way, since they were reprinted on Trade Paperbacks as Vertigo line… so I might be not cheating that much after all.
The reason: guys, this is good material, if you haven’t read it, you MUST. The fact that they weren’t originally published at Vertigo is just a detail. Their spirit is all Vertigo.
Another additional comment about this article. I´ll be focusing ONLY in regular series, leaving the miniseries (which Vertigo produced a lot, some of them quite good) for other articles.
Are you ready to enter the Vertigo world? Is dark and gloomy, but you won’t regret it at all!
The best 15 Vertigo comics series that you MUST read!
1. The Swamp Thing
This is the book that planted the seeds (pun intended) for what was going to come.
Alan Moore began writing the Swamp Thing in 1984, many years before the birth of the Vertigo imprint. At that time, Karen Berger was the editor of the book (remember she was the editor of the Vertigo line), which also marks is as one of her “babies”.
With Moore’s arrival to the book on issue 20, The Swamp Thing becomes one of the darkest and most creative corners of DC Comics. Also, Alan Moore is the first of many Scottish and British writers that will arrive to DC to create this kind of more sophisticated comic books that will be the imprint of the Vertigo Books. Neil Gaiman, Grant Morrison, Peter Milligan, even Mark Millar, all of them were followers of this pivotal book.
If you want to know what The Swamp Thing is, don’t worry about anything that was previously published and jump on straight on the Alan Moore’s run. Moore redefines the character, turning it into an Earth Elemental and giving the Swamp Thing powers and characteristics that weren’t even dreamt of before.
This is, in all it’s definition, an adult’s comic. It defies the Comic Code Authority. It mixes sci-fi, horror, sex between the Swamp Thing and Abby, his former love, drugs end ecology. It’s a book that really resembles and honors the horror books from the 50’.
For sure, Moore’s work (pre-Vertigo) is the best of them all. But if you follow The Swamp Thing along its timeline you’ll find many great writers handling the title: Grant Morrison, Mark Millar and Brian K. Vaughan.
Please, if you haven´t read them, read these books. You´ll find a real new dimension in comics.
2. The Sandman
The Sandman is, without a shadow of a doubt, another of the masterpieces published within the Vertigo line and one of the best comics ever published. It did start, however, long before Vertigo even existed. The Sandman #1 was published in January 1989.
Neil Gaiman wrote his best work in comics on this series. The book is full of magic, poetry, references to history, literature, and classic mythology from many sources. It’s really full of details that make it a book to read and re-read, and keep finding hidden jewels.
The story goes about Morpheus, or Dream, that as we start to get into the book we find out he’s part of the Endless family. His brothers and sisters are none other than Destiny, Death, Destruction, Despair, Desire and Delirium. Through the series we come to know them all, plus a gallery of strange and majestic characters that transport you to the Land of the Dreams. Stories range from horror to magic to fantastic realms, jumping from different points in time and space.
If you haven’t entered the Sandman Universe yet, what are you waiting for? It’s an unique and exquisite experience that you’ll remember for all your life.
Art on the series is maybe it’s weakest point. Along it’s 75 issues there were many different artists, some issues are beautifully drawn, and some that maybe are not so good. Maybe is the price your eyes have to pay to read this great book.
The covers are a completely different story. All of them were designed by Dave McKean using a combination of techniques that make each cover a piece of art in itself.
The Sandman gave also birth to many miniseries and spin-offs. As we mentioned, we will be taking about Vertigo miniseries (and maybe about Sandman related series) in a different article.
Just a little detail for you to understand how good this book is: Neil Gaiman won the Eisner award for best writer for this series for FIVE YEARS in a row, from 1991 to 1994. That never happened before, and it would be very rare for that to happen again. If this doesn’t convince you that you haven’t read comics if you haven’t read the Sandman, I don’t know what will.
For all of you TV Series’ lovers… Neil Gaiman just announced on Sept. 27, 2020, that Netflix is about to begin filming the adaptation in October 2020. So expect it somewhere along 2021…
If we talk about THE Vertigo books, the previous two and Hellblazer are probably the most emblematic ones. As the previous two titles, it also started before the Vertigo line, in January 1988.
John Constantine, the main character or the series, is a streetwise magician with a questionable ethics sense. He faces demons and spirits through deceit and manipulation, rarely displaying any kind of magic powers himself. He’s more of a magic connoiseur than a magician himself. In his stories he usually endangers the people around him, making him a despisable character for many of the people he crosses.
Constantine was created by Alan Moore and Steve Bisette in the pages of The Swamp Thing #37. Due to the impact on the public it deserved it’s own series. Through the longest run from Vertigo books, Hellblazer had some remarkable writers such as Jamie Delano, Garth Ennis, Paul Jenkins, Warren Ellis, Brian Azzarello, Mike Carey and Peter Milligan, to name a few. Grant Morrison and Neil Gaiman even filled in for some issues.
If you saw the Keanu Reeves movie and despised it, you are right. The movie couldn’t be more wrong on depicting the character, who is far from being a silver bullets gunslinger as depicted in the movie. But the movie was slightly based in “Dangerous Habits”, written by Garth Ennis. That’s one of the best arcs of the series. If you haven’t seen the movie, read the book, and then watch the movie to make fun of it.
Another can’t miss book. Of course, in it’s 300 issues had better and worse runs, but if you go for the Garth Ennis run or the Azzarello’s one you won’t be disappointed. The Delano run is also great, more on the horror side of the stories.
Another beautifully crafted story, for sure one of the best Vertigo series. This one is pure Vertigo, the book launched in July 2002, and concluded in issue 150, in July 2015.
The concept behind Fables is simple: the realms of the fairy tales is under attack by an evil force, and the characters from the classic tales are now living in exile in New York City. Maybe you heard this concept before, in the TV series Once Upon a Tale or even in Grimm. Problem is: this comic was previous to those TV series. And it’s better. It’s not the only time that concepts that came to life in a Vertigo series are later seen on TV. Inspiration? Copy? Anyway, read the comic, is better.
The human like characters live in a building called Fabletown, while the animal like characters live in a farm in the outskirts. While there are some recurring characters such as the Big Bad Wolf (who calls himself Bigsby and plays the role of Security Chief), Snow White (Director of Operations, a strong willed woman very far from the mild character depicted by Walt Disney’s movie) or Prince Charming (who has been married to Snow White, the Sleeping Beauty and Cinderella, an goes around seducing women), along the series there are many story arcs based on different characters, and the stories cover different genres, from murder misteries, to political intrigues.
The series is fully written by Bill Willingham, and has many artist, the main one Mark Buckingham, but the list of artists also include Bryan Talbot, P. Craig Russell, Steve Leialoha, and Mike Allred.
Fables has won many Eisner Awards including Best New Series, Best Writer, Best Serialized Story, and Best Penciller. It also generated numerous spin offs, that maybe we’ll highlight in a future article.
5. Shade, the Changing Man
This is also another of the titles that started previous to Vertigo. Maybe is less known that the Big 3 from the beginning of this article, but the book is really fantastic. It’s, without any doubt, the craziest one of them all. A comic with a lot of political background that strips off the American Way of Life during a road trip across madness. What?? Yes, sounds crazy, and it is. But it’s lot’s of fun.
Shade was a character created by Steve Ditko during the ‘70’s, but newcomer Peter Milligan took the character, changes all his background and turns him into a dreamer offworlder that arrives to Earth with a madness vest, that allows him to modify reality. Since on the trip to Earth he loses his body, he takes the corpse of a murderer just after he’s executed in the electric chair. After that, he forms a relationship with Kathy, whose parents were killed by this murderer, and together they go after the American Scream, a spirit that’s wreaking havok in western America.
The story is savage crazy, and many things happen to Shade along the way, from switching bodies to having a son, and the two supporting characters, Kathy and Lenny, are the perfect counterbalance to Shade’s madness.
The book is an acid trip, not so easy to read, but with some very interesting moments.
The art from Chris Bachalo deserves a separate comment. His interpretation of the craziness of some scenes is scary, and during this period his art is great and a pleasure to see.
This comic runs for 70 issues, from July 1990 to April 1996.
6. Y, The Last Man
Another pure Vertigo title.
The concept behind this series written by Brian K. Vaughan? One day, at the same time, all MEN die. Notice I said MEN, since nothing happens to women. And the same happens to all male from every species on earth. Well, all but one men and his monkey, which are seemly the only male survivors on earth, and the story follows their adventures as they try to find what happened with the world.
The world is left in ruins. Imagine what a situation like that would bring: all activities that are currently mostly done by men, are stopped. Also, all men die instantly, at the same time. If they were piloting a plane, the plane fell. If they were driving a car, the car crashed… Also, what happens with humanity afterwards? How does it survive?
The series, from 2002, is very post September 11, when the world was wondering what would happen next. It also impacts heavily now under this pandemic environment (as a matter of fact, we included it in our list of comics to binge-read during the quarantine…)
7. Books of Magic
Another book that has Pre-Vertigo roots. First publication of Books of Magic was as a miniseries in 1990/1991, and the book was a huge success so that they decided to give it a regular series, that was launched under Vertigo.
The first miniseries is written by Neil Gaiman, and each of the four installments is beautifully illustrated (or should I say painted?) by different artists, John Bolton, Scott Hampton, Charles Vess, and Paul Johnson. Really, a masterpiece.
The story tells the story of Timothy Hunter, a young boy that is destined to be the world’s greatest magician, and in each installment a character from DC’s mystical universe introduces him to the magic realms. The story is great, many people thinks so, and certainly a lady called J. K. Rawling must have thought so, since her character Harry Potter seems to be deeeeeply influenced by Timothy Hunter.
This will be the only case were we recommend a miniseries in this article, but you NEED to read this book to understand the following regular series.
The regular series started with John Ney Rieber as writer, and a rotating team of artist consisting in Pete Gross, Gary Amaro and Peter Snejbjerg.
The book centers in Tim Hunter, a teenage boy, dealing with this knowledge that he’ll become the greatest magician and the dangers this creates for him, while he explores the magic realms and his connections to it. You, as a reader, discover with him fantastic characters issue after issue.
If you’re a fantasy fan, and if you liked Harry Potter, this is a can’t miss book.
This is a hardcore book. Due to it’s thematic (with religious basis), the quantity of sex and violence in the book, we have to say that this is not only a book for adults, but a book for very open minded adults.
The book is about Jesse Custer, a preacher from a small town in Texas, who is possessed by a supernatural creature called Genesis, son of an angel and a demon. This entity gives Jesse the power to make people obey his words at will. He embarks then on a road trip to find God, who abandoned Heaven when Genesis was born, and kill him.
And he won’t be alone on this trip. His old girldfrind, Tulip O´Hare, and Cassidy, an alcoholic, punk vampire will be along on this journey that will meet the most strange, sadistic, and profane gallery of characters you’ve ever met.
As I mentioned, this book, written by Garth Ennis in what’s probably his best work and pencilled by the late Steve Dillon, is not for everybody. But if you decide to go for it, you’re in for a wild story full of irony, fun, sex and violence.
This series run from 1997 and 2002, through 60 issues, and it’s also considered as one of the pivotals works of the Vertigo line up. The series was originally published under the Helix imprint, but from issue 13 it was published under Vertigo, which literally saved this series.
Written by Warren Ellis and co-created and drawn by Darick Robertson, Transmetropolitan tells the story of Spider Jerusalem, a 23rd century journalist that embarks in crusades against the existing powers. In fact, Spider goes against the corruption of two different presidential administrations, while he deals with his own fame, earned through his articles.
Spider is a character that is tortured by his own cinism, and in many cases he´s not only an spectator but also has his own protagonism in the news he’s reporting.
This book is not as popular as some of the previous one on this article, but it’s a quite interesting book to read. It will surely spark your thoughts. You main agree or not with the character, but he will surely make you think.
10. 100 Bullets
This was the first story from Vertigo that was not based on sci-fi nor fantastic, supernatural elements. 100 Bullets is a really well constructed thriller story that engulfs the reader in a well constructed plot of intrigues and mafia wars.
It starts as a series of shorter stories, in which a mysterious Agent Graves gives an anonymous man or woman an attache containing an unmarked gun, 100 untraceable bullets, and documentation proving that a wrong has been done to him or her. Graves offer them the chance to take revenge, and get away with it.
That’s the starting premise to the story. But on the background, a much bigger and darker plot constructs, a battle that involves The Trust, a group of 13 families that rule the world, and the Minutemen, a task force they used to do their dirty work.
The story run for 100 issues, with writer Brian Azzarello and argentinean artist Eduardo Risso (who does here a fantastic job) producing all the 100 issues (that’s something quite unique in itself). It won the Eisner and the Harvey awards, and it builds slowly but is full of great moments.
Probably you, as a new reader, will be lucky to be able to read it on one seat, because the 100 Bullets is so full of details and connected characters that it’s easier to put the pieces together reading the story all together than reading it month to month, as was originally published.
This is also definitely one of the best Vertigo comics series.
The Lucifer series has it’s origins in The Sandman. In that series, Neil Gaiman introduces us to this version of Lucifer Morningstar, who tired of Hell decides to abandon it and settle on Earth.
And there we find him in the regular series, written by Mike Carey: Lucifer runs a piano bar in Los Angeles, called “Lux”, and is portrayed as a sophisticate, charming man, where he fights for free will and will power as opposition to predestination.
Lucifer has his main antagonist in Amenadiel, an angel with a particular hatred for Lucifer who comes to attack him both verbally and physically through the series.
This series is probably the most linked to Sandman in many ways, both in the depth of the stories it tells, the links to many mythological and religious figures, and the structure of the series.
Lucifer runs for 75 issues, and it’s written integrally by Mike Carey, with main artists Peter Gross and Ryan Kelly.
The TV series from 2016 bases the character on this book (the piano bar, the charming character that decides to leave hell), but while the book goes more deeply on the moral implications of desitions, it takes a lighter approach turning him into a police consultant. It’s fun to watch, but the comic is better.
12. The Exterminators
Ok, I must be upfront with you: this is, by far, not the best Vertigo comics series. But, I don’t know why, I have a personal taste for it. You might look at the cockroach with the grenade on the picture and you might guess why… it’s fun!!
The first ten issues were great, then it starts flopping and ends up disappointing a bit. By the end, it seems that it has been hurried to finish (as a matter of fact, this series was planned for 50 issues and ended in issue 30) and leaves you a taste that they could have done a much better story.
But the general plot is fantastic: we follow here Henry James, who after being released from jail starts working as a bug exterminator. Thing is Draxx, the poison they use to kill the bugs, is in fact evolving the insects faster and mutating them, making them more intelligent and dangerous. To top on things, the company that produces Draxx has plans to sell it as a street drug in the poorer neighborhoods.
The cocktail of the premise seems, and is, really interesting. The story is full of dark humor, and the first couple arcs are really good. Then, as we mentioned, the story looses weight as they close some subplots in a rush, and the story begins to wander off.
The series is written by Simon Oliver (who originally planned it for a TV series) and is mostly pencilled by Tony Moore, who does a fantastic job.
If only for the first two books, it deserves to be read.
DMZ tells the tale of a Second American Civil War and what particularly what happens in Manhattan, that has been turned into a demilitarized zone. The island gets almost empty, with only 400.000 people left living on it, mostly poor people who were not evacuated
The story centers on Matty Roth, a journalist who wanders around the city covering the war zone stories. It’s a book about what happens to the people in war times, the consequences on the people who can’t escape the conflict and must keep on with their lives. The series is hard, hard as war should be depicted. It’s cruel, unfair, and depressing. But it’s a great story.
The series is written by Brian Wood, with art by Wood himself and italian artist Riccardo Burchielli (plus some fill-ins on unitary stories by artists such as Cliff Chiang, David Lapham or Shawn Martinbrough)
14. The Sheriff Of Babylon
Another war centered book makes our list of the best Vertigo books. This time is a shorter series, it runs for only 12 issues, but it´s really good so I had to include it here.
The Sheriff of Babylon was created by Tom King (which you must know for his work on Batman or on the Mr. Miracle series) and Mitch Gerards. The story is based on Tom King’s own experiences as counterintelligence officer in Iraq working for the CIA, and follows Chris Henry, an ex-cop who is hired as police consultant in Iraq after the fall of Sadam Husseim, who tries to solve the murder of one Iraqui police recruit.
Set in the unstable post-Husseim Bagdad, were older and newer ideologies conflict, King and Gerads build a story that mixes intrigue and war dramas with a superb mastery of the moods the war brings.
Don’t miss it.
15. Sweet Tooth
Our last pick from this list of best Vertigo comics series is Sweeth Tooth. By now, probably everybody knows about the quality of Jeff Lemire’s work. And Sweet Tooth is no exception. This series ran from 2009 to 2013, and Lemire’s populates this world with the noblest beings and the cruelest villains.
Sweet Tooth is set in a post-apocalyptic earth where a new race is born, with both human and animal characteristics. The main character is Gus, a moose horned boy who has to survive in this difficult world after his father’s demise.
And survival won’t be easy for Gus, since his hybrid race are hunted and his life is constantly at risk. There are allies that may not be so much of a friend, sadistic scientists, new hybrids, and cruel humans that want to eradicate these hybrids at any cost, even the most innocent and noble characters.
Sweet Tooth is a very solid series, again, for adults, and if you haven’t read it yet it’s great to give it a try.
This is another book that is rumored to be adapted for TV by Netflix, this time with Robert Downey Jr. behind it!
If you go for ANY of these books you have a warranty of good material. Some of them you might like more or and some less, but without a doubt, Vertigo comics are some of the best comics ever published.
Try some of these, and keep reading good comics!!