Vertigo is responsible for some of the best comics in the history of the medium. The early nineties saw the publication of series such as Neil Gaiman’s The Sandman, Grant Morrison’s Animal Man, Garth Ennis and Steve Dillon’s Preacher, and graphic novel reprints of Alan Moore and David Lloyd’s V for Vendetta, encompassing a sort of “British invasion” of comics that pushed against the walls of the graphic medium to see how far they could budge. Vertigo would later become home to such modern epics as Brian K. Vaughan and Pia Guerra’s Y: The Last Man, Brian Azzarello and Eduardo Risso’s 100 Bullets, Jason Aaron and R. M. Guera’s Scalped, and a host of other creator-owned series that would influence publishers, especially Image Comics, to focus on creator-owned work while other companies kept their output of company owned titles flowing. Vertigo now functions exclusively as a creator owned imprint, with books such as Animal Man and Hellblazer, which take place in the DC universe, returning to DC proper.
With all of the forms Vertigo has taken over the years and all of the exceptional output, it’s easy for a gem to get lost in a sea of quality comics. While The Exterminators – a five-volume saga about bugs, those who kill them, and conspiracy – is by no means undiscovered, as it garnered an impressive amount of critical attention in its time, it hardly gets the acclaim or the legacy points that the titles most often associated with Vertigo hold.
But, really… it should.
The Exterminators sounds INSANE when you try to synopsize it. But really, I think that’s a staple of Vertigo titles. Try to summarize Preacher in four sentences, and you’ll have just summarized one of the greatest comics in the history of the medium with a flurry of information and concepts that sound like, at best, a hard sell. The beauty of Vertigo is both the wild, daring nature of the plots and the masterful execution of said insanity. Boiled down to its basics, The Exterminators is about a guy named Henry that words for an Extermination company that uses a shady substance to get its bug killin’ done. That substance leads to the main problem of the series, which is an uprising of mutated cockroaches led by a resurrected ex-Exterminator with creepy ties to Egyptian mythology. It revels in the ongoing mystery that makes other Vertigo books so successful. I mean, “What is the box?” had me on the edge of my seat as much as “Why did all the men die?” in Y: The Last Man, and that’s saying something.
Complete with the grittier aesthetic of earlier Vertigo titles and the gross-out humor that helped make Preacher what it was, The Exterminators is beautifully drawn by Tony Moore. Readers have come to know Moore as the co-creator of The Walking Dead, who famously drew the first volume before ongoing series artist Charlie Adlard took the reins. The beauty of The Exterminators, though, is that while Moore isn’t credited as artist on every issue, he was involved creatively throughout and drew about two-thirds of this thirty-issue series, which I believe is the longest run on a single title of his career as an independent creator. Paired with writer Simon Oliver, whose industry credits are surprisingly sparse despite the A-list quality of his writing in this title, I’d put The Exterminators up against any of Vertigo’s classics for its wit and it’s style, it’s intelligence and drama, and – perhaps especially – for the way it positively revels in its dark, glorious absurdity.
PAT SHAND is a comic-book writer best known for his work on Robyn Hood, Grimm Fairy Tales, and Charmed: Season Ten. He lives in sunny San Diego, where his copious collection of Vertigo books is currently ruining his cheap but pretty bookshelves that Ikea discontinued for some damn reason.