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by David R. Black

The life and times of Count Vertigo

Instead of doing my usual potpourri of reviews and commentary, I'm devoting this column to my favorite villain, Count Werner Vertigo. (Hey, pipe down! It's my column, and I can do what I want!) I've divided Vertgo's history into segments, and each one corresponds to a significant change in his use and/or characterization in stories. Without further ado, let's begin!

Early Years - Vlatava's Finest

Prior to the beginning of World War II, when it was invaded by the Nazis, the small Balkan country of Vlatava was ruled by the Vertigo family. The royal family, whose ancestors had ruled the country since its inception, were noted for two unusual things: an inherited genetic flaw of the inner ear and Eastern Europe's most extensive precious gem collection.

When World War II ended, the Soviet Union occupied Vlatava, forcing the royal family to flee to England. (One may presume, however, that the royals were held under house arrest during Nazi occupation of Vlatava, and were able to flee before the Soviets arrived).

The Vertigo royal family, from left to right: Queen Vertigo, young Werner Vertigo, and King Vertigo

Upon arriving in England, King and Queen Vertigo sold much of their gem collection. The reason why two wealthy monarchs needed to sell the gems has never been explained, but nonetheless, this action angered the king and queen's only child - Werner Vertigo.

Only a boy when his family fled Vlatava, Werner never accepted the loss of the gems. He viewed it as losing part of his ancestral heritage.

Upon growing to manhood, Werner decided to reclaim the gems from those who had purchased them. After constructing a "sonic wave device" which compensated for his inner ear defect, Werner discovered that it had a side effect - it disrupted the balance and perceptions of other people. Coupling his topsy-turvy power with magnetic boots which enabled him to walk on walls and ceilings, Werner set out to reclaim the gems as Count Vertigo!

Vertigo tracked most of his family's collection to Anson & Anson, a jewelry store in Star City, and reclaimed - actually stole - the gems without incident. However, two items (a diamond necklace and a brooch) had already been resold. (World's Finest #251)

Count Vertigo's attempts to reclaim the necklace and brooch brought him into conflict with Dinah Drake-Lance, the Black Canary! After besting the Canary once, Vertigo was captured by the heroine while attempting to steal the brooch.

Reasoning that her canary cry might cause Vertigo's sonic device to malfunction, Black Canary "raised the pitch of her cry past the upper limit of hearing, to the level where Vertigo's own sonic wave was operating." When her cry reached a certain pitch, Vertigo shrieked as his sonic device - and ironically, his family's brooch - shattered. Without the device to maintain his own sense of balance, a disoriented Vertigo toppled over.

While Vertigo, unable to walk without falling over, was carried away on a stretcher by police, Black Canary commented, "He needs a doctor, not a prison." The accuracy of Canary's prophesy would not be realized until John Ostrander's use of Vertigo in Suicide Squad.

***

Eventually escaping from prison, Vertigo swore revenge on Black Canary, but instead he was summoned to Vlatava. Hoping to free his country from Soviet rule, Vertigo developed an intricate nuclear blackmail plot - If the Soviets did not withdraw from Vlatava, the Soviet Union's own nuclear warheads (stolen by Vertigo) would be released on their own country. Despite the use of another device which augmented his distortion power, Vertigo was defeated by Green Arrow. (World's Finest #270, 272, 273)

Unwittingly, Green Arrow turned Vertigo over to Soviet authorities rather than an international court of law. (Although, it's hard to blame Green Arrow since Soviet agents were under orders to kill him as well). Tortured and brainwashed by the Soviets, Vertigo was ordered to capture Theodore Horton, Jr., the son of noted industrialist Abigail Sinclair. (Green Arrow miniseries #2-4)

Afraid that Horton would reveal the existence of a secret oil cartel led by a Englishman named Lord Jerry Sinclair and influenced by the Soviets, Vertigo assassinates him in front of a horrified Green Arrow. (The disoriented Horton falls to his death after making a misstep atop a cliff.) Confronting Green Arrow, Vertigo is defeated by a "feedback arrow" which short circuits his powers.

Incidentally, the feedback arrow defied the laws of physics three times during the battle, repeatedly bouncing off objects until homing in on Vertigo's power signature. (Last time I checked, arrows don't bounce, let allow maintain their momentum after hitting an object).

Regardless, Vertigo is sent to prison once again, this time for both incarceration and "deprogramming" of the Soviet brainwashing.

***

A short time later, Vertigo escapes from prison under suspicious conditions. The mystery behind Vertigo's escape - and the large bounty placed on his recapture - attracts the attention of Mark Shaw, a.k.a. Manhunter (Manhunter #7, 1st series).

Count Vertigo in his late teens, early twenties. (A map of Vlatava appears behind him)

Shaw heads to New York's "Little Vlatava" neighborhood to investigate the situation. Meeting Josef, an expatriate Vlatavan whom Shaw helped in the past, Shaw asks if Josef knows anything about Count Vertigo's whereabouts.

"You ask of the lawful ruler of Vlatava. The last of his line," says Josef, his face growing sullen. "You ask a favor of me that endangers my Count."

After contemplating the situation, Josef decides to tell Shaw all he knows. Shaw poses less of a threat to Vertigo than those who broke Vertigo out of jail - the Vlatavan Nationalists.

The Nationalists, explains Josef, seek to expel the occupying Soviets from Vlatava. But, the Nationalists are cast from the same mold as the National Socialists of World War II - the Nazi party which ruled Vlatava during World War II. Josef does not want Vlatavan blood shed in a revolution which would exchange one vile ruler for another vile ruler.

And he doesn't want his unsuspecting Count used as a figurehead in such a revolution.

With the help of Amanda Waller, Manhunter tracks Vertigo's captors to McClellan Air Force Base in Arizona. Overhearing Colonel Kapek, the Nationalists' leader, planning to kill the uncooperative Vertigo and blame it on the Soviets (thus turning Vertigo into a martyr), Manhunter leaps into action. Striking down Heinrich, the second in command and Vertigo's would-be assassin, Manhunter finds his quarry less grateful than expected.

"Let's head out, Count, " says Manhunter, "They got a nice safe cell waiting for you over at Belle Reeve."

"The world is a cell. We are all prisoners. One cell is much like another. Why seek pointless change?" asks Vertigo.

Realizing that the manic-depressive Count is locked in the depressive cycle of the disease (this issue marks the first time Vertigo's condition is explicitly mentioned), Manhunter initiates an unusual form of therapy - he punches Vertigo. Infuriated, Vertigo snaps out of his funk ("I am a Count, of blood royal! And by heaven, no common churl shall lay hands on me!")

Vertigo then proceeds to wipe out the Nationalists (Kapek and Heinrich, the two leaders, escape), attacking anyone who approaches him with a savage ferocity. Only a well placed sonic burst from Manhunter's staff is enough to disable the Count (Manhunter admits he learned the trick from studying Black Canary's encounters with Vertigo).

Handing Vertigo over to Amanda Waller, Manhunter receives his bounty. And the Suicide Squad receives a new member.

The Suicide Squad

In his first mission with the Suicide Squad, Vertigo is part of the team sent to rescue Sister Agnes Martinon, a Catholic nun imprisoned in the East African nation of Ogaden (Suicide Squad #24).

After defeating a platoon of Ogaden soldiers, the Squad discovers that Sister Martinon is being held in a nearby militray base. While Nightshade and Bronze Tiger probe the base's defenses, Count Vertigo proposes that he and the other villains attack Shade and Vixen, killing them before they can incapacitate the villains.

"Our jailers are only two and the black [Vixen] holds the device to free the explosive bracelets on our wrists," explains Vertigo to Duchess, Dr. Light, Captain Boomerang, and Shrike. "If we were to kill them suddenly - take the helicopter - we need not risk ourselves on this foolish mission."

Unfortunately for Vertigo, Duchess double crosses him and stops the insurrection before any harm comes to Shade or Vixen. The mission continues, and Vertigo plays a key role in neutralizing the base's defenses.

The Squad's next mission, part of the Janus Directive crossover, pits them against the Force of July. Originally ordered to subdue Mayflower ("I am pitted against a lunatic botanist. Pah."), Vertigo instead finds himself battling Lady Liberty. During their short battle Vertigo exhibits many of classic traits: His noble mannerisms, righteous anger, arrogance, and rage.

Witness their actual dialogue:

Count Vertigo (confronting Lady Liberty): "I fear I am at a disadvantage here. There has been no introduction, and under the circumstances, if I know you, I must fight you. I dislike raising a hand to a woman." (The Count bows respectfully to his opponent.)

Lady Liberty (attacking): "But I like raising a hand against imposters and hypocrites!"

Vertigo (enraged, he returns the attack): "I -- an imposter?!? Strumpet!"

(Lady Liberty is struck down, and falls defeated, but Vertigo presses the attack, kicking her fallen form).

Vertigo: "Harlot! Insult my royal person! Debase my noble title!"

During a latter part of the Janus Directive, Vertigo is one of the Squad members sent to destroy Konig Industries (Checkmate's headquarters) and kill Doctor Megala. After defeating Peacemaker, Vertigo and Shade locate Doctor Megala, or so they think.

"Megala" turns out to be a decoy; a decoy that blows up in Vertigo's face.

Luckily for the Count, Shade is able to partially protect him within the M-vest's forcefield. Severely injured nonetheless, Vertigo is carried from the rubble by Shade and returned to Belle Reeve for medical treatment.

***

While recovering from his injuries, Vertigo seeks the council of Father Richard Craemer, Belle Reeve's chaplain. Vlatava, having a "rich Catholic tradition," makes Vertigo predisposed to confide in the priest.

His family, Vertigo explains, "was one of the last of the great aristocratic families of Europe and had a positive horror of anything but blue blood in our lineage." Generations of inbreeding resulted in the Count's inner ear defect and his manic depression.

Fully aware of the mood swings caused by the disease, Vertigo tells Father Craemer that he sought help, but no form of therapy or medication helped on a long term basis.

Vertigo sees only one solution to his dilemma, as he explains: "In my lucid moments I wish I could be healthy. Depressed, I am a danger to myself. Manic, I am a danger to everyone else.

"I do not wish to kill myself, but I might not mind dying. Perhaps now you can see the attraction that something that calls itself the Suicide Squad might have for me.

"I am tired of being tired, Father. I wish to be well or dead."

***

In the depressive cycle of his illness, Vertigo is prevented from going on the Squad's mission to Iran by Belle Reeve psychologist Dr. McCoy. Amanda Waller sneers at "his royal depressiveness" not being fit for duty, but she agrees with the decision (Suicide Squad #32).

A few days later, Duchess/Lashina plays upon the Count's state to get him to volunteer for her mission to Apokolips. The Squad, unwillingly serving as a diversion while Lashina reclaims he role as leader of the Female Furies, ends up in a battle royale against half of Apokolips. After defeating a platoon of parademons, Vertigo finds himself pitted against Kanto, Darkseid's personal assassin (Suicide Squad #33).

"Ah, sir! I see by your bearing that you are a worm with aristocratic pretensions," says Kanto as he bows respectfully to Vertigo. "Might I know your name?"

"Count Werner Vertigo am I, hereditary and rightful ruler of Vlatava," replies the Count, returning the bow. "And your name, demon?"

"Demons never give their true names, Count Worm....I am Darkseid's personal assassin."

"I don't deal with servants. Go and bring your master to me, " says Vertigo.

"My master is busy blowing his nose and has no time to deal with insignificant worms," says Kanto. "Your business, sir, will have to be with me."

The two battle, and Vertigo's powers have little effect on Kanto, who throws a dagger into the Count's chest. Thinking Vertigo dead, Kanto turns his attention to mocking Amanda Waller, who is in a confrontation of her own with Granny Goodness.

"Arrogant cur!" thinks Vertigo as he painfully removes the dagger from his chest. "I was trained...to make sure of...my kills. Your arrogance...will be your undoing."

Vertigo stealthily approaches Kanto just as the Fourth Worlder says to Waller: "Should the likes of us fear the likes of you?"

"Yes!" screams Vertigo as he thrusts the dagger into Kanto's back, killing him. "Mortals have slain gods before."

Vertigo then collapses from his wounds. The Squad believes him dead, but upon returning to Earth, they find that Vertigo is still alive...but barely. Vixen and Bronze Tiger rush him to the infirmary for emergency treatment.

The next day Vertigo's surgeon comments that for a man who wants to die, "Vertigo's got a cast-iron constitution. He'll pull through the surgery."

***

One year later, Vertigo has recovered from his wounds, but the Squad has been disbanded. Returning to Vlatava, Vertigo is kidnapped and drugged by Kapek and Heinrich, the leaders of Vlatavan Nationalists (remember them from Manhunter #7?). The drug, some kind of narcotic or stimulant, turns Vertigo into their puppet.

Using Vertigo as their figurehead, the Nationalists stage a violent revolution whose goals are to free Vlatava from Soviet rule and bring the U.S. and Soviet governments into conflict. Financed by Nikolas Varga, a Vlatavan shipping magnate, and given covert backing by American extremist William Heller, the revolution is serious enough that the Soviets send in all of their metahumans to quell it (Red Trinity, Blue Trinity, Steel Wolf, and the Red Shadows).

Count Vertigo unleashed!

Steel Wolf, known as the "Butcher of Vlatava" during the Stalinist era of Soviet occupation, succeeds in killing Varga. Vertigo, however, proves more difficult to dispatch.

Leading the rebel forces into battle in the streets of Vlatavograd (the capitol city), Vertigo single-handedly defeats all three members of Blue Trinity. "Strike! Know we are a mighty host, a fiery sword, a scythe sent to harvest blood!" yells Vertigo to his followers. "We shall cast the enemy out of Vlatava as St. Michael cast Satan out of Heaven!"

As the battle progresses, Vertigo is injured by the Soviet meta-human Molotov, and the rebel forces are forced to retreat to their mountain headquarters. Civilian demonstrators take up the cause, mounting a peaceful protest, but Soviet forces open fire on the demonstrators, killing many.

With their Count injured and drugged by the Nationalists, who can save the citizens of Vlatava? The reformed Suicide Squad! Under orders from Sarge Steel, the Squad infiltrates Vlatava, defeats the Soviet meta-humans, and uncovers the Nationalists' conspiracy. The Soviets withdraw from Vlatava, and the country is left to deal with the birth pangs of democracy.

But what of Vertigo? Having been rescued from the Nationalists by Poison Ivy, he unfortunately trades one drug induced captivity for another. He finds himself under Ivy's kiss-induced thrall.

"I've decided to take charge of the Count and rule Vlatava myself," says Ivy to Waller.

When told that Vlatava will need to be rebuilt before she can pillage its resources, Ivy discards that idea. "On the other hand," says Ivy to Vertigo, "I think I might keep you in thrall Count Cutie. That could prove very interesting."

***

The Count realizes that he is under Ivy's control, but he cannot shake the dominating power of her toxins. "I know what you do to me," says Vertigo to Ivy while the two are lounging by a swimming pool. "Never let me out from under your thumb, Ivy. Or I will kill you for what you have done to me." (Suicide Squad #46).

Ivy believes him, but once Amanda Waller learns that Ivy's "been messing with the Count's head," she frees him. Enraged, Vertigo springs at Ivy, ready to kill her, and Waller barely manages to prevent him from doing so. Appealing to Vertigo's sense of noblesse oblige, Waller orders him to help the Squad prevent recently fired missiles from destroying the Israeli Dome of the Rock. Middle Eastern peace is worth more than his revenge, argues Waller.

"I will return, Ivy," snarls Vertigo, as he leaves. "Ready to take my revenge."

"Ivy, you better pack your bags and clear out," says Waller. "He'll want your fool head on a platter. And I may give it to him."

Vertigo thwarts the missile attack, and is in the middle of a confrontation with the Israeli hero Golem when he passes out. The combination of Ivy's toxins and the Nationalists' drugs short circuited his system. Vertigo had become a drug addict.

Brought to the Institute of Meta-Human Studies for treatment, Vertigo chooses to go cold turkey and be detoxified immediately. Straightjacketed and placed in a soundproof cell, Vertigo is cleansed of the chemicals in his system. (Suicide Squad #48).

"That's the face of a man in hell," comments Dr. Simon LaGrieve as he watches Vertigo being detoxified. "We do have other methods. He didn't have to go cold turkey."

"Call it Vertigo's expiation for being out of control. And in power of people like Ivy and the Nationalists. I can understand it." says Waller.

"It's a good thing that cell is totally soundproof," says LaGrieve. "Either the staff would have ruptured eardrums or be so dizzy they couldn't stand.

***

Once detoxified, Vertigo comes to an unsettling conclusion.

"The bipolar imbalance within me, leading to my manic-depressive state, holds me in thrall even without the interference of others. My life is onerous, but I have no means with which to end it! All means with which I might do so have been denied me." (Suicide Squad #51).

Realizing that he needs to control at least one aspect of his life, Vertigo seeks out Deadshot.

"If I asked you, would you put a bullet in my brain?" Vertigo asks.

"Oh, yeah," replies Deadshot. "So be damned sure that's what you really want before you ask me to do it."

Vertigo ponders his words. Is death what he truly seeks?

***

And on that suspenseful note, I'll end this month's column. Be sure to return next month for the conclusion to our in-depth profile on Count Vertigo!

David R. Black is Fanzing.com's magazine editor and chief archivist. A big fan of "The Warlord," he has a cat named Shakira and is looking for a girlfriend named Tara....

 
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