A comic book era officially came to an end Friday, when DC Comics announced a reorganization of its imprints. Going forward, the publisher will market and organize all its books under the main DC brand, with three age-specific labels replacing the current ratings system. DC Kids will be for readers aged 8-12, regular DC will be for readers 13 and older, and DC Black Label will be for “mature readers” aged 17 or older. As a consequence of this reorganization, which will go into effect in 2020, DC is shuttering its legendary, long-standing Vertigo imprint.
For much of the mid-to-late 20th century, comic books were dominated by superhero stories — even more than they are now. They were also primarily aimed at young readers. That started to change in the ’80s, when DC editor Karen Berger started recruiting British writers like Alan Moore, Neil Gaiman, and Grant Morrison to come breathe new life into the form with zeitgeist-changing comics like Swamp Thing and The Sandman. Starting in 1993, those books and the many that came after were officially organized as the Vertigo imprint, with Berger as editor. This separated the titles (many of which were creator-owned, focused on dark fantasy or science-fiction subjects rather than superheroes, and contained graphic depictions of sex and violence) from the mainstream DC continuity.
Perhaps the easiest way of comprehending Vertigo’s influence is looking at how much the rest of the comics industry learned from it. Vertigo continued to publish innovative and inventive comics for years (including Preacher, Y: The Last Man, and so many more), but other publishers started to as well. These days, award-winning fantasy comics for mature readers like Monstress have a home at Image Comics rather than Vertigo. Berger, who parted from DC in 2013, now has her own Berger Books imprint at Dark Horse, which publishes comics like G. Willow Wilson and Christian Ward’s religious sci-fi tale Invisible Kingdom and the late Anthony Bourdain’s Hungry Ghosts. Over time, Vertigo became less unique.
DC attempted a relaunch of the Vertigo brand last year, headlined by four new Sandman Universe comics dealing with characters and settings from Gaiman’s The Sandman, which remains the single most iconic Vertigo comic. Worry not, dreamers: EW has confirmed that the Sandman Universe books will continue at DC. They won’t have their own siloed imprint anymore, but given the character Dream’s role in the recent Dark Nights: Metal superhero comic alongside Batman, the barriers between the Dreaming and the rest of DC have already started to wear thin in recent years.
DC Ink, a recent imprint dedicated to YA graphic novels like Mera: Tidebreaker, will be incorporated into the main DC line while having some sort of differentiation from the in-continuity comics. More specific clarification will likely be coming before the changes take effect next year.