In 1993, DC Comics saw a hole in the market. The core audience of comic readers was getting older and many were moving away from the cape and cowl comics. Superheroes weren’t giving these readers the stories they were looking for. Karen Berger, a DC editor who had recently been spending her time working with Alan Moore and trying to find a place for Neil Gaiman in the DC Comics universe, came up with an idea. The top brass of DC ate it up, and Vertigo Comics was born.
Vertigo is still around, putting out some of the most interesting books from a major comic publisher today, but after 23 years, the imprint has lost much of its luster. Gaiman stops in every few years with a new SANDMAN story or two. Bill Willingham kept things going smooth with FABLES for a long time, but it’s been well over a decade since Vertigo had a book that really popped with readers. Not long ago, it looked like the next Vertigo hit would come from Gerard Way, the frontman of My Chemical Romance and a well-respected comic writer, himself. Rumblings were about that Way was working with DC on a DOOM PATROL book with artist Becky Cloonan, but it never panned out. Until now.
At Emerald City Comic-Con, DC announced a new imprint, Young Animal, which is being headed by Way, who will be writing DOOM PATROL with art by Nick Derington instead of Cloonan. Doom Patrol, for those who don’t know, are kind of like the original X-Men – a team of misfits led by a man in a wheelchair – and are one of DC’s oldest super teams, though they’ve never found he success of the Teen Titans or the Justice League. Still, they are a beloved team, and their series from the 90s, written by Grant Morrison, was a huge critical hit that played a major part in the creation of Vertigo. Gerard Way’s own comic, THE UMBRELLA ACADEMY was also a critically acclaimed series that, in itself, has some similarities to Doom Patrol.
With Young Animal, DC is hoping to recapture that audience that felt like they were getting too old for superheroes, but still wanted to keep reading comics. As with Vertigo in 93, the books touch on the weirder parts of the DC properties. SHADE, THE CHANGING GIRL, for example, is a new take on the Steve Ditko character Shade the Changing Man who, himself, had a fantastic Vertigo book by Peter Milligan. At the same time, it appears that the goal of Young Animal is to be on the weird side of comics while not bringing the 23 years of baggage that comes with Vertigo.
This is a huge step up from a previous announcement from DC that appeared to be looking to connect with the same audience. Late last year, DC revealed the “updating” of a number of Hanna-Barbera properties that many of us thought had to be a joke. This included a reimagined WACKY RACES influenced by MAD MAX: FURY ROAD and a new “gritty” version of SCOOBY DOO.
Maybe learning from the initial reactions to those Hanna-Barbera books (which have not been released yet), DC is being more careful with Young Animal, bringing in talent known for connecting with younger readers in the past. The imprint will launch in September with DOOM PATROL followed by three more new titles in October. Here’s a quick breakdown of each title, straight from DC’s offices:
DOOM PATROL – This September, in the spirit of Grant Morrison’s legendary run on the series, along with other classic incarnations of the characters, writer Gerard Way and artist Nick Derington will put their unique stamp on the world’s strangest heroes taking on the universe’s strangest villains.
SHADE, THE CHANGING GIRL – An alien takes over the body of a 16-year-old bully and must face the challenges of being a stranger in a foreign land, plus the consequences of a life she didn’t live. Star Wars’ Moving Target writer Cecil Castellucci and artist Marley Zarcone explore themes of madness, alienation, and the bizarre in this sci-fi thriller, with covers by Becky Cloonan.
CAVE CARSON HAS A CYBERNETIC EYE – Writers Gerard Way and Jon Rivera, along with artist Michael Avon Oeming take readers on a strange adventure with DC Comics’ Silver Age character Cave Carson, his cybernetic eye and his college–age daughter as they travel to dark places deep in the earth and mind. Catch this new series in October.
MOTHER PANIC – Meet Violet Paige, a celebrity heiress by day and brutal vigilante by night as she takes on the underbelly of Gotham City’s high society. Hitting shelves in November, the series is written by Gerard Way and Jody Houser with art by Tommy Lee Edwards.
If you’ll permit me to slip in a bit of the press release, Gerard Way is “thrilled to help bring DC’s Young Animal to life, having been raised on experimental 80s and 90s takes on superheroes. I see Young Animal as a place to try new ideas- following the spirit of those books from the past but bring them somewhere else,” explains Way. “I see it as an imprint where we can explore fine art, bold concepts, mature themes, and strangeness- with lots of heart.”
DC Comics is hoping these books will be hits with the Tumblr crowd. Marvel Comics has had a pretty strong hold on the Tumblr audience with books like MS. MARVEL and SPIDER-GWEN, and while DC found some success there last year when they revamped Batgirl with the fantastic BATGIRL OF BURNSIDE storyline, their other attempts, including a recreation of PREZ and a new take on BLACK CANARY have failed to hit that same mark (though the BLACK CANARY series is real good stuff, in my opinion).
As the comics industry learns to connect with the internet better, there are going to be a lot of bumps and bruises along the way. Whether or not Young Animal ends up connecting with readers and being a hit, or if it ends up in the imprint graveyard alongside Paradox Press, New Universe, and Impact Comics, we’ll have to wait and see.
*Photos: Vertigo Comics, DC Comics