Punching Through Reality #6
By Ryan Miller
A few weeks ago I learned, along with the rest of the world, that Hellblazer would be ending in February with Peter Milligan's final issue numbered 300. I was lucky enough to have been sitting down because I may have fallen over.
In the interest of full disclosure, I have to tell you that I'm not up to date on Hellblazer, I haven't been collecting it in floppies monthly, and I might really be a part of the problem. It kind of feels like I have an odd form of survivor's guilt. The possibility of the longest running Vertigo series ending never occurred to me. In some strange way, I thought John Constantine's misadventures would outlive me, which I realize is utterly ridiculous. Hellblazer was always a series that I, like many, purchased in collected editions and when DC began releasing some newer editions of the older material, I had hope I'd finally get to read all the issues that were never bound in the format.
With this month's release of Hellblazer Volume 4: The Family Man, DC finally began putting out issues that weren't ever collected. I find it absolutely bizarre that the second they get to finally reprinting these stories we get our cancellation notice. But this isn't so bad right? We still presumably have further collected editions and 300+ issues of backlog. That is, of course, the good news.
The bad news is the reason Hellblazer is being cancelled in the first place. When DC decided to remove all of it's mainstream properties from Vertigo a few years back, they left John Constantine as the sole remaining character with ties to the DC universe. From there he would remain as the sole ambassador to the DCU since Swamp Thing, Animal Man, Deadman, Etrigan, Phantom Stranger, Tim Hunter, and several others were removed from the imprint. When the NEW52 began last year, a curious title by the name of Justice League Dark appeared on the stands featuring, of all people, John Constantine in a superhero team book. The book is displeasing. Now that John has been an important character in the NEW52niverse, DC wants to cash in on John's mainstream popularity. Starting in March, a new book simply titled "Constantine" will arrive to feature Diet John. Though I don't blame the creative team for editorial meddling, I don't envy Constantine's writer/artist combo of Robert Venditti and Renato Guedes. The task they have before them is certainly a daunting one. I certainly wouldn't want to be responsible for this.
I'm sure that many of you are thinking the same thing: Why?
I can't in good conscience say that John didn't have good run of it with more than three hundred issues including several minis and spin offs, but it still begs the question of why now was the right time to make this decision. Without allowing the fanbase to recover from shock, DC immediately begins selling us the idea of a super heroic Constantine. Not to downplay the tragic loss of the late and great Joe Kubert, but I remember DC using his death as a marketing tool too.
So why couldn't DC publish both Hellblazer and Constantine? There is certainly precedent here as both Punisher and Deadpool have had both a relatively kid-friendly and a not-at-all kid-friendly edition hit the stands simultaneously. So what gives? Is it that DC is terrified of the obvious ensuing comparisons between the two on release? That theory couldn't hold that much water considering how this is already a given outcome. Are they worried about the sales competition? Justice League Dark already outsells Hellblazer by at least 20000 copies on any given month. Why is that? Is it because Peter Milligan's Hellblazer is that bad or is it because it's a low key title for adults with the same writer for 50 issues and no publicity? I swear the only press release I've even read of it in years is that it's canceled.
If you've been reading this column from the beginning, you'd know that I have said that I think Vertigo is headed into some exciting territory. Now might be a good time to start chewing on my foot. The Vertigo Imprint took another devastating blow on December 4th when its longtime editor, Karen Berger, announced she would be leaving DC in March of 2013. For those keeping track, March is also when the new Constantine book lands. I can't help but think this is related.
For those of you that don't know, Karen Berger is essentially the reason Vertigo exists in the first place. Karen ushered in a line of titles to the comic world that were highly celebrated. Karen's name is pretty much on every big Vertigo title. She helped publish titles like Hellblazer, Sandman, 100 Bullets, Preacher, Fables, Transmetropolitan, The Invisibles, DMZ, The Unwritten, Y the Last Man, and pretty much everything else from Vertigo. If it weren't for Berger, Vertigo wouldn't have started 20 years ago...
...Oh yeah. It seems a little ironic that next year is the 20th anniversary of Vertigo.
Even though she gave the typical "I'm leaving _____ to pursue other things," I sure as shit hope that she has left for better things and not just other things. Comics need Karen Berger. For that matter, Vertigo probably does too.
Vertigo is currently looking pretty bleak and, as many know, Image is a hot spring of talented folks writing and illustrating some of the best stories in comics. While Vertigo still has some books to look forward to, none of them feature any fresh talent. Jeff Lemire is doing a book called Trillium, which sounds pretty cool. Fables is still going, so I guess there's that. Scott Snyder has American Vampire. It almost seems like they're turning Vertigo into Marvel's Icon imprint. Marvel's Icon imprint is specifically designed to allow only their highest level writers to create an original property while under exclusive contracts.
Things are looking worse for Vertigo all the time and maybe it's time to face facts that Warner Entertainment just doesn't need Vertigo anymore. For all the contract changes regarding media rights and the like, it isn't as if anything is being done with those properties. When the next Batman movie comes out, it'll make more money than Vertigo comics have made in over a year. Maybe it's time we face facts, stop living in denial, and start writing our eulogies.