DC’s Vertigo imprint launched to give creators more creative freedom, but many books depict violent, satirical or sexual themes that go too far.
From 1993 to 2020, Vertigo ran as an imprint of DC Comics, created by editor Karen Berger. The whole point of this brand was to publish more mature comics that wouldn't fit DC's main vision of superheroes and heroic optimism. This allowed more creative freedom for the writers and artists as they didn't have to keep younger audiences as their priority.
Logically, Vertigo opened the door for all kinds of mature content. Some of the comics published by this imprint are truly difficult to digest, like 100 Bullets and Hellblazer. Vertigo's adult content goes from explicit violence to social satire to sexual themes. Often, all these motives combined create truly gruesome stories.
Agent Graves offers people the chance to enact revenge on whoever wronged them by providing them with a handgun, 100 bullets, and information on their victim. 100 Bullets explores the stories of those who take the opportunity, while also dealing with a larger conspiracy, in which Graves is a central figure.
100 Bullets was widely acclaimed by critics for proposing many complex questions about morality as well as for its lore. However, even when it has a very interesting story, fans won't want to reread it. It's a very dark and violent tale with art just as violent. Besides, it touches on many morbid topics, such as rape, gang wars, and drugs.
Kill Your Girlfriend follows a schoolgirl with rage issues who is bored with her life. After she meets a man wanted by the police, they kill her boyfriend. Then they go on a bender where they indulge in all kinds of sex and violence in Bonnie and Clyde's type of fantasy.
Kill Your Boyfriend is a satire of British youth culture hidden in what feels like a lot like a sexploitation script. As the two main characters indulge in two more and more violent acts while also having sex in between, the social critique of the story fades into the background.
Transmetropolitan tells the story of Spider Jerusalem, a journalist who starts a war against a corrupted presidential candidate, Gary Callahan. Jerusalem uses his career to enact a vendetta against him. Since Jerusalem has been diagnosed with a degenerative illness, he feels he has nothing to lose.
For a late 90s comic book, Transmetropolitan does a terrific job of depicting the darkest aspects of politics in beautiful art. It explores all kinds of radical ideas, from religious to cultural, in stories full of strange details, such as the fact that Spider has his wife's head in a cryogenic jar or the moment when Spider eats a dead pigeon.
Originally created by Alan Moore and Stephen R. Bissette, John Constantine is an exorcist, demon expert, and con man. Constantine travels the world taking care of paranormal threats while trying to make sense of his own complex life. Although this series started as a DC Comic, it became a Vertigo imprint, and then returned to DC in recent years.
Hellblazer is one of Vertigo's most famous stories with Constantine having turned into a cultural staple. Anyone who has kept themselves to the live-actions probably has no idea that the comics are full of morbid details. As Constantine follows demons, it's difficult for this series not to get disgusting easily.
After café owner Tom McKenna makes the news of saving his store from a robbery, the New York City mafia contacted him, bringing back the ghost of his past. Now, McKenna has to leave his small-town life behind to tie some loose ends from his time as a criminal.
A History of Violence doesn't hold any punches. Since the main character is involved with the New York mafia, he leaves a blood trail wherever he goes. The peak of this violence is the moment when Tom finds his former business partner after being mutilated and tortured for 20 whole years.
Edwin and Charles are two dead boys who solve mysteries for hire. After a girl sees their ad and gets in contact with them so they help her find her lost brother, they realize that a lot of kids have been missing from the town. They're all living in a place called Free Country, where there aren't any adults.
Since Free Country is a place where children get to live free from the oppression of adults, it seems like a good idea. However, in order to explain the need for such a place, The Children's Crusade includes certain details about child abuse. In fact, this is a recurrent theme of the series.
Tainted follows the intricate relationship between George Palmer, the owner of a boarding house, and his tenants, a nurse named Lisa, and a drug addict named Steve. As the three characters withhold secrets from the others, eventually they all resort to blackmail.
Since the three characters have plenty of skeletons in their closet, they're all victims to each other. One of the best examples of their messed-up dynamic is when Steve discovers that George spies on Lisa through a hole in the wall and uses this information to abuse him during a bondage session. All in all, a very disturbing comic.
The Eaters follows a suburban all-American, Christian family with two children that appear perfect except for the fact that they eat other humans. This family serves as a satire of the American middle class. In the comics, they never question their habits.
While The Eaters isn't straight-up horror, cannibalism is one of the darkest taboos in humanity. Milligan using this motive as a tool for social criticism makes it darker and gives it a nice black comedy layer. For example, the series begins with the daughter of the family trying to convince them not to eat her boyfriend because "she really likes this one."
Andrew Sphinx is an eccentric artist who thinks his face could be the ultimate canvas. To prove this, he hires David Scholem, a world-renowned cosmetic surgeon, to turn his face into a living painting, especially inspired by Pablo Picasso. Scholem and his wife end up in a conspiracy when Sphinx's true desires are revealed.
Face is a gothic story that works as a pressure pot. It starts as a pretentious and graphically violent tale, but it only gets weirder. The series touches on all kinds of psychological trauma and it has several panels with a disturbingly sexual vibe. All of this is only the path to a shocking twist.
Jesse Custer is a preacher in Annville, Texas, who gets possessed by Genesis. Since Genesis is the unnatural spawn of an angel and a demon, he's as powerful as God. Given this, God has abandoned Heaven. On his way to find Him through the United States, Custer meets a lot of extravagant, disturbing characters.
From pervert serial killers to celebrities with anus-shaved faces, Preacher touches on any topic considered taboo in society. The gratuitous violence, the criticism of religion, and the raw art are very hard to digest for anyone who isn't into this kind of literature.
NEXT: 10 Best DC Stories Of The 2010s
Mayra García is a Comic Lists Writer for CBR. Her main interests include linguistics, superheroes, and food.