RAMBLE: Voodoo Chilli

Dominique Laveau, Voodoo Child #1 was released this week, featuring Selwyn Seyfu Hinds as writer and Denys Cowan on art. The third of four books Vertigo are launching this month as a counterattack against Image’s recent publicity, it’s an okay opening issue. The art is rather nice – this is Denys Cowan, after all – and the writing reasonable. There’s an overwritten narration which wants to be more thematic than it is, and the story itself is confused and will probably only make more sense once the first arc is complete. Currently the main character has spent a lot of time running about New Orleans in a panic, bumping into corpses everywhere she goes. Or, causing corpses inadvertently. There’s some interesting work being done here, but the comic is far too rushed to stand by itself.

Vertigo’s recent fortunes have been very strange. Scalped, Hellblazer, The Unwritten and Fables are probably the most prominent titles left for the imprint, which has recently seen talent like Brian K. Vaughan, Grant Morrison, Tony Harris and Brian Wood – all of whom who’ve had considerable success for Vertigo in the past – leave to join Image instead. With Scalped heading towards the final issue later this year and the new Fables spinoff, ‘Fairest’, receiving middling reviews (not least from me), is Vertigo in trouble?

The four titles added to the current lineup, which also features titles like IZOMBIE and American Vampire, are Saucer Country, Voodoo Child, Fairest and The New Deadwardians. There’s a range of style between those four, but most interesting is that with the exception of Fairest, the books are all written by newcomers to Vertigo. While the old guard are leaving – Jason Aaron moving to Marvel, Brian Wood to Image, Warren Ellis to… quit comics forever, appearently – Vertigo have decided to embrace it and move onto new talent. Bolstered by Bill Willingham’s latest Fables spinoff series, which tends to attract a female audience which helps to increase sales, these are the books which Vertigo are going to have to stake themselves on.

No comic imprint which can boast Denys Cowan, Paul Cornell, Bill Willingham, Scott Snyder, Ryan Kelly, Phil Jimenez and Peter Milligan amongst the creative talent can be considered to be failing, but the other publishers are now starting to really up their game to rival Vertigo’s once-untouchable lead. Marvel’s Icon line still has most of Mark Millar’s current output, as well as a swelling of Brian Michael Bendis books. Image have announced some massive creative teams on their next wave of books, without forgetting that many of their current titles like Walking Dead are already some of the biggest-selling books in comics. IDW have pushed more original content to line up beside their work on established properties, as writers like Chris Roberson are allowed to write books like Memorial. Mark Waid is apparently leading a digital revolution which promises to make online comics the next step in publishing. Everywhere around Vertigo, publishers are upping their game.

Where does that lead Vertigo? The star of their Hellblazer series, John Constantine, was recently pushed back into the main DC Universe, where he’s operating alongside fellow Vertigo immigrants like Animal Man, Shade the Changing Man, and Swamp Thing. The big properties are now part of the DC Universe, and aren’t left within the unconfined world of Vertigo. At any moment DC could now power down Vertigo and bring the notable characters into the main universe. Flashpoint made that possible for them. Big books like Scalped and Northlanders are reaching conclusion. Immense pressure must now be on the remaining titles to keep the quality high, or readers will simply move to any one of the other numerous creator-owned titles now available for purchase.

On the one hand, the quality of the books has remained rather high – especially with titles like American Vampire, The Unwritten, and Northlanders. On the other hand, quality doesn’t lead to sales. Many Vertigo titles are held aloft by the money DC makes elsewhere. If that support falters, what incentive will creators have to join with Vertigo, while everyone else finds success under their own steam? It looks like Vertigo has become the platform for writers to make themselves known, before they launch themselves as a brand and take their fanbase elsewhere. It’d have to work for people like Wood and Morrison first, but if it does? It’s going to rip a hole in DC’s creativity which may not be repaired, even by Voodoo Child’s magic.

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