With the new rumors that forward motion is finally happening on the Preacher movie circulating, I’m torn between being excited and terrified. DC Entertainment has yet to really realize the potential of the Vertigo imprint across multiple media, after all, but evidence of earlier attempts have been shown to be somewhat… uneven.
To be fair, Warner Bros hasn’t exactly shied away from the non-superheroic properties DC Comics has had to offer in the past. We’ve had movies based on Red, The Losers, Constantine, A History of Violence and a television version of Human Target, and there’s the constant rumoring of projects based on Sandman and Fables. So why does Vertigo still seem oddly underappreciated by DC Entertainment?
Well, there’s that most of the projects that have come from Vertigo books have ended up being disappointing to varying degrees, usually because what ends up on screen is too far apart from what was on the page for one reason or another. (Constantine, for example, was almost unrecognizable from Hellblazer, right down to the title. The Losers, by comparison, was weirdly too in love with the source material without managing to really get it; both Red and Human Target, I’d argue were enjoyable, but disappointing because they didn’t really keep anything other than the core concept and then built in entirely different directions.) Whereas superhero projects, whether from Marvel, DC or other publishers altogether, somehow survive the translation more or less intact, there’s something about Vertigo books that seem much more fragile.
And yet, at its best, Vertigo has been home to so many stories that are perfect for mainstream audiences, primed for movies and shows that dabble in the fantastic and unusual without necessitating knowledge of shared universes, previous continuity or any love of superhero genre conventions. If Warner Bros is serious about making DC Entertainment a success, Vertigo seems crucial to that, offering an alternative to (and, when the bubble pops, lifeboat from) superhero franchises, but it’ll be an alternative that’ll require more work on behalf of those adapting them; with only a few exceptions, Vertigo series aren’t franchises, but the work of one authorial voice, and can’t stand up to the pushing-and-pulling that some other concepts (Superhero comics, toys, old TV shows) can – they should be treated in the same way as novel adaptations, concerned with working out what works in the original and how to translate that, instead of picking and choosing fan service moments for cheap trailer thrills.
I’ll admit, I’m not a fan of either Preacher nor DJ Caruso’s movies, but there is something about his enthusiasm for the project and love of the original that makes me think that maybe he can make a movie work – if only because he seems to respect the material enough to not want to try and cram the whole story into one movie. I hope it all comes together, and is good… if nothing else than because I’d like to see someone come up with a framework for future adaptations of Vertigo projects I do like.