When talking about publishers in comics, Vertigo means a lot. Founded by Karen Berger in 1993, the DC Comics imprint has published many of the best comics in both the late 20th and early 21st Century. If you’re looking for a place to dig into the medium or find a great recommendation, then the array of series cultivated under the Vertigo brand is a great place to start.
This week there is a Vertigo sale on Comixology and it is presenting a tremendous number of opportunities to discover comics that go far beyond being enjoyable reads; many of these offerings are capital-A Art. In honor of this massive sale, here’s a list of some of the greatest comics series to ever be published under the Vertigo brand. It’s impossible to establish a definitive top ten list, but these series all certainly belong in the canon of comics literature and should be cherished by any fan of the medium.
Created by Neil Gaiman, Sam Kieth, and Mike Dringenberg
It's impossible to discuss Vertigo without mentioning Sandman. Technically, the series began Vertigo was founded, but its development and success is the cornerstone on which the imprint was built. Gaiman and his many artistic collaborators proved that sprawling, challenging, and artistic comics could be both critically and commercially well received. This epic series following the tale of Dream (one of seven Endless aspects of the universe) told an immense variety of stories in style, tone, and theme. It is, without a doubt, one of the most significant comics works of the past century with accomplishments so broad that the only way to truly appreciate its impact is to read it all.
Created by Warren Ellis and Darick Robertson
There is no comics writer better versed in the advancement of technology, challenges of journalism, and modern politics than Warren Ellis and Transmetropolitan is his magnum opus. In this cyber-punk screed, Ellis and Robertson tell the story of Spider Jerusalem, a Hunter S. Thompson homage, to examine the foundation of society and try to grasp at hope amidst a stream of chaos and doom. This sprawling and dense vision of a future dystopia is even more prescient today than it was twenty years ago, providing wisdom that can simultaneously inspire and depress anyone paying attention to the news.
Created by Garth Ennis and Steve Dillon
What Transmetropolitan is to journalism and politics, Preacher is to religion and the American dream. Garth Ennis and Steve Dillon bring out the best in one another and this is the peak of their combined careers. The sprawling mythical Western follows ex-preacher Jesse Custer, hit hitman/girlfriend Tulip O’Hare, and Irish vampire Cassidy as they roam America both literally and metaphorically looking for God. It is a comic that makes readers gag, laugh, cry, and think deeply typically all in the same issue, combining entertainment and poignancy into a truly unique story.
4. Y: The Last Man
Created by Brian K. Vaughan and Pia Guerra
This is the comic that permanently established both Brian K. Vaughan and Pia Guerra as top-tier comics talents for all time. Yorick Brown and his Capuchin monkey Ampersand are the only two surviving animals with both an X and Y chromosome in this sci-fi story on gender. It takes a deep look at issues of identity, sex, and love as Yorick travels across the world after almost every man on Earth drops dead. Beautifully illustrated and masterfully plotted, Y: The Last Man is a comics story that has not faded from the consciousness of comics readers since issue one debuted.
Created by Fábio Moon and Gabriel Bá
Daytripper is the shortest installment on this list at only ten issues, but it packs more power and emotion into those pages than many series manage in more than one hundred. Brothers Moon and Bá examine sections of Brazilian writer Bras life, each of which ends with his death. It is a beautiful reverie on the temporary nature of existence and the struggle to create meaning in whatever time we are given. It is a comic that will make you laugh, weep, and appreciate each day just a little bit more.
Created by Alan Moore, Stephen R. Bissette, and John Ridgway
John Constantine was created in the pages of Swamp Thing, but he truly came to life in Vertigo’s longest running series Hellblazer. Over the years this series collected a murderers’ row of the best writers in comics including Garth Ennis, Warren Ellis, Neil Gaiman, and Jamie Delano. While there are plenty of weak points in these 300 issues, there’s far more to love from one of the most iconic anti-heroes in the medium. Hellblazer became one of the dirtiest, meanest, and sharpest ongoing series in the medium, pushing itself far past what other branded ongoings at Marvel or DC could ever even consider.
7. The Invisibles
Created by Grant Morrison
The Invisibles is probably the most Grant Morrison-y Grant Morrison comic, and if you don’t know what that means, I’d recommend starting your reading elsewhere. It is a truly bizarre post-modern tale examining the power of story, archetypes, and words in a world without limitation. Morrison and his collaborators started relatively small on this series, but it expanded into something peerless and impossible to recreate outside of the comics medium. The Invisibles requires study and careful attention, but it is endlessly rewarding with almost bottomless reserves of wit and thematics.
8. Ex Machina
Created by Brian K. Vaughan and Tony Harris
Y: The Last Man may receive the lion’s share of attention, but Ex Machina is undoubtedly Brian K. Vaughan’s most underrated comics work. Collaborating with consummate comics pro Tony Harris, Vaughan laid his deepest feelings and concerns about post-9/11 America on the table in this series. It follows the story of superpowered New York mayor Mitchell Hundred as he struggles to confront issues of privacy, speech, religion, and much more. For those who grew up in the absent shadow of the Twin Towers, this is a truly poignant story that says so much about the changing face of America today.
9. 100 Bullets
Created by Brian Azzarello and Eduardo Risso
When it comes to crime noir in comics, there is no greater pairing than Azzarello and Risso. These two have made some of the best hardboiled comics of the past 20 years including a run on Batman and sci-fi noir Spaceman. However, nothing tops the revenge thriller 100 Bullets in which the mysterious Agent Graves offers victims a 100 untraceable bullets and absolute proof of who wronged them to do what they will. Even if you discount the broader conspiracy theory, the individual stories bound within this massive 100 issue series make for some of the best morality plays written in the past century.
10. Sweet Tooth
Created by Jeff Lemire
There is an abundance of comics set in dystopian futures right now, but very few even come close to the bar set by Sweet Tooth. This story of a deer-boy hybrid living in the ruins of a nearly extinct humanity combines The Road with a slightly more hopeful perspective. Jeff Lemire both wrote and drew this series, his greatest work to date, that comments on both the oppressive realities of living and the elements of life that can sustain and bind us together. For all of its darkness, Sweet Tooth is a comic that sustains and uplifts readers who are brave enough to read it all.