If we’re talking about who has the title for best comic book publisher in the 2010’s, my easy quick answer goes to Image Comics. Image has delivered comic books at such a consistently high quality, from such talented creators, that it has earned its reputation for highest batting average in the game.
What newer comic book fans might not realize, is that Vertigo Comics was held in similarly high esteem for most of the 1990’s (the imprint officially launched in 1993) and into the 2000’s. Given that pristine legacy, there’s always a possibility that Vertigo could return to reclaim their crown at any point.
Below you’ll find a guide to all the best Vertigo Comics (of which there are many), organized into manageable sections. This list includes many must-reads for comic book fans, as well as some of my favorite comics of all time.
I) DC Comics Universe
A number of what are now considered Vertigo Comics actually launched as part of DC Comics proper, and their mature approach was later adopted by the Vertigo imprint. As such, Vertigo has the rare quality of “prestige” comics that very much fall within the Big 2 superhero universes.
The Saga of the Swamp Thing by Alan Moore, Stephen Bissette, and John Totelben is one of the most important comics published by either DC or Marvel, redefining what a “superhero” or “horror” comic could dream possible.
Swamp Thing navigates the mid 1980’s and DC’s Crisis on Infinite Earths (complete with the requisite tie-in), and shares the heady artistic ambitions of Vertigo’s ethos. This is mandatory comic book reading for fans of DC, or the medium in general.
The full Moore run on Swamp Thing can be collected as follows:
It’s worth noting that Vertigo’s longest running series of all time (over 300 issues) gets its start in Swamp Thing, where Alan Moore and company introduce British working class magician John Constantine.
So if you’ve read your Swamp Thing above, you’re prepared for Constantine’s ongoing adventures in Hellblazer, starting with writer Jamie Delano and Rick Veitch in 1988.
The below collections will take you through Jamie Delano’s original run, followed by the Garth Ennis run. You can find the remaining comics in the complete Hellblazer reading order.
Collects: Hellblazer #1 to #9, Swamp Thing #76 to #77
Collects: Hellblazer #10 to #13, Hellblazer Annual #1, The Horrorist #1 to #2
Collects: Hellblazer #14 to #22
Collects: Hellblazer #23 to #24, #28 to #31, #25 to #27, #32 to #33
Collects: Hellblazer #34 to #46
Collects: Hellblazer #47 to #50, #52 to #55 and #59 to #61
Collects: Hellblazer #62-71, Hellblazer Special #1, And Vertigo Jam #1
Collects: Hellblazer #78 to #83, Heartland one-shot
Grant Morrison’s late 1989 to 1993 run resurrecting DC’s Doom Patrol is gloriously weird and inventive, and makes infinite sense within what would later become the Vertigo aesthetic.
There’s a fantastic Doom Patrol Omnibus for those interested in the megarun, although DC and Vertigo have finally started collecting the run in more manageable chunks in 2016.
Collects: Doom Patrol #19 to #63
Grant Morrison’s second DC Comic to get the retroactive Vertigo designation, Animal Man is a fascinating exploration of human/animal relationships, as well as the philosophical question of meeting your maker.
Animal Man has a similar collected approach to Doom Patrol, although when you can find the omnibus for under $50, it’s actually the most cost effective solution.
Collects: Animal Man #1 to #26
DC’s Sgt. Rock gets the 2000’s Vertigo treatment from Brian Azzarello and Joe Kuburt.
Matt Wagner teams up with Amy Reeder for the sorcery of Madame Xanadu. This series was successful enough that Madame Xanadu became a part of Justice League Dark during DC’s New 52.
II) Sandman Universe and Neil Gaiman’s Vertigo Comics
Neil Gaiman’s work on Sandman is my favorite Vertigo Comic (and my second favorite comic book series of all time). Gaiman, Mckean, and various artist’s work across the Sandman mythos is so consistently excellent, that it also spawned several similarly well-regarded comics, including Lucifer, which has since made its way to Fox on TV.
Writer Mike Carey took the aftermath of Lucifer in Sandman: Seasons of Mist and turned it into an equally long-running, high quality comic book series.
I’m not one of them, but you’ll find readers who stand for Lucifer over Sandman, and it’s not that hard to understand why. After all, Lucifer did beat Sandman to the small screen!
Collects: Lucifer #1 to #75
Following the outstanding run from Mike Carey and Peter Gross, writer Holly Black has taken on a rebooted Lucifer series for Vertigo.
Collects: Lucifer #1 to #10
Neil Gaiman’s Vertigo Comics
Before Sandman, Neil Gaiman and artist Dave McKean delivered Black Orchid.
Adaption by Mike Carey.
III) Grant Morrison Vertigo Comics
We’ve already seen a fair amount of Grant Morrison’s impact on Vertigo, with his DC Comics work for Animal Man and Doom Patrol.
This being the incredibly prolific comic book icon Grant Morrison, there are plenty more comics to enjoy as part of his Vertigo output.
Explaining the Invisibles is a bit like trying to explain Captain Beefheart and his Magical Band. Invisibles is pure Morrison, mainlained straight into the vein, and that can either result in your favorite comic book series ever, or a completely off-putting ball of confusion. The trick of course is to read for yourself and find out.
Collects: The Invisible #1 to #12, Absolute Vertigo #1
Collects: The Invisibles #13-25 And A Story From Vertigo: Winter’s Edge 1
The Invisibles Book Four Deluxe Edition
Collects: Invisibles Vol. 2 #1 to #22, Invisibles Vol. 3 #12 to #1
Additional Vertigo Comics from Grant Morrison
IV) Peter Milligan Vertigo Comics
When stacked up against Moore, Gaiman, and Morrison, writer Peter Milligan gets easily lost in the shuffle. This is a bit unfair, and overshadows his essential role in building a corner of Vertigo as one of the earliest founding writers on the imprint.
I mean, the guy wrote X-Statix with Mike Allred for Marvel – let’s not overlook how brilliant a writer Peter Milligan can be!
For those of you looking for deep cuts and comic books slightly off the familiar “best of” lists, look no further. Milligan’s work is deeply underrated, and the below comics remain some of the coolest lesser known series you can add to your library.
Shade the Changing Man
Additional Vertigo Comics From Peter Milligan
V) Brian K. Vaughn Vertigo Comics
Vaughn is one of the most critically acclaimed and successful writers working in comics today, with a veritable murderer’s row of output, including the wildly popularly Saga from Image comics.
Vaughn’s comics claim to fame begins at Vertigo, though, with the excellent long-running series Y: The Last Man (one of my 20 favorite comics of all time), and the standalone graphic novel Pride of Baghdad.
Written by Brian K. Vaughan. Art by Niko Henrichon
Y: The Last Man
Writer: Brian K. Vaughan
Artists: Pia Guerra, Goran Sudžuka and Paul Chadwick
Collects: Y The Last Man #1 to #60
VI) Fables Universe
Fables is remarkable, both in scope and longevity. Bill Willingham and Mark Buckingham transformed what could have been a conceptual curiousity into the longest running Vertigo comic book series, full of depth, emotion and a lived-in world.
The storybook characters of Fables prove such ample ground for comics that the Universe actually spawns spinoff series for 50 issue Vertigo runs, in Jack of Fables and Fairest.
You can find Comic Book Herald’s full Fables reading order here.
Collects: Fables #1 to #10, Prose Story #1
Collects: Fables #11 to #18, Fables: The Last Castle, Fables: A Wolf in the Fold
Collects: Fables #19 to #27
Collects: Fables #28 to #33, Original graphic novel Fables: 1001 Nights of Snowfall
Collects: Fables #34 to #45
See the remaining Fables comics.
The Unwritten/ The Unwritten: Apocalypse
For the most part, The Unwritten by Mike Carey and Peter Gross (the same creative team behind Vertigo’s Lucifer) is an entirely self-contained brilliant re-imaging of the Harry Potter ethos in modern times. Nonetheless, a later crossover with Fables (issues #50 to #55), and overlapping sensibilities lands Unwritten in this section of the guide.
The Unwritten Vol. 9: The Unwritten Fables (Issues #50 to #55 crossover with Fables)
Collects: The Unwritten Apocalypse #1 to #5
VII) Vertigo Crime
From 2009 to 2011 Vertigo published a series of sub-sub-imprint titles under “Vertigo Crime.” If you’re a fan of crime fiction, you can check out the below comics:
The following original graphic novels have been published under the Vertigo Crime imprint (in order of publication):
Filthy Rich by Brian Azzarello and Victor Santos, 2009
Dark Entries by Ian Rankin and Werther Dell’Edera, 2009
The Chill by Jason Starr and Mick Bertilorenzi, 2010
The Bronx Kill by Peter Milligan and James Romberger, 2010
Area 10 by Christos N. Gage and Chris Samnee, 2010
The Executor by Jon Evans and Andrea Mutti, 2010
Fogtown by Andersen Gabrych and Brad Rader, 2010
A Sickness in the Family by Denise Mina and Antonio Fuso, 2010
Rat Catcher by Andy Diggle and Victor Ibanez, 2011
Noche Roja by Simon Oliver and Jason Latour, 2011
99 Days by Matteo Casali and Kristian Donaldson, 2011
Cowboys by Gary Philips and Brian Hurtt, 2011
VIII) Astro City
Kurt Busiek’s love letter to superheroes, and willingness to to explore every corner of their universe, bounced around publishers before finding its way to Vertigo.
Astro City is very much like George R.R. Martin’s anthology collections, Wild Cards, in that the series take a deep and abiding history with superhero comics and add shades of realism and unasked questions without losing any of the heart or magic.
IX) Vertigo Comics – Best of the Rest
I’ve ordered the below Vertigo Comics according to where they stand on my list of favorite comics of all time.
Writer: Garth Ennis
Artist: Steve Dillon
When I first read the opening arc to Preacher, I felt let down. What’s all the hype about this series? There was a clear compelling concept, and groundwork for great characters from Ennis and Dillon, but the cheap shockstick of some of the violence felt lazy and uninteresting a few decades after publication.
When I made it back to Preacher, committed to finish the series with an impending TV series on the way, it was like the heavenly skies parted. Taken in its entirety, Ennis and Dillon crafted nothing short of a masterpiece, a funny, scathing, insightful satire of America and religion. Preacher is now one of my 20 favorite comic books of all time, and I can’t recommend it highly enough!
Writer: Jeff Lemire
Artists: Jeff Lemire with Matt Kindt
Lemire’s Sweet Tooth runs incredibly far on a fairly simple concept, with post-apocalyptic animal-human hybrids just trying to survive. Lemire accomplishes this with trademark poignancy, somehow able to build deep connections to all his characters in the span of a few short issues.
Writer: Fabio Moon, Gabriel Ba
Daytripper is the kind of graphic novel that you find yourself saying “Oh, damn that’s a smart idea” within two issues. It’s also the kind of life-affirming, relentlessly authentic storytelling that keeps you in perpetual fear of the next tearjerking moment, even as you’re laughing along.
Jason Aaron and R. M. Guera put together one of Vertigo’s last instant classics, with their excellent ongoing Scalped detailing Native American life and crime from 2007 to 2012.
Writer: Alan Moore
Artist: David Lloyd
I have an admittedly weird relationship with V for Vendetta. The graphic novel from Moore and Lloyd is clearly stunning, influential craftsmanship but… I saw the movie first. There was no suspense in the plot for me by the time I read it! So yes, I recommend it, but not nearly as highly as many other Alan Moore comics.
Writer: Chris Roberson
Artist: Michael Allred
I was pretty shocked to read iZombie after watching (and loving) the first few seasons of the TV show. The comic book is completely different. Honestly, if they weren’t named the same thing it would be genuinely difficult to map one to the other.
As such, iZombie is a fun conceptual romp from Roberson and Allred, with far more supernatural elements than the TV show. Given that Allred is one of my favorite comic book artists, iZombie is also a joy to behold.
Ran for 10 years, from 1999 to 2009, from writer Brian Azzarello and Eduardo Risso.
X) Vertigo Comics – Bestest of the Restest
Below you’ll find additional Vertigo Comics that are not currently ranked on my favorite comics of all time. In most cases, this means I haven’t finished the series yet, but want to!
Writer: Warren Ellis
Artist: Darick Robertson
Writer: Tom King
Before it was a moderately disappointing movie, The Losers was a solid concept from writer Andy Diggle and artist extraordinaire Jock (who have also worked together on Green Arrow: Year One).
DMZ, from Brian Wood and Riccardo Burchielli, had an impressively long run from 2005 to 2011.
Writer: Steven T. Seagle
Artists: Becky Cloonan, Ryan Kelly
Writer: Brian Wood
Artists: Davide Gianfelice, Ryan Kelly, Leandro Fernández
Writer: Joshua Dysart
Artists: Alberto Ponticelli and Pat Masioni
Writers: Scott Snyder (with Stephen King)
Artists: Rafael Albuquerque
by Simon Oliver and Robbi Rodriguez
Writer: David Wojnarowicz
Writer: Paul Pope
Writer: J.M. Dematteis
Writer: Kyle Baker
Writer: Darren Aronofsky
Artist: Kent Williams
Writer: Paul Pope
Writer: Ed Brubaker
There you have it – the best Vertigo Comics of all time! Have suggestions that you think you should make the list? Do what feels right to you in the comments.