If Neil Gaiman Really is Developing a Vertigo Universe… What Comics Should He Choose?

By  · Published on October 21st, 2014


Finally, news that potentially involves the words “expanded universe” that doesn’t cause involuntary pulling out of one’s hair.

Because when DC Comics and Warner Bros issued that great decree of Justice League-centric films last week (also, Suicide Squad), there was one extremely noticeable omission: David S. Goyer and Joseph Gordon-Levitt’s Sandman. Sandman’s a film based on a DC Comic, and as the point of last week’s announcement was “Behold! Our supply of DC movies has no end!,” you’d think WB would want to pad the list with as many as possible. Heck, they included Lego Batman on the list, and no one’s expecting Batfleck to split Justice League Bat-duties with a tiny gravel-voiced LEGO piece.

Yet, no Sandman. But now we have a handy explanation for why Dream of the Endless and his trippy, otherworldly exploits were left unmentioned when Green Lantern, Wonder Woman and the rest were trotted out on display. Slashfilm who went picking around in Neil Gaiman’s Tumblr page, has an answer from the Sandman writer himself:

“It’s not a DC Comics film. It’s a Vertigo film. That’s a different slate of films, and a different announcement.”

It’s no edict from Warner Bros., but considering that Gaiman wrote the original comics and has, at least at one point in time, spoken with Goyer and Gordon-Levitt about what a Sandman movie should look like, he’s a reasonable authority on the future of Sandman.

But that’s not really what’s important here. What matters is that third sentence in Gaiman’s slightly terse-sounding response: “A different slate of films.” Emphasis on “slate.” Which would imply that not only is Warner Bros pursuing Sandman, but they’ve got designs on other comics from the Vertigo imprint- a subset of DC Comics originally founded to highlight more grown-up stuff like sex and violence and “adult themes.” Although now that modern DC can throw nude stabbings into any comic they’d like, Vertigo is basically DC’s indie brand.

Would they bleed into each other, forming another of these cross-movie universes everyone’s so fond of? Perhaps. To know for sure would involve sifting through pages and pages more of Gaiman’s Tumblr, (or, more realistically, just waiting for some kind of official announcement), so for now we’ll play the speculation game and see what other Vertigo comics might find a spot on that slate Gaiman’s referencing.

In curating this little assortment of heroes, it’s probably best to avoid any Vertigo book that’s currently being farmed out into a live-action medium. So let’s go ahead and cross off “DMZ” (coming to Syfy), “Hellblazer” (renamed into NBC’s Constantine), “Lucifer” (also NBC), “iZombie” (the CW), “Preacher” (AMC) and “Scalped” (WGN). Given that mama bear DC has no problems putting the Flash on TV and then casting a separate actor as a separate movie Flash, there’s a chance any of these options could be filmified in the near future (“Hellblazer” being the most likely choice), but for the sake of freshness, let’s stick with untapped material for now.

Justice League Dark

Yes, it has the words “Justice League” in the title, but the JLD isn’t so much a collection of superheroes as it is a smattering of Vertigo characters that group together to solve spooky mystical crises. Alec Holland, aka Swamp Thing, a monstrous mass of plants who’s sometimes a force for decency and sometimes a big scary plant monster. John Constantine, snark-laden Londoner and magic detective (Constantine is a noteworthy enough character to guarantee a spot on this team, but again, we’re aiming for the lesser-seen characters). Boston Brand, aka Deadman, a trapeze artist who was murdered and now has a standard-issue set of ghost powers. And a few others of note, like magician Zatanna and demon Etrigan.

You’ve probably heard this team’s name before, and probably in close proximity to the words “Guillermo del Toro.” For good reason- Del Toro’s been developing a version of this team for years- but according to the director it’ll be entirely unrelated to Sandman and will eventually fold into the mainstream DC movieverse. Kinda counterproductive to the idea of a Vertigo film set (why even designate one, if half of Vertigo’s biggest names are hitching a ride with the Justice League?), but if that’s the case, there are still more comics to pilfer from. Such as…

Animal Man

Not all Animal Men are the same, even if every run of “Animal Man” comics technically featured the same dude (Buddy Baker) under the samemoniker of Animal Man. In the original incarnation, Animal Man was a dude in orange tights and nifty wraparound sunglasses, using his animal-based abilities (able to imbue himself with any trait from any animal, say the camouflage of a chameleon or the punishing power of a stampeding elephant) to champion animal rights and generally stomp all over the fourth wall.

Then, in the ’90s, “Animal Man” killed off Animal Man, un-killed him, and then slowly inched the comic towards the horror genre. Which is where it currently resides- in its most recent incarnation, Animal Man used his kooky “I want to spray people like a skunk” powers to enter into a Lovecraftian underworld and fight horrifying nightmare beasts straight out of The Thing. Kooky animal activism or fleshy spiders that consume us from the inside? Either one would be just peachy in a Vertigo Universe.

Sweet Tooth

Technically not a superhero, and technically unrelated to everything else in the Vertigo line-up (at least Animal Man would occasionally hang out with the regular DC heroes, plus that whole fleshy beast-feast featured a crossover with Swamp Thing and Constantine),” Sweet Tooth” is nevertheless one of the few Vertigo comics that absolutely deserves a feature film/TV adaptation, yet has been roundly ignored by the current comic craze.

It’s your basic post-apocalyptic scenario- plague ravages the Earth, humanity dwindled down to mere dregs, survivors band together but find other humans are the real menace, yadda yadda yadda. The only difference is that all the children born post-plague come out of the womb with chunks of wild animal in place of their regular human features. Our titular sweet tooth is a boy with antlers, existing alongside rat children and alligator children and other weirdly adorable horrors.

“Weirdly adorable horrors” is just about right for “Sweet Tooth,” as it’s spattered with blood and entrails but also a comfortingly sweet coming-of-age tale. Merging it into Sandman would require some serious re-tooling, but ideally, a Vertigo film lineup should include some decidedly non-superhero stuff. Vertigo is the indie version of DC Comics after all.

Any Vertigo comics you’d like to see embiggened for the screen?