The Hidden S in Phone Booth

Welcome to "The Hidden S in Phone Booth." Your writer is Mark Rhodes, a man known within many magazine circles including The Christian Science Monitor, Opera and Wizard. He runs a site called the European Film Report that looks at the art of filmmaking, and will tackle whatever he feels like writing about (similar to Tedd in Hank McCoy (Before the Fur) except with less love of Dazzler). Update: YouTube has a great video looking at the making of the Vertigo Encylopedia and you can check it out below. Vertigo Encyclopedia traces the connection of comics with fine literature... The Vertigo line of DC Comics has boasted some of the most revolutionary and literary comics of the last 15 years. Vertigo is often considered the “adult” line of DC with most of the titles containing at least a mention of the book being for mature readers. Titles like The Sandman, John Constantine: Hellblazer, Shade the Changing Man and Swamp Thing are among the many titles that have raised the bar in comic authorship into a realm where comics are considered literature by even an institution as venerable as The New Yorker magazine. The recently published Vertigo Encyclopedia (DK Publishing) is a summing up, a look back and a congratulatory “well-done” by the founders of the line with regard to the history of this niche publishing tentacle of DC Comics. The book covers the back story of all the ongoing and/or significant series in the Vertigo line. The main characters are given biographical character sketches, some history and a sense of where they fit into a particular book’s narrative and mythology. In this way, the book is a great primer for fans of the many books in the series and, more importantly, the work allows for the chance to catch up on years of continuity with regard to a character or title (a problem that keeps many comic fans from “trying” a new title). The other interesting thing about the book is that taken as a whole, there is a definite sense of the cohesiveness of the Vertigo universe. Vertigo covers nearly all types of comic genre whether it be horror, western, war, romance, superhero, science fiction, historical, etc. Despite this wild variety of subject matter and sort there is an offbeat sensibility that often tips over into real subversiveness that is often not for the faint of heart. Another unique aspect of the Vertigo series is the treatment and even definition of superheroes. Make no mistake, Vertigo has superhero comics. Animal Man, The Doom Patrol, The Golden Age, Sandman and “V” in V for Vendetta all fit the basic characteristics of what might be considered a superhero. As with other Vertigo titles, the twist in motivation, storyline, and mythology is what gives these characters and titles a real sense of creative rebellion. The Golden Age Sandman (of Sandman Mystery Theatre) in particular was an interesting Vertigo title as it took a character who was created at the dawn of the Golden Age of Comics (Sandman was an original member of the Justice Society) and explored the weird inspirations for the characters vigilantism (his alter ego Wes Dodds was plagued by nightmares). Giving a superhero complex psychology is of course nothing new (Marvel did it over 40 years ago), but the idea of taking a generic, mostly forgotten superhero and re-inventing him for the present was typical of the out of the frame thinking of Vertigo. The book's longest passages concern, arguably the two greatest creations of the Vertigo series: John Constantine: Hellblazer and The Sandman. These two creations were birthed by the Hemingway and James Joyce of Vertigo; Alan Moore and Neil Gaiman. The John Constantine character is as much a symbol for Vertigo as Superman or Batman is a symbol for the DC mainstream. Constantine also is a bridge of sorts between the Vertigo world and the everyday superhero workaday world of DC Comics as Constantine has had appearances in more traditional comics like Green Lantern and Dr. Fate and relationships with the Golden Age magician Zatara and was the lover of one of the most desirable of DC females, Zatara’s daughter Zatanna. In any event, the Vertigo title does have some shortcomings which are apparent in this volume with over 800 illustrations. Quite frankly, the art in the series is often shabby looking or unattractive. For instance the character of Constantine started off as a dapper chap but of late he has devolved into a dilapidated looking guy who seems to have misplaced his iron. Simon Bisley did some very interesting stuff for Doom Patrol for awhile and the Japanese artist Amano did some really masterful stuff for Gaiman's Sandman. Nonetheless, for the most part, much of the art is hit and miss. Vertigo, however is where fable, tall tales and even fairy tales connect to the comic/superhero world. It's richness lies in its commitment to storytelling and its willingness to give first rate comic creators license to be daring. Editor's Note: A personal favorite of Omnicomic from Vertigo is DMZ, the gritty look at a journalist's struggle to come to grips with the militarized city that New York has become. Also, all images come courtesy of DK Publishing. The Vertigo Encyclopedia