Beyond Free Country: A Tale of The Children’s Crusade: 9 More Forgotten Vertigo Series

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DC’s mature reader line, Vertigo, has long lived off its hardcover and trade paperback sales. But for every Sandman or Preacher enjoying a never-ending shelf life, there are five more Bite Clubs and Dog Moons languishing in publishing purgatory. While plenty of those series deserve to be forgotten, others seem to disappear through no fault of their own, victims of bad timing or readers who just didn’t know what they had in their hands.

One such forgotten gem is Free Country: A Tale of The Children’s Crusade, Vertigo’s unique first attempt at a crossover event. Bookended by a story featuring Sandman spinoffs the Dead Boy Detectives, The Children’s Crusade ran through annuals for Vertigo’s then-ongoing series: Swamp Thing, Animal Man, Black Orchid, The Books of Magic (here called Arcana) and Doom Patrol. This week, Vertigo is collecting the bookends written by Neil Gaiman, Alisa Kwitney and Jamie Delano along with a brand-new bridge story by Toby Litt and Peter Gross as Free Country: A Tale of the Children’s Crusade, a deluxe hardcover that retools the story to omit the annuals.

In honor of The Children’s Crusade finding a new life, Paste took a look at nine more forgotten gems in the Vertigo catalog. While seeing any of these on shelves again would be a shock, the publisher is savvy when it comes to reprints: obscure mini-series Beware the Creeper got a reissue earlier this year to capitalize on artist Cliff Chiang’s raised profile, and star-studded horror anthology Flinch will be back on sale just in time for the holiday season. Never say never (but seriously, never expect to see most of these outside of back-issue bins).
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Post-Morrison Animal Man
Writer: Jamie Delano
Artists: Steve Pugh, Russ Braun, Others

To Vertigo’s credit, Jamie Delano’s run on Animal Man finally made it to trade paperback earlier this year following two decades out of print, and readers can likely thank writer Jeff Lemire for that. Lemire’s New 52 Animal Man run (much of it also with artist Steve Pugh) relied heavily on Delano’s creation of “The Red” and Buddy’s appointment as its avatar on Earth, as well as the general horror tone established when the series moved to Vertigo with issue #57. Although writers Tom Veitch and Peter Milligan did solid work with the title following Grant Morrison’s fourth-wall-breaking run, Delano was the first scribe to truly make Buddy his own—no surprise, given that Delano launched a little book called Hellblazer in the shadow of Alan Moore. Pugh’s gnarly artwork served as a perfect complement to Delano’s grotesque body horror impulses, and legendary cover artist Brian Bolland provided a nice sense of continuity for the series. (Delano scripted the Children’s Crusade tie-in starring Buddy’s young daughter, Maxine Baker.)
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Area 10
Writer: Christos Gage
Artist: Chris Samnee

Vertigo’s short-lived Crime series of black and white small-trim hardcovers never really took off thanks to grim, noirish tales that were generally less memorable than their striking Lee Bermejo cover art. Despite several overly serious outings, the initiative’s most absurd story is also its best: Christos Gage and Chris Samnee’s Area 10, in which a detective is not-so-accidentally granted a perception-altering “third eye” after catching a chisel to the skull. Samnee wasn’t yet a Marvel superstar when he lent his expressive inks to depicting the book’s slew of decapitations and altered time sequences, but his work stands out as the best the sub-imprint had to offer, and Gage’s fringe-science crime plot seemed to predict the success of shows like True Detective and Hannibal years before they hit airwaves. If you’re a dedicated noir fan, any Vertigo Crime book should scratch your itch. If you’re not, Area 10 still deserves a look with your third eye.
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Can’t Get No
Writer/Artist: Rick Veitch

Swamp Thing following Alan Moore, Animal Man after Grant Morrison, Star Wars comics pre-Disney, and naughty superhero satire before The Boys made it cool: Rick Veitch can’t catch a break. The prolific writer/artist’s bad luck seemed destined to end when Can’t Get No came out in 2006 and garnered praise for its story of an ad exec who wakes up after 9/11 with tattoos covering his entire body, but this poetic, tragic comic told in landscape format seemed to disappear after collecting its initial accolades. In a more just world, college courses would still be picking apart Veitch’s use of 9/11 as a springboard to tackle America’s deeply wounded core.
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The Compleat Moonshadow
Writer: J. M. DeMatteis
Artist: Jon J. Muth

While Moonshadow was first published under Marvel’s creator-owned Epic imprint, founding Vertigo editor Karen Berger did offer to publish it at DC, and Vertigo later reprinted and collected the series as The Compleat Moonshadow. A somewhat satirical coming of age tale told with whimsical, childlike wonder despite its heavy themes, Moonshadow is notable for being one of the first fully painted American comic book series thanks to Jon J. Muth’s expressive, occasionally abstract watercolors. Rather than languishing in discount bins, The Compleat Moonshadow should be required reading for literary minded fans who’ve finished The Sandman and yearn for something else to kick them right in the heart.
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Four Horsemen
Writer: Robert Rodi
Artist: Esad Ribic

Long before Esad Ribic waged a Secret War, he illustrated Robert Rodi’s black comedy about War, Death, Famine, and Pestilence arriving in Times Square on the eve of the new millennium only to be met with a collective shrug. This mini-series isn’t exactly timeless—it was commissioned to tie in with the “V2K” initiative in 2000—but Rodi manages some quality apocalyptic satire without stepping too heavily on Good Omens’ toes, and Ribic is in fine painterly form depicting these heavy-metal-album-cover demigods of destruction. The chances of this forgotten mini-series ever being collected are slimmer than the chances of a modern-day high schooler having any idea what a “Y2K bug” is.
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Midnight, Mass.
Writer: John Rozum
Artists: Jesus Saiz, Paul Lee

Much like writer John Rozum’s quickly canceled DC revamp of Xombi with artist Frazer Irving, Midnight, Mass. should have been comic book crack for the same horror fans who flock to procedurals like Hannibal, The X-Files and Buffy. (Long rumored for a television adaptation, Midnight, Mass. made it as far as a NBC script order in 2009 before failing to get picked up.) Set in the spooky titular city in Massachusetts, the series follows a married pair of occult investigators in what was essentially a modern-day The Conjuring a decade before The Conjuring was a glint in James Wan’s eye. Despite original artist Jesus Saiz becoming a DC mainstay in the years since Midnight, Mass.’s cancellation, the creepy monster-of-the-week series has never been collected in any form.
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Sandman Presents: Bast: The Eternity Game
Writer: Caitlin R. Kiernan
Artist: Joe Bennett

It’s no surprise that most of the Sandman Presents mini-series have disappeared from memory: although mostly of high quality, they’re incidental spin-offs that can’t claim Neil Gaiman in the writer’s box. Even so, it’s a shame that one as bizarre as Mike Carey and Steve Leialoha Petrefax got reprinted while Caitlin R. Kiernan and Joe Bennett’s Bast: The Eternity Game remains a back-issue-bin delight. For fans of American Gods as much as The Sandman, Bast sees the Egyptian cat goddess seeking to prolong her immortality with a comeback after she discovers that she has only one believer left in the world. Kiernan was a horror prose pro when she stepped into The Dreaming, and Bennett’s work will feel familiar to any longtime Vertigo reader—if you can track down a copy.
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Vimanarama
Writer:   Grant Morrison  
Artist: Philip Bond

It’s kooky to call any Grant Morrison Vertigo project “forgotten,” but Vimanarama at least qualifies as “overshadowed.” Released in 2005 along with We3, Seaguy and the kickoff to the grand Seven Soldiers saga, this wee Kirby-meets-Hinduism mini just didn’t make as much of an impact as Morrison’s other books at the time. It’s a shame: artist Philip Bond created a truly magical world around a hapless Indian Brit in over his head, and Morrison tapped into a vein of pure super-powered fun that served him well in several recent Multiversity outings. Vertigo must recognize the error of letting Vimanarama collect too much dust: it’ll be available again next March in a hardcover alongside Morrison and Bond’s first collaboration, the much angrier Kill Your Boyfriend.
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Young Liars
Writer/Artist: David Lapham

Cartoonist David Lapham’s fans seem to only show up in bulk when he’s pumping out issues of his Image crime series, Stray Bullets. What other explanation is there for the short life and quiet death of his wildly experimental Vertigo outing Young Liars? In 18 issues, Lapham covered big-box consumerism, rock-star excess, sexual violence, multiple beheadings, literal Spiders from Mars and, in the final issue, meta-commentary on the book’s critics. It’s good to have Stray Bullets back on a semi-regular basis, but it’s a shame Young Liars didn’t lodge itself in the brains of more readers.

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