If you are of a certain age and a certain type of comic book nerd, the DC imprint VERTIGO means a lot to you. For most, it represents realizing that mainstream comics can be more than folks endlessly punching each other and offer life stories and lessons and emotions.
Usually, most folks gravitate towards Neil Gaiman’s mythic SANDMAN run which, fair enough. I admit, I have an almost complete collection, mostly of individual issues, including signed copies of the initial storyline which is a prized possession. Or perhaps DEATH: THE HIGH COST OF LIVING mini. Maybe the grandfathered-in ANIMAL MAN or the DOOM PATROL series, which is now a brilliantly adapted TV series, and has an illustrious number of collections.
However, the little-known SHADE, THE CHANGING MAN is my favorite VERTIGO book from that time period. Peter Milligan took a bonkers Steve Ditko-created character and managed to twist it into something far more malleable. Each arc of his grappled with surprising facets of society and culture; from the American infatuation with the death of John F. Kennedy to quiet interpersonal dynamics, all told through the eyes of an alien who inhabits bodies and is intensely over-emotional.
It helped that he was accompanied by the dynamic pen and pencil work of a young Chris Bachalo and Mark Pennington, lending an extremely vibrant verve to Milligan’s imagination.
In the 90s, there was absolutely nothing like what SHADE was doing, and it’s still rare to find today. It was weird, bizarre, absolutely surreal, but still imbued with emotional heft.
I wish there was the demand for them to collect Milligan’s entire run as an omnibus — complete with Brendan McCarthy’s amazing psychedelic covers — but sadly, DC only individually collected three volumes of his work. Nonetheless, if you’re into weird — or just quality — fiction, I suggest seeking them out, as they’re (thankfully) still in-print, and then pick up the remaining issues via dollar-bins because I’m not about to lend out mine.