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by David R. Black

The life and times of Count Vertigo (Part Two)

Scattershot proudly presents part two of the in-depth profile on Count Vertigo! If you missed part one, you can read it by clicking here.

Count Vertigo

***

During the "Dragon's Hoard" story arc (Suicide Squad #54-57), Vertigo, Deadshot and Gort (a.k.a. Steel Wolf) parachute into Cambodia with the purpose of locating a stolen cache of automatic weapons. Immediately attacked by Khmer Rouge soldiers, the trio find themselves outnumbered and overrun.

While retreating, Deadshot sticks a gun to Vertigo's throat and asks if Vertigo wants him to kill him.

"This is hardly the time to discuss it!" says Vertigo.

"Just checking," says Deadshot. "You see, I''ve made up my mind about whether or not I should kill you."

"I begin to tire of these companions," muses Vertigo, agitated by Deadshot's zealousness.

***

During the War of the Gods crossover (Suicide Squad #58) Vertigo gains a measure of revenge on Poison Ivy. While the Squad battles Circe's minions, Vertigo infiltrate Circe's temple. Hiding in the shadows, he spots Poison Ivy, battered and tied up, suspended overtop an opening of a large pit. (Ivy had been captured by Circe earlier in the crossover.)

"Who is it?" calls Ivy to the shadows. "Please, whoever you are, let me down! I'll do whatever you..."

"Would you now?" asks Vertigo, stepping towards her. "Ask to be degraded, then. Beg to be humiliated. Proclaim your desire to be completely helpless and in thrall to me. Well, Ivy? What is your answer, pretty poison?"

The temple begins to collapse, and ignoring her cries of help, Vertigo leaves Ivy to die. Only the timely intervention of Maser (Air Wave) is enough to save her.

Later, at the Institute of Meta-Human Studies, Vertigo is preparing to kill the hospitalized Ivy when he is stopped by Dr. Simon LaGrieve. ("I was debating whether to kill her know or wait until she had a fighting chance," explains Vertigo).

LaGrieve, fully aware that he'd be physically unable to stop Vertigo, tricks him into leaving. "You are justifiably angry with her," says LaGrieve, "But there's been a curious side effect of all those drugs in your system. The heavy dosages you received balanced out the chemical imbalance in your bloodstream. In short, there's no longer any medical reason for your manic depressive state. You've been cured."

A clearly astonished Vertigo finds it hard to believe. "Even now I feel myself struggling with the disease!" he says.

"You still have the habit of your sickness," explains LaGrieve. "Patterns of behavior that you've lived with all your life. That have, to a large degree, made up who you are."

Is LaGrieve lying or telling the truth? Is it just a ruse to protect Ivy or is it genuine? Regardless, it worked. Vertigo leaves, pondering this new information and how it affects his agreement with Deadshot.

***

Prior to the Squad's mission to Diabloverde, representatives from Vlatava's government seek an audience with the Count (Suicide Squad #63).

"Vlatava is in a state of chaos," explains Rina Trevlinka, a Vlatavan government official. The economy is in shambles, unemployment is high, the government is unstable, and the military is on the verge of staging a coup.

"We need something the people can rally around, something that represents stability to the people," says Trevlinka. "Which is why we ask you, Count Vertigo, to return to Vlatava as the head of state under a constitutional democratic government."

"What good would it do Vlatava to have a madman on the throne?" asks Vertigo.

"Forgive me, excellency, but we did speak with your physician..."

"In truth, I do not know whether I can go on living," says Vertigo. "All I see about me is chaos that overwhelms everything. All that we call civilization seems to me brittle structures built over an abyss that claims everything.

"This audience is at an end. I will weigh your petition carefully and inform you of my final decision - once I have made it."

"God help that poor man," says Trevlinka, "And God help our poor country."

***

The Squad's mission to Diabloverde gives Vertigo the opportunity to confront his inner demons. Travelling through the "Green Devil" forest, which forces travelers to confront their darkest fears, Vertigo feels the abyss calling to him.

"Jump. Why don't you jump?" taunts the abyss. "Join us. Come in the abyss. Sweet blackness enveloping. You know you want to."

Vertigo resists its lull, and at the conclusion of the mission, he seeks out Deadshot.

"It is time to determine if I shall live or die," says the Count while staring down the barrel of Deadshot's wrist magnum. "It could be argued, perhaps, that I truly want to live. After all, have I not had ample opportunity not only on this mission, but on others?

"Then, too, if I truly want to die, why not commit the act myself?....Do I wish to live? Do I wish to die? My own mind is a torment. Perhaps only by confronting the reality of what I seek, of looking down the barrel of your gun at my death, can I be sure."

"So, are we going to do this or what?" asks Deadshot impatiently.

Vertigo ponders the question for a moment.

"No."

And thus, the series ends. Vertigo chooses not to commit suicide, creating a powerful ending for a book titled Suicide Squad.

Incidentally, writer John Ostrander revealed in the final issue's letter column that two versions of the ending had been prepared. One in which Vertigo tells Deadshot to pull the trigger, and another where he says no. Ostrander states that having Vertigo choose life over death was the less obvious choice. It was also more moral, considering that cancellation meant that Ostrander wouldn't have had the ability to address the repercussions of committing suicide.

Last Son of Vlatava

After the Squad disbanded, Vertigo returned to Vlatava, taking up Rina Trevlinka's offer to become head of state. Unfortunately, Vertigo's return could not stabilize Vlatava. The ethnic warfare which had engulfed other Balkan nations had spread to Vlatava.

Ancient hatred and hostilities renewed themselves as General Hafza, a high ranking officer in Vlatava's military, launched a coup against the government led by Vertigo. The conflict erupts into a country-wide civil war, with Vlatava's Christians allying themselves with Count Vertigo and Vlatava's allying themselves with Hafza. The war rages for an undetermined length of time, with both sides committing horrible atrocities.

Most of Vlatava's civilians flee, if possible, and one Vlatavan ferrying a truckload of children and nun s out of the country comments that "These are the last women and children in the entire country, for all I know. All others are dead or gone!" (Spectre #13, 3rd series).

The war attracts the attention of the Spectre, avenger of innocents and the personification of God's vengeance. Initially involving himself in one of the war's battles, the Spectre decides that confronting Vertigo directly would be more effective.

"Are you the one who gave the orders these [soldiers] followed?" asks the Spectre to Vertigo. "The orders to kill innocent women and children?"

"This is a Vlatavan matter, and none of the West's concern," answers Vertigo. "You have no place her, Spectre. Begone!"

"Innocent blood howls in this place, and I will answer!" screams the Spectre as he launches himself at Vertigo.

Their battle is brief, and an overwhelmed Count Vertigo soon finds himself about to be killed.

"The dead demand their vengeance. Prepare to pay." says the Spectre, readying to strike a deathblow.

Where brawn failed, a quick thinking Vertigo appeals to the Spectre's sense of judgement.

"And what of our vengeance?" asks Vertigo. "Even now, in this war, genocide is practiced against my people! Where have you been, o Spectre? And you dare now to speak to me of vengeance?"

Realizing the truth of Vertigo's words, the Spectre uses his powers to summon General Hafza to his location. Upon seeing Hafza, Vertigo attempts to kill him (and vice versa), but the Spectre quickly places them in protective force field bubbles.

"This [fighting] is not why I brought you here," says the Spectre. "The General must answer Vertigo's charges of genocide."

While Vertigo and Hafza continue arguing, the Spectre decides instead to have "the land iteslf" show him who is responsible. Rising up, the "memories of the earth" (ghosts) do not heed the Spectre's wishes. Instead, they rise to kill anew - the ghosts begin killing other ghosts!

"The hate - the blood - has seeped into the very rocks of the Earth!" exclaims the Spectre. "No One is innocent! All who walk within the borders of this contaminated land are guilty! The land itself must be purged! This is my judgment on Vlatava! Burn it back to innocence."

And then the whole country burns. Men, women, children, buildings - everything. Kastle Vertgo explodes with a loud "Bradoom!" Vlatavograd explodes in a huge "Whadoom!" The issue ends with Spectre, holding Vertigo and Hafza prisoner, hovering over the still smoldering remains of the country.

"Was my country so much worse than the rest of the world? Were our people so different?" says Vertigo, tears streaming from his face, to the Spectre. "If Vlatava deserved this fate, how much more so does the rest of the world?"

"I fear there may be something to what you have to say." replies the Spectre. "Perhaps the world is too old and steeped in evil to be redeemed. Perhaps it is time for judgment day."

***

The United Nation's official response to the tragedy was to declare that Vlatava was destroyed by "a freak nuclear accident." A nuclear accident that miraculously stopped right at Vlatava's borders. (Spectre #19, 3rd series). However, UN representatives spoke with both Vertigo and Hafza and used satellite photographs to confirm their story. The world's leaders know that Vlatava was destroyed by the Spectre, but the general public does not.

This knowledge eventually leads to the UN seeking a way to control - or destroy - the Spectre (Spectre #20-22, 3rd series)., bust asides from that tangentially related story arc, no follow up to Vlatava's destruction was done. Similarly, the effect it had on Vertigo (and his psyche) was never explored further. It's sad to say, but an entire country was destroyed for the sake of one story.

***

Eventually, Vertigo returned to the USA and rejoined the Suicide Squad. Along with long time members Bronze Tiger, Vixen, and Deadshot, and newcomers Shrapnel, Quartzite, Flex, and Thermal, Vertigo is part of the team ordered to capture Sasha Martens and Wiley Wolverman, the latest incarnation of Hawk and Dove (Hawk & Dove #3-5, 1998 miniseries).

Author Mike Baron portrays Vertigo as having a stereotypical Eastern European accent, a trait which is totally out of character for Vertigo. He probably does have some degree of an accent, but nothing to the extreme that Baron went. (Remember, Vertigo moved to England at a young age, and he's been speaking English for most of his life.)

***

Sometime after this mission, Vertigo leaves the Squad and joins the Injustice Society. Led by Johnny Sorrow, this version of the Injustice Society seems to be a bit more incompetent than the original version.

When the villainous team invades the JSA's headquarters (JSA #10), Vertigo is defeated uncharacteristically easily by Wildcat. The hero sideswipes Vertigo with a motorcycle, and the unbelievably, Count goes down. Two thumbs down to writers Geoff Johns and David Goyer for portraying Vertigo as a pushover. Remember, Vertigo killed a New God (Kanto) and held his own (for awhile) against the Spectre.

Sometime later, Vertigo surfaces at a restaurant located on Manhattan's upper west side. Discovering that Black Canary and Dr. Mid-Nite are lunching in the restaurant, Vertigo attacks them (JSA #16). He presumably learned their secret identities from either Johnny Sorrow or the Suicide Squad's files.

During this encounter, we learn Vertigo's reason for joining the Injustice Society - revenge. Revenge against Black Canary, the first hero to defeat him. Vertigo also wants revenge because, well, she's the only one of his enemies still alive.

"You want revenge? Go see the Spectre," says Black Canary. "He took out your whole country." (How she knows this is unclear given that the Spectre's role in Vlatava's destruction was covered up by the United Nations.)

"The Spectre I knew is gone. Green Arrow is dead. You're the only one left, Canary," admits Vertigo. (JSA #17)

Vertigo is portrayed much more accurately this time by the JSA writers, and Dr. Mid-Nite uses a new twist on Vertigo's weakness to high pitched sound to defeat him. Relying on his background as a physician, Mid-Nite hypothesizes that Vertigo's hereditary inner ear disorder is probably Meniere's disease.

Knowing that persons with Meniere's disease use cochlear implant hearing aids, Mid-Nite overloads the microprocessors in the Count's implants with a burst of high pitched sound. Vertigo, as in his first appearance in World's Finest, drops to the ground in immense pain. Kudos to both JSA writers for developing a scientific/medical reasoning for Vertigo's weakness.

Luckily for Vertigo, Black Canary and Dr. Mid-Nite are summoned away by Sand before they can take Vertigo to prison. Despite his weakened condition, it is safe to presume that Vertigo escaped before the authorities arrived.

Currently, Count Vertigo's whereabouts are unknown. But it's only a matter of time before he shows up again!

***

Powers and Abilities

Count Vertigo can distort the perceptions and destroy the balance of those around him. Vertigo's powers manifest themselves as concentric rings of ultrasonic sound waves, and he has the ability to focus his powers on a limited area or allow them to affect a large area. For a time, Vertigo possessed a device which enabled him to turn his topsy-turvy illusions into reality, but this device was destroyed by Green Arrow. Vertigo is also able to fly.

It should be noted that in his first appearance, Vertigo's powers were mechanically based. His distortion powers were generated by a mechanism implanted near his temple, and magnetic boots enabled him to create the appearance of flight.

Beginning with his appearances in Manhunter #7 and Suicide Squad #24, however, Vertigo's powers had become internalized. In other words, his powers were no longer based on devices, and he could fly under his own power. The explanation for these changes has never been told, but it is hypothesized that they were bought about by Dominator's metagene bomb (see the Invasion miniseries), which was detonated at roughly the same time Vertigo's powers became internalized.

Summary of appearances:


(I extend my sincerest thanks to John Wells for helping me compile this list.)

Blasters Special #1
Crisis on Infinite Earths #9 (page 1, panel 1)
Green Arrow (miniseries) #2-4
Hawk and Dove (1997 miniseries) #3-5
Invasion #3
JSA #9, 10, 16, 17
JSA: Secret Files #2 (text)
Justice League: The Nail #2
Legends #4
Manhunter (1st series) #7
Spectre, The (3rd series) #13
Suicide Squad #24, 25, 27, 28, 31-37, 40-43, 46-48, 51, 54-59, 61-66
War of the Gods #3, 4
Who's Who #5
Who's Who '90 #3
World's Finest #251, 252, 270, 272, 273

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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