Merlyn is arguably Oliver Queen’s most recognizable adversary but with the “Arrow” TV series showcasing Green Arrow’s arch(er) enemy, “Green Arrow” writer Jeff Lemire was keen on going in a different direction for the New 52 relaunch.
After opening his run on the series with the introduction of the new supervillain Komodo, Lemire went back 35 years to find a legacy character worthy of facing Green Arrow for DC Comics’ highly publicized Villains Month event in September.
Count Vertigo, created by Gerry Conway and Trevor Von Eeden, first appeared in 1978’s “World’s Finest Comics” #251. His ability to alter the balance of his foes while inducing dizziness, obviously wreaks havoc on a superhero like Green Arrow who relies on precision and focus as a master bowman.
Lemire told CBR News that he and artist Andrea Sorrentino have updated Vertigo’s origin (as well as his look and feel) for the upcoming arc beginning in “Green Arrow” #23 and continuing in September’s “Count Vertigo” special, but it would more closely resemble his original backstory as opposed to what was introduced more recently on “Arrow.” The Canadian cartoonist also revealed that readers haven’t seen the last of Komodo and that while nothing is imminent, he does have plans for Merlyn too.
CBR News: Jeff, what makes a great villain?
Jeff Lemire: The best ones are generally one of two things. They are either the opposite of your hero, almost a negative reflection that becomes everything that your hero is against, embodied. Or it’s someone who is a mirror image of your hero. It’s the worst of everything that they are, embodied, and they have to fight against that.
With Count Vertigo, you get a bit of both. Hopefully with this version that I have created, you get a bit of all of that and that makes him pretty terrifying and very troubling to Oliver Queen.
Count Vertigo, traditionally, hails from royal descent but fans have now see him on “Arrow” as something completely different, a drug lord pushing deadly narcotics. Does your Vertigo share an origin with either of these or are you presenting something different again for the New 52?
I don’t want to tell his origin here because it’s part of the story but I tried to update the older comic book version of his origin with the inner ear stuff. I hopefully made it a little more plausible and there is a reason why he has these powers. It goes back to his childhood. It’s hard to say too much without telling you what the comic is about. But I’ve updated his origin, for sure.
You love to explore family, especially fathers and sons, in your stories. Do we explore Vertigo’s lineage in “Count Vertigo” #1?
A bit. Oliver’s story, obviously, has a lot to do with legacy and his relationship with his father. And Vertigo is almost a dark mirror image of that. He’s a character that comes from royalty so there is this legacy that he is born into but for him, unlike Oliver, who is raised in privilege and had everything he wanted, Vertigo’s legacy left him very early. He was taken away from his family and suffered because of it. He grew up impoverished and longing to reclaim that legacy that was lost to his family.
You’ve revealed that this Vertigo is superpowered, something you’ve yet to explore in “Green Arrow.” What effect does his introduction have on the world you are creating?
Yeah, he’s definitely the first superpowered character that’s been in my run but even though he has these extraordinary powers, I wanted to present it and execute it in a way that is very grounded and realistic and very much fits within the crime noir vibe that I’ve been going for in the book.
Andrea’s art certainly helps with that and connects the look and feel but I hopefully have done the superpower and the origin in a way that it still feels like a part of what we’ve been building and doesn’t feel like it’s coming out of left field. I guess we’ll let the readers decide if I was successful in doing that or not.
Andrea did an awesome job on the new design. How does Vertigo’s look and feel play into the character?
Andrea is amazing. And every issue I get from him, he tries something even crazier and wilder. He’s pushing himself so far and Vertigo’s power creates an especially great playground for that. The essence of his powers is that he warps reality or at least a person’s perspective of reality. And Andrea has taken that and gone nuts with it. Visually, the layouts and everything are pretty wild and pretty cool. I’m really excited about it. The redesign of the character himself is much more military. He’s a superpowered mercenary in the present day of our story and that’s really the look we gave him.
Classic Vertigo nearly a perfect adversary for Oliver, having been trained in classical martial combat, boxing, fencing, judo and karate. Does that part of his character remain too?
For the Vertigo that I’ve created, his powers overcompensate for the fact that he’s not much of a fighter. He doesn’t really like touching people or being in close combat at all. He doesn’t let people get that close. That’s really the trick and that’s also his weakness. Oliver can fight but he’s best at long-range combat using his bow. It’s hard for him to do that when he can’t aim so it makes for some interesting fights and makes it a lot different from what we saw from between him and Komodo, which was primarily in-close, hand-to-hand combat.
Are you setting Vertigo up as a major villain for Ollie moving forward?
One of the goals for me was creating a really strong rogues’ gallery for Oliver. Vertigo’s story is introduced in “Green Arrow” #22 and #23 and then we have the special. “Green Arrow” #24 is really the big showdown with Vertigo. And then he’ll go away for a while but he’s definitely not gone. He’ll be a part of plans moving forward.
Will we see more Komodo in the future or has his story been told?
Komodo’s not gone. We left that pretty open and you’ll see that Vertigo’s story is actually linked to Komodo’s in a weird way and one rolls right into another and just keeps rolling like a snowball. While they are individual arcs and individual stories that you can read on their own, they’re all part of one big overarching story that involves Komodo. Komodo is definitely not gone and even though we won’t see him over the next three or four months, he will still be very much there in the book.
When Villain’s Month was announced, I was thinking it would mark the New 52 debut of Merlyn. You already introduced a new character in Komodo and are reimaging Count Vertigo for this new arc. Not too many choices when it comes to Green Arrow rogues, I guess?
It’s fun to do both. And you’re right. There isn’t a lot to play with. If you were just relying on existing villains, other than Merlyn and Count Vertigo, you can’t think of very many. That’s part of the fun of working with DC, it’s not a matter of just reinventing old stuff but you get to add new elements to the mythology too and create new characters that hopefully have a life beyond me. One day, when I’m not writing the book anymore, someone else can pick them up and add another layer to them. You’ll continue to see a mixture of new and old moving forward.
I don’t want to spoil anything but in addition to Count Vertigo, there is another old character coming back in this arc, which I think people are going to be surprised to see.
Awesome. Now you mentioned Merlyn so I have to ask, do you have plans for him in the future?
Yep. [Pauses and laughs] He’s not the character that I was talking about but I would like to figure out who Merlyn is and how he could play into all of this stuff but I don’t have a specific plan for him yet. I want to do something that is different because I feel like Merlyn as another archer now would be redundant so if I bring him back, he would have to be something different than we’ve seen before. Not just another archer. I’m kind of working on the next year [of “Green Arrow”] right now and toying with different ideas and we’ll see which one takes.
Merlyn’s definitely a cool character and someone linked to Oliver’s past, which is always important. He’ll be back at some point.
“Green Arrow” #23.1: Count Vertigo,” written by Jeff Lemire and featuring art by Andrea Sorrentino, is expected September 4.