The DC Vertigo line of comics is one of the most unique, intelligent and mature labels ever printed. Kicking off in the early 90s, Vertigo comics were fringe reading for fans of creative and often counterculture-themed stories of misfits and outcasts. Titles were commonly regarded as the edgy and anti-mainstream answers to the superhero comics that had grown stale from decades of recycled storylines.
The Vertigo label quickly developed a mostly underground fan base due to its mature themes and intellectually driven plotlines, and kids who stumbled across certain titles at the time would find their parents shocked by the content contained in the comics. Many titles have been adapted at one time or another, and currently Garth Ennis and Steve Dillon’s Preacher is airing its first season on AMC. While we wait patiently to see what will become of Neil Gaiman’s Sandman movie, here are six excellent Vertigo titles we would love to see on screen.
Warren Ellis’ madhouse cyberpunk opus Transmetropolitan is especially relevant in our current political climate, as the main plot revolves around reclusive gonzo journalist Spider Jerusalem and his quest to stop corruption at the highest level – the White House. Spider is a misanthropic Hunter S. Thompson turned up to 11, but he worships the Truth above all things, so it’s hard not to root for the guy. His allies include a stripper-turned-bodyguard, an angsty young philanthropist, a two-headed chain-smoking cat, and his agent. These characters are the stuff actor’s dreams are made of, each with nuanced histories and unique traits. His enemies are equally as fascinating: a Nixon-esque president dubbed “The Beast”, presidential candidate Gary Callahan (his nickname? “The Smiler”), cult leader Fred Christ, and a violent talking bulldog who also happens to be an officer of the law.
“The City” of Transmetropolitan is a sprawling acid trip of content, with characters of all shapes, sizes, and colors. Spider’s world is based wholly in consumerism and vanity, the Hunger Games Capital as written by a bitter cynic. Despite being so imaginative and unreal, the series is rooted in our own world. It’s easy to draw connections between the many-faceted plot and what we see on the news. (If viewers didn’t know any better, they would think the show was about Donald Drumpf.) It would be incredible to see Ellis’ disturbing vision of the future brought to life. It wouldn’t be an easy work to translate to the small screen, but it would be well worth it to explore Spider’s lust for hard journalism. There’s no way Transmetropolitan could ever be on basic cable – the comics are explicitly violent, sexual, and offensive. The show belongs on a channel or streaming service where viewers can enjoy seeing what a weapon called a “bowel-disruptor” can do. [Danielle Ryan]
The Invisibles is like a bizarre occult version of The Avengers that works behind the shadows. Grant Morrison’s series follows a group of outcasts with abilities stretching far beyond the simple physical attributes of flight, super strength and laser eyes. In this story a team of misfits that are all connected to the metaphysical realm as they fight supernatural villains that are far more dangerous than the average bad guy.
This comic was based around many magical and occult practices that author Grant Morrison was studying avidly at the time. The subject matter alone is full of potential for interesting tales of fantasy and horror, and the primary cast of characters would look fantastic on screen. Each member of the Invisibles team is unique to include the intense Mob King, the shamanic transwoman Lord Fanny, former NYPD officer Boy, the mentally unstable Ragged Robin and the British hooligan known as Jack Frost. If this were adapted as a TV show, it could easily run eight seasons. [Andrew Hawkins]
Before Deadpool was even a twinkle in Rob Liefeld’s eyes, DC’s Animal Man was tackling the meta nature of comics in far more existential ways. An Animal Man film could provide the same sort of commentary, albeit far less jokey, and attempt to replicate Grant Morrison’s interesting examination of fictional characters and their place in our world. Or if the studio is a little too anxious about a superhero version of Six Characters in Search of an Author, they could take inspiration from Jeff Lemire’s excellent New 52 version of Buddy Baker, using Animal Man’s powers as an entry point to a horrifying world of Cronenberg-like monsters and elemental wars. Either way, Animal Man is low enough on the superhero totem pole that he’s worth taking a risk on. [Drew Dietsch]
Doom Patrol was first introduced in 1963 as a dysfunctional superhero team that wound up being killed off. The original run was canceled in 1968 due to lack of interest in the property. Since then, the series has seen many different incarnations come and go, but the best version of the group lasted from 1989 to 1995 when DC had Grant Morrison take over writing duties. The “World’s Strangest Heroes” quickly turned into one of the most mind-bending comics ever created.
Using the cut-up technique of story development pioneered by William S. Burroughs and even used in lyric writing by David Bowie, Morrison challenged himself and his interests with Doom Patrol’s abstract narratives. Many unorthodox and experimental themes are explored in his storylines, but the core element of the overarching plot is how a team of mostly regular people were manipulated and transformed against their will into becoming wannabe X-Men. A single film could cover the basis of what Doom Patrol is, but a trilogy or franchise would perfectly suit its oddness. [Andrew Hawkins]
The muck-encrusted mockery of a man actually had a significant film and TV presence many years ago, but those versions never really tapped into the dark fantasy version that Alan Moore popularized with his take on Alec Holland and his transformation into the piteous creature known as Swamp Thing. At one point, Vincenzo Natali (director of Cube, Splice, and several Hannibal episodes) was attached to a new big screen version of the big green guy, but things fell apart as they often do in Hollywood. Even Guillermo del Toro was planning to make Swamp Thing the central focus of his Justice League Dark film, but that also was a doomed venture. It seems like Louisiana’s faithful guardian can’t catch a break on the big screen. That definitely reflects poor Swamp Thing’s luck. Here’s hoping someone gives us the Swamp Thing movie we need, and if John Constantine can make an appearance I might just squeal with joy. [Drew Dietsch]
There have been two attempts thus far to bring Hellblazer‘s John Constantine to life. The first was Constantine, a 2005 action-horror film starring Keanu Reeves that is sort of enjoyable in its own right but is nothing like the comic series. The second was also titled Constantine, but this time was an NBC television show starring Matt Ryan. The show only lasted for one season despite being a decent adaptation – the problem was the network. Constantine is too dark, adult, and weird to last long on a network channel. Much like Hannibal, also cancelled by NBC, the show just didn’t stand a fighting chance when the main demographics are skewed toward procedurals and family dramas. Hellblazer is a comic series about a very broken man fighting against the forces of Heaven and Hell. The series is Vertigo’s longest-running comic, with Hellblazer debuting in 1988 after several appearances in Alan Moore’s Swamp Thing. Hellblazer is one of the progenitors of the gritty antihero movement in comics, and Johnny-boy deserves a chance to enchant viewers the same way he has bewitched comic book readers for years.
Much like many of the other series on this list, Hellblazer could only exist in a format where violence, sexuality, and adult themes would be allowed to air, pushed to the fullest extent. Over the course of the comics’ long run, Constantine has been involved in sex acts with men, women, a talking monkey, and, unwillingly, a dog. He has killed creatures big and small, sometimes in horrific ways. Part of Hellblazer‘s draw is that it exposes the darkest corners of humanity in order to examine the nature of evil. This is not a monster-of-the-week detective show, but rather something that should be examined as part of an entire arc of Constantine’s journey as a man and a sorcerer. [Danielle Ryan]
The potential for some of these titles to create amazing and memorable films and shows is practically endless, and considering just how safe and redundant most superhero movies have become these days, we could certainly use a change. Not every comic on this list is easily accessible or even understandable for that matter, but with the right development team and direction in place we would be able to see stories unfold that are more progressive and interesting than anything else in the theater. Vertigo fans are out there, and they are just waiting to see these characters come to life hopefully sooner than later.