Vertigo miniseries: a chronological tour, Part 1 (The Extremist, Skin Graft, The Last One, & Enigma)

The announcement of the Vertigo Resurrected series of reprints prompted me to go back and start rereading my collection of Vertigo miniseries. These are my second impressions, with the perspective of time and considerably more Vertigo reading experience under my belt than the first time I read them.

The Extremist by Peter Milligan & Ted McKeever is an early Vertigo miniseries which they’re going to reprint as the second issue in the “Forgotten Vertigo” series. After a couple of issues, it seems like Milligan was going out of his way to push the sex/violence envelope; it remains to be seen how well the story supports it. In the end I thought that The Extremist was trying too hard to be outrageous, although it was an interesting experiment narratively (the narrative voice keeps shifting, and there’s a surprise at the end for the character who had looked like the final narrator). It’s certainly far more daring than anything Vertigo has published recently.

Broke out another old Vertigo miniseries: Skin Graft: The Adventures of a Tattooed Man by Jerry Prosser and Warren Pleece. It’s based on an old Green Lantern villain, Abel Tarrant the Tattooed Man, who first appeared in 1963 (so Hal Jordan was the Lantern). I’ve read some Green Lantern from that era, but never encountered the character. His role here is to tattoo fellow convict John Oakes, who becomes the new Tattooed Man. No superheroics involved this time. Oakes gains fame as a tattoo artist after serving his time: then his clients start getting gruesomely murdered, their tattooed skin flayed off. I liked Skin Graft better than I remembered, even though the ending was so mystical that I’m not sure about the roles of some of the characters. I think I’m going to continue rereading Vertigo miniseries in roughly chronological order. I’m more likely to rediscover ones I’d forgotten that way.

Continuing my somewhat chronological tour through Vertigo miniseries, I started The Last One by J.M. DeMatteis and Dan Sweetman. It’s another beautifully painted mystical DeMatteis story, but as usual it pales in comparison to the brilliant Moonshadow. I never did warm up to The Last One, but I still think it’s admirable that Vertigo published it early on. They really were pretty open to experimentation: I can’t imagine them publishing it now in this form, although possibly as an OGN.

Still in 1993 Vertigo, I revisited Peter Milligan & Duncan Fegredo’s Enigma. This mini actually began with the imprint: the first issue is cover dated March ’93, the launch month. Death: The High Cost of Living was the other miniseries on offer. I don’t remember loving Enigma when I first read it, and I’m liking it even less the second time through. Milligan seems to be trying extra hard to be controversial with all the sexual subtext. And the whole warped super hero in the real world setting is a bit strained, too. Still looking forward to seeing how he resolves all this, since I’ve completely forgotten the ending! Since this mini was 8 issues long, there’s even a letter column starting with the fourth issue. Enigma‘s final reveals were bizarre. The Enigma really was a kind of superhero, made so by a set of “realistic” yet totally unbelievable circumstances. He turned protagonist Michael Smith gay, but Smith is comfortable with it. And the entire story has been narrated by a completely unexpected character, which I won’t spoil for anyone who hasn’t read it. I give it points for imagination: I’ve certainly never read another “superheroes in the real world” story like it. But I don’t think it has dated well, and could have been a couple of issues shorter. Nonetheless it was one of the first Vertigo miniseries to get a trade paperback collection, so it is easier to find than most.

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About marksullivan5

Librarian, Jazz musician, comic book fan
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