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Is the DC Universe taking back Swamp Thing, other Vertigo characters?

by  in Comic News Comment

A rumor snaking its way through the blogosphere has Swamp Thing leading a migration of characters from Vertigo back to the DC Universe, ending for some properties nearly two decades of imprint isolation.

In a brief post on Tuesday, Rich Johnston reported that new DC Comics Co-Publisher Dan DiDio “decreed” a new Swamp Thing title be released under the DC bullet, where it last appeared in February 1993. (That decision apparently meant the cancellation of a reboot in the works from acclaimed science fiction author China Miéville.) What’s more, Johnston contends a “new policy” would permit any character that originated in the DC Universe to again be used by that imprint.

None of that has been confirmed, but if it’s true it certainly signals a significant shift in editorial policy at the recently restructured DC Comics. With few exceptions, once a property moved from the publisher’s superhero line to its “mature readers” imprint, it typically remained. That’s not to say it never happened: In recent years, Animal Man and Doom Patrol were reclaimed by the DCU, and Zatanna and The Phantom Stranger have little difficulty traveling between the two imprints, even if their visits to Vertigo are only for the occasional cameo or one-shot.

However, when was the last time John Constantine, Swamp Thing or the Sandman cast popped up in a superhero title? (Probably 1997, in JLA, for the latter; Neil Gaiman has final say on their use. For the other two, I have no idea.)

Some may view this rumored “new policy” as a blow — both real and symbolic — against the Old DC, where editorial territory was said to be as fiercely defended as a medieval fiefdom. And it very well may be. After all, the former heads of two of the three primary imprints — calling them “vassal lords” would strain the metaphor — are now co-publishers. So it would be only natural to want to rescind a long-standing, and bothersome, edict.

But it also could be that the Vertigo of 2010 bears little resemblance to the Vertigo of 1993. An imprint that began essentially as a stable for “edgier” or “darker” takes on existing DC properties — Swamp Thing, The Sandman, Shade, the Changing Man, et al — evolved into a home for acclaimed original series like 100 Bullets, Preacher, Scalped, DMZ, Transmetropolitan and Y: The Last Man, and graphic novels like Pride of Baghdad and the new Vertigo Crime line.

Heck, it’s probably telling that the flagship series is no longer Hellblazer, the last of the imprint’s debut titles still being published, but Fables, a series introduced nearly a decade after Vertigo was established.

With original creations as its foundation, Vertigo has little need of those “edgier” versions of old DCU properties. So maybe it’s simply time for most of them to go back. Of course, that doesn’t guarantee Swamp Thing will fare any better in the DC Universe than he has in recent years at Vertigo. But at least he won’t have to jump additional editorial hurdles on his way to cancellation.