Vertigo isn't what it was.
Have they had a big hit since Y? I can't think of one. Fables is still ongoing (along with spinoff Fairest), and they put out a new edition of Sandman every two years (with a new miniseries coming!), but I can't think of a new series becoming a real barn burner since 2002.
Not to say there aren't series that deserve it. Northlanders, Scalped, DMZ, American Vampire, iZombie, and my personal favorites, Sweet Tooth and The Unwritten -- they've all been critical successes, and they've all stuck around awhile (the shortest run of the lot was iZombie's 28 issues). But for a long time I've gotten the impression that the bean counters aren't happy with the results.
From what I understand, Vertigo's contracts are a lot more restrictive than they used to be -- "creator-owned" in a technical sense but giving a whole lot of the rights over to DC.
And lately, they've been shutting down popular Vertigo series to reintegrate popular characters back into the DC universe -- Swamp Thing and John Constantine are the two biggest examples.
So when I read yesterday that Karen Berger was stepping down as EiC of Vertigo, it came as a blow but not a surprise.
It's not an exaggeration to say that Karen Berger changed the American comics industry. She put Alan Moore, Steve Bissette, Rick Veitch, and John Totleben on Swamp Thing; she brought Moore and David Lloyd's work on V for Vendetta into the DC fold and gave them the opportunity to finish it. And then she put Neil Gaiman on Sandman.
That would have been one hell of a résumé all by itself. But then: Vertigo. Sandman wasn't just an amazing and unique book -- it led to an entire imprint based on the premise of amazing and unique books. It reminded comics fans -- and showed new fans, perhaps for the first time -- that comics can be anything. And that "mature" can actually mean "mature" instead of being a euphemism for "blood and guts and cursing and maybe titties".
It's been just shy of twenty years, and Vertigo's influence -- and Karen Berger's -- can't be overstated. It changed the way people looked at comics and consistently produced some of the best comics on the stands and in the bookstores.
But I get the distinct impression that current DC management doesn't care. And I'm not talking about Didio, Johns, Lee -- I think they all like Vertigo just fine. But DC is, increasingly, not a company run by comics creators, or people who know or care about comics. Warner's in charge. Warner doesn't want critically-acclaimed books with mediocre sales, it wants crossovers and prequels and sequels and reboots and corporate synergy and brand leveraging.
So Berger's out. And on the one hand, it's a shame to see her go -- I really think the writing's on the wall for the entire Vertigo line at this point. Fables will keep going because it's a moneymaker; it won't change much except that it might get a DC logo on its cover instead of the Vertigo one. But every other Vertigo book? Well, I'm nervous as a reader and I'd be more nervous still if I were a creator.
On the other hand, Berger's already changed the face of American comics, and even if DC is no longer a place where she can innovate, there are plenty of other publishers that I'm sure would be thrilled to have her.
And not just publishers -- there's a very long list of comics creators who refuse to work with DC anymore but who have nothing but nice things to say about Karen. And I'm betting they'll call her before she calls them.