Swamp Thing: The Curse written by Alan Moore, art by Stephen Bissette and John Totleben, Alfredo Alcala or Ron Randall, colors by Tatjana Wood, letters by John Costanza
Sandman: A Game of You written by Neil Gaiman, illustrated by Shawn McManus, Colleen Doran, Bryan Talbot, George Pratt, Stan Woch and Dick Giordano, letters by Todd Klein and colors by Danny Vozzo
Animal Man: Deus Ex Machina written by Grant Morrison, pencils by Chas Truog and Paris Cullins, inks by Doug Hazlewood, Mark Farmer, Steve Montano, colors by Tatjana Wood, letters by John Costanza
DC’s Vertigo imprint is meant to showcase their creative talent, allowing writers to develop stories outside the superhero box to appeal to more mature audiences.
We’ll start with Swampy. He has a simple enough tragic hero origin. A scientist is mutated by a chemical into a plant monster. He ends up defending an area of Louisana swamp from various threats, many of them supernatural in origin. Alan Moore takes the title and makes it into one of the most respected horror titles in years. In The Curse, Moore further distances the title character from its human origins, creating an elemental creature that comes into existence throughout history. He also introduces the English mystic and general all-around asshole John Constantine.
One of Grant Morrison’s earliest writing gigs for DC was on Animal Man. He’s a Z-list hero with vague “animal” powers. Over twenty-six issues, Morrison would use the character to explore themes of religion, revenge, animal rights, time travel and the meta-story aspects of DC’s “Crisis on Infinite Earths”. It all culminates in volume 3, where the titular hero goes after the conspiracy that murdered his family and then ends up meeting the person behind all the grief and angst in his life, Grant Morrison. A bit heavy-handed at points, but here you can see the early concepts for which Morrison will become best known.
Finally, there is Neil Gaiman’s epic run on Sandman. There’s close to a decade’s worth of stories about ancient fables and explorations of the fantastic. From that, one of my favorite arcs is collected in “A Game of You.” Minor character Barbie from “A Doll’s House” takes center stage. A recent divorcee after the culminating events of that storyline, Barbie is desperate to remake herself. Episodes of face painting, bohemian friends and the single life in New York come to a halt when one of her childhood imaginary friends dies at her feet in the streets. Soon Barbie is gone, traveling into the fantasy kingdom from her childhood dreams, a realm taken over by the malevolent being known as The Cuckoo. It has minions willing to attack Barbie’s neighbors in the “real” world to keep them from helping her.