2011 – A Look Back

And, suddenly, it’s my last column of 2011.  In the next two weeks there is going to be a lot of discussion here about what happened in 2011, a year I would argue that saw the most change in the history of comics, ever. Clearly, this is debatable, and I am curious to see what you and the other writers have to say, but for me, personally, this year involved a series of fundamental changes, the ramifications of which will be with me for years to come.

Okay, I admit it, I am listening to The Dark Knight soundtrack, which has a tendency to just make everything feel a tad more dramatic, but I really do feel like things really changed for me, personally, this year.  There were also some trends that happened in comics that made more excited about some things and less so about others.

The biggest change for me is, appropriately enough, that I am going to send a lot less time in my car driving across Los Angeles to the valley for my comics. I have a great store that I have been going to and supporting for years, but the problem is that he’s at least thirty minutes away from where I live–maybe twenty if I’m super lucky–but suffice to say, he’s not that close. I love the store and I want to support him, but clearly, now that I have the choice to read my comics on my iPad on the day they came out…well, things are different now.  It sucks, I am totally the poster child for LCS Desertion, and as I lamented a few months ago, I feel badly about it. (The good news is that I can support Isotope up north through the Comixology website, something I had asked my LCS guy about but who still has not figured it out, which is both irresponsible and sad.)

Now, I kind of liked my journeys to the comic book shop; I’d go on a Sunday before lunch, grab the books, get some food, read a bit–it was really nice. But it really contributed to my whole stack problems (my first post ever), which really made comics a little un-fun for awhile. Yes, as odd as it sounds, having stacks and stacks of unread comics taunting me, night after night, made comics not so fun, oftentimes hacking through those books seemed like a chore, and I found myself rushing through the books instead of really enjoying them.  Now, with digital comics, I buy the comics in smaller 2-3 issue bursts, and I often read them immediately after I buy them.

Clearly this has impacted my DC and Image titles the most, since so many of their titles are available digitally.  The result of this, at first, was my continuing to get my Marvel books in print (those not available digitally), often with a few weeks behind, given that I was going to my shop less often.  Then, as time went on, this lack of availability, this lack of convenience, actually damped my interest in those books and, ultimately, has succeeded in my dropping most of my Marvel books. Yes, there were other reasons, but, as I sit here at the end the year, and I asked myself whether or not I miss any of those books (books that I have been collecting for years now) my answer is, “no.”  Fear Itself did not help matters either.  Not only was the main book nonsensical, the cover treatment made everything feel like a tie-in and it just all felt like a stupid waste of time. Yes, I am saying that Fear Itself made Marvel comics feel like a waste of time for much of the year. Marvel will have to work really hard in 2012 to rebuild the trust and faith we had in them. (Interestingly, this has not happened with my Vertigo titles, which are not available digitally.)

This year also saw one of the most successful revitalizations / reimaginings/ rebirthings (not sure how to express this) of a company since Nokia decided to stop making tires and make cell phones. DC really just went for it this year, with Flashpoint leading up to the New 52 books.  The repercussions, both from  creative and business perspectives will have ramifications for years, but I think we can all agree that it’s just kind of amazing that they pulled it off really smoothly. Yes, I am sure there are fans out there who hate the change, but so what? DC got a lot of positive attention with their moves and are hopefully engaging new and returning readers to their products. To see a large company like DC make this kind of “start up” style change is just kind of inspiring, to have all of their creative, marketing, PR, legal and manufacturing teams (and others, to be sure) coordinate to make this transition happen is a legitimately awesome task.

I only went to two conventions this year, but both were notable for different reasons. Sadly, the 2011 Wonder Con might be the last one to held in San Francisco, which is just irritating for a lot of us who really enjoyed the awesome Isotope/iFanboy parties that made going to the convention worthwhile. San Diego Comic-Con was interesting inasmuch as the show itself was just kind of…odd. While I had a great time (and a really great experience), the vibe just felt…tired, somehow. In my heart, I think this was really the calm before the storm (I think next year’s will be crazy), but when everyone at the convention is raving about an entirely different event altogether (Trickster), you know something is up.

When I think about stories and characters, clearly a lot comes to mind, but there are a few that I found the most compelling, and one that truly brought me joy: let’s just all cheer Mark Waid on for making Daredevil fun again.  With Rivera and Martin, Mark Waid has truly revitalized a title that was just bogged down into hapless irrelevance. It is with a somewhat heavy heart that I embrace Miles Morales as the new Ultimate Spider-Man — I like the book, I like the character, but despite the heavy handed and drawn-out storytelling, I miss Bendis’ Peter Parker. The timing of Peter’s death, when the book was still really good and the best of the Ultimate books, was confounding and frustrating…just like a real death in the family. So, while I appreciate Miles and what Marvel is doing with this new book, I still resent it a bit. And while one might expect me to go on and on about the DC 52, I don’t really have much to say about these new characters other than some are new and some are not. Batman remained pretty much unchanged, as did The Flash. I will say that I really enjoy the “new” Clark Kent in Action Comics, so I guess I do have that one thing to say. This Clark, this emotional, vulnerable and frustrated young reporter is, to borrow a line from Star Trek, one of the most “human” interpretations of the character that I’ve seen since Superman: The Movie.  I really like him.

Starting next week there are going to be a lot of articles here summing up the “best” of 2011, so I am going to resist writing too much more — suffice to say, we’ll have plenty to talk about. It has been an interesting year–we’ve seen some fundamental aspects of the business change, but when we talk about specific comics, characters and story lines, it becomes more difficult, for me, to use too many superlatives.  This was both a somewhat humdrum and an extraordinary 2011 for comics, in my opinion, making for what will be the most challenging “Best Artist” article I have ever written (coming in two weeks).

But all in all? 2011 was good. I am much more relaxed about comics. I am buying less but I am enjoying them more. I have been exposed to some new characters and creators and there are a few books (Uncanny X-Force, Thunderbolts) that were not really on my radar at all until this year. I’ve let go of some books but discovered new ones, which is pretty much a great place to be. I am glad we are done with the New 52, and I am pleased that the transition to digital is finally something that is happening.  If pressed to muse about 2012, I guess I can say I am very curious to see whether or not Marvel will try to do something that will help its brand recover, and, after seeing The Dark Knight Rises trailer (and prologue), I am looking forward to Nolan’s last Batman film, though I still get a little queasy when I think about Marvel’s The Avengers.  As always, I’m curious about what you thought about 2011. Did anything change for you in 2011? What excited you the most? What rankled?

Finally, thanks to all of you for taking time to check out my articles, and thanks for the countless number of engaging and thoughtful comments and questions. It’s a real pleasure to get a chance to spend this time with you.

Happy holidays to you and yours, and here’s to a happy, healthy and prosperous 2012!

Mike Romo continues to be an actor in Los Angeles. You can reach him through email, visit his facebook page, connect with him on google +, and collect his tweets on twitter.


  1. This was, indeed, a great year. I agree that Fear Itself was a waste of time with it’s story and never ending tie-in techniques (“Want to see what happens to XXXXX? Buy XXXXXXXX!” at the end of every issue), but as you said, the great Marvel books outshined this. Focusing just on the positives, we had a great run of issues on Daredevil, Punisher, Uncanny X-Force, 2 new great main X-titles, and even a cool Fantastic Four story (which I can only read in trades, but it builds up to good stuff, nonetheless). Marvel isn’t perfect, but their 2011 hits were quite great.

  2. Indeed it was a great year. 2011 is the year I returned to comics after being away since the mid-90s. I haven’t even thought about picking up a comic book until I found myself in the Local Comic Shop back in June looking for a gift for my son. The new Ultimate Comics series’ from Marvel and the new52 from DC were a perfect storm of ‘right place, right time.’ I hopped in and haven’t looked back. I’ve fully enjoyed Animal Man, and Swamp Thing. Two Stories I only picked up because my local shop had the no.1s of those two for only $1. They have both been excellent! I did not expect to enjoy these two as much as I thoroughly have! I picked up Ultimate X-Men, intrigued by the story, which led to me picking up Ultimates. This all started because I was looking for a trade to give my son as a gift. It took me all year to find the perfect book to share w/ my son … all these Ultimate Comics stories led me to finally give the new Spiderman a try. My son and I have really enjoyed this story so far, and can’t wait to see where this story goes. On a whim, I picked up Last of the Greats. I have never enjoyed a book as much as this monthly. Excellent story telling, and humor wrapped up in a nice dark package w/ some beautiful art. It’s been a great year. Only problem has been there are far too many excellent books, and my budget is far too little. 🙂

  3. I really enjoyed your post.

    What changed for me: Similarly, I buy less books and enjoy the ones that I purchase more.

    What excited me the most: I was happy to see Alex Maleev draw the new Moon Knight book.

    What rankled me: Though I like the DC New 52 version, I miss Stephanie Brown as Batgirl.

  4. 2011 left me feeling glad that I spread my dollars around. I enjoyed “Fear Itself”, but agree it wasn’t a stellar endeavor. JIM, actually, was the sleeper of the year for me. Following the adventures of kid Loki was addictive; both the story and artwork in that title were extraordinary. I’m also a perennial X-Factor/PAD fan–so just haven’t been all that disappointed with Marvel, since my exposure is minimal. I was disappointed with the New 52, because they axed two of my favorite titles: Batman and Robin, Red Robin. The new Batman and Robin feels like it is treading old ground as Bruce attempts to mold Damian in his image. The chemistry between Dick and Damian made the previous book for me. With that said, I’m excited that DC has finally gotten around to publishing Batwoman, and I don’t feel disappointed with that title thus far.

    And I just don’t agree that DC’s reboot has successfully brought NEW readers into the industry. My LCS talks about old readers RETURNING as a result of the New 52–but NOT about new readers coming in. DC’s marketing campaign was foolish in that it focused on EXISTING readers. Time will demonstrate, I believe, that DC failed to fundamentally alter the status quo dynamics of the industry; they simply haven’t succeeded in bringing new young readers to the market. And the utter lack of youth-friendly material will prove to be a serious miscalculation. Of course, until the big two start releasing digital sales numbers, we won’t know for certain.

    Some smaller publishers’ work was far more engaging and compelling for me. Boom!’s Starborn was fun and what they’re doing with “Planet of the Apes” (both the ongoing and “Betrayal”) has been phenomenal. Boom! also wrapped up a successful adaptation of Philip K. Dick’s “Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep”. What made that project most compelling for me was the use of Dick’s prose in its entirety. The back-matter in that book was also worthwhile reading. Dark Horse’s “Star Wars: Invasion” also made for enjoyable reading. Vertigo’s “DMZ” was reliable and the hilarious shock factor of Dynamite’s “The Boys” never disappointed (although both books had their less-than-stellar moments as well).

    All in all, I enjoyed comics this year–but am glad I’m not hooked into any single publisher. Based on reviews and comments from other readers, I think I would have been bored to tears and disillusioned if I had limited myself to the fare being offered by the big 2.

  5. Agreed it was a good year for comics. I need to learn to buy less and enjoy more. I’ve found myself at times being a bit overwhelmed with everything out there, sometimes not enjoying enough of what i read, and more feeling i need to get through it. My eyes were bigger than what i had the attention span and energy for. Figuring out a way to fit books into my shrinking comics budget will always be a challenge.

    As someone who also migrated from a LCS to digital stores this year i have no guilty feelings about it. There were a few shops that were ok in my city, but really their business model and inventory (practically pre-orders only) policies just didn’t work for me. I’m excited by the steps they’ve taken into the digital world, and i hope its not too little too late.

    Maybe new readers are coming in. There is a Walking Dead compendium floating around my office that 4 or 5 guys are always talking about and taking turns reading because of the TV show. They’re not really comic readers (yet?) but we talk about the awesomeness found in those pages.

    I hope 2012 can see more innovation and brave new ways of attracting new readers and keeping people in comics.

    • mixed feelings about pre-orders … I can see why an LCS might want to rely on them. They do take on all the risk of over- or under-ordering after all, don’t they?

      I order all my regular titles through DCBS, and then walk into the LCS if/when I hear about something on a podcast that sounds interesting … but my back issue purchases I’m sure help to keep at least one LCS in Texas in business.

      It’s too bad there’s no way to follow your office compatriots longitudinally to see of the reading habit sticks and/or branches out into other genres. A key issue, IMO, is the lack of youth-friendly books. Last year at FCBD I was looking for something for an eight-year old nephew and only one or two of the books available fit the bill. Although the greatest irony was sitting down with my nephew to read Axe-Cop, a comic written by a five year old, only to discover just how brutally violent that particular five year old’s mind is. 😉

      I buy comics and graphic novels every Christmas for all my nephews and nieces. Hopefully the experience of reading will stick with them into adulthood. The industry seems to be geared toward an audience that possesses disposable income sufficient to support the habit, but that locks out bringing in young new readers. A real catch-22 …

    • yeah i mean its tough right now. I’m of the “do what you gotta do” mentality, but also, don’t get mad at the customers if you don’t stock your shelves. The problem is that i rely on sites and podcasts like this to find out about whats new and cool that week and have never been into solicits. I don’t know whats coming out on any given week until they post the new comics thread on Mondays. Thats how i do it. But when i try to go to the LCS and get one of those books, they never had any of em unless it stars Batman, Spiderman or the Avengers and even then not 100%. And then the problem of storing comics i don’t really need anymore thing. I don’t plan anything in my life 90 days in advance let alone my hobbies. Before the New 52 and same day digital was announced, i was *this super, duper close* to being done with single issues and just going for trades here and there. So the digital stuff has kept me reading current comics. So in that respect its very cool and kept this guy in. Now lets do something with those prices. =)

    • I hear you. My gut tells me that the only specialty shops that will survive will be those who complement their brick and mortar operations with internet-based storefronts (e.g. TFAW, Midtown, Lone Star Comics, etc. etc.) and who try to carry a diverse inventory. I sure as heck would not want to be in this business because the risks associated with monthly ordering are brutal. The LCS I frequent sold out ALL their New 52 titles within weeks because another local shop closed down. That was a major opportunity missed. Occasionally, I’ll buy a digital copy and read it on my iPad if I’m feeling impatient about waiting until the month-end DCBS shipment.

    • Im thinking of moving from a big city to a much smaller city.. I just recently visited all the comic shops in the new area.. and man is the selection awful. Most stores have no vertigo and only a few copies of each new big 2. I always knew that internet ordering would be cheaper (but i didnt realize how much).. like cahubble mentions midtown and lone star comics.. offer up to 35 and 30 percent off respectively on new books.. I will be going 100 percent shipping off the net shops if I move. Ill miss the good shop dudes but i only get 15 % off now anyway. An extra 20 percent off is huge. And its free shipping for all the crap i get anyway.

  6. 2011 was a big comics year for me seeing as this was the year I really started reading comics. I’d pick up trades here and there over the years but since deciding to check out some comic panels at Fan Expo this year I’ve become a weekly regular at my LCS.
    I really have this community to thank as well for increasing my enthusiasm (especially the members who piqued my interest in checking out Journey into Mystery). So.. Thanks!

    • Me too. Before this year I had only read trades, but the DCnU and a lot of the awesome that Image and Dark Horse have been putting out convinced me to start reading floppies. I now have 3 boxes nearly full! Storage wise I’m less enthused, but I have found a wonderful new hobby, and love Wednesdays more than ever before.

  7. After being away for quite some time, I came back to comics earlier this year having no idea what was in store. I bought Chew and The Unwritten in trades. Delighted by both stories, I started checking out titles in single issue form. Secret Six and Fear Itself were the first (liking the former, not too thrilled about the latter) and I was in time for Flashpoint, but didn’t pick it up. Then the New 52 came out with some good stuff such as Swamp Thing, Animal Man and Batwoman, which is really excellent. Wolverine and the X-men and Uncanny X-Men are cool, but Daredevil truly is the best. The LCS had all the earlier singles, including #1 first printing so I bought them up and… Hells Yes! While its only been one issue, I’m digging Mud Man.Though I can’t say why, I’m fascinated by Rachel Rising. Severed and Locke & Key are “Winning”! So yeah, 2011 has been a good year in comics.

  8. Mike, You are a great writer. I can relate with everything you wrote about. The death of peter resonated with me as well. This was a great article. I picked up some titles after 4 months of not reading and I am glad I did. Thanks for a great way to end out 2011!!

  9. 2011 will be the year i split from my near 100 percent loyalty to non DCU stuff (apart from batman and flash)… and the first time i ever read an aquaman, green lantern, or wonder women book. I think if i went back in time and told my teen age self i was reading wonder woman and kind of enjoying it.. my teenage self would think …my god something has gone terribly wrong! and then i would have to explain to my teenage self that the vertigo and valiant people actually know what they are talking about and that they arent just trying to act cool. Harbinger still sucks though.. man why was that crap ever worth money?

    • sorry all you rich harbinger fans… you and your bags of gold.. and your lamborghini’s … and…. oh harbinger 1 is worth the price of a medium pizza now… oh never mind… my mistake..

    • Erm Harbinger number 1 in 9.8 is worth a pretty penny sir… and is only going up in price with the return of Valiant. YAY!

    • @houseian: With the market for new comics having shrunk over the last several years, I wonder if the market for collectible comics (non-reading copies) has shrunk by the same rate.

      I’ve never been into comics for the collectibility aspect, so when I hear that a 9.8 grade Harbinger #1 is going up in price, I don’t doubt you, but I can only think….”Going up in price for who? Who wants that?”

      I’m not criticizing those who like to buy slabbed comics (it’s your money), but I’ve never understood the desire to buy comics you can’t read.

    • I was mostly joking houseian but 9.8 ccgs of the new batman 4 would probably go for 100 bucks too on ebay, 9.8 is nearly impossible to get… and valiant has tried to return before,, i hope it works better this time.. i like most valiant… except harbinger.. ha.. ive read at least 20 issues of it.. i have no excuse as to why i did that.. there is a copy of issue 1 in vf at 15 dollars at the moment just fyi. It used to go for much more.
      @Ken.. really in my opinion that ccg stuff is only worth doing for stuff like Amazing Spiderman 1.. Its just a matter of proof of condition and added protection. CCGing something like Identity Crisis 1 is pretty ridiculous. Anyway I read most of what I collect.. but the 60’s and older stuff im always worried about damaging.. I CCGd 2 of my 60’s comics.

  10. “I am buying less but I am enjoying them more. I have been exposed to some new characters and creators and there are a few books that were not really on my radar at all until this year. I’ve let go of some books but discovered new ones…”

    Definitely agree. And for the most part, it was due to industry shake-ups: Books like Daredevil getting a “new” take (he used to have fun before the Miller-Bendis years, but this is even better), the new 52, favorite writers taking on new books (aka American Vampire’s Scott Snyder on Batman and Swamp Thing, Scalped’s Jason Aaron on Wolverines)… Overdone books like Fear Itself and Schism actually pushed me away from some books, such as Avengers, but again, that sent me to try out other things.

    Finally, I think this year has been a good change because I officially took on the new philosophy “buy what you enjoy.” I regret sounding like a total “fanboy,” pardon the pun, but yes, listening to the podcast, particularly Conor and Josh saying this over and over (Ron, too, but not as much lately.). I may always buy Batman and Spider-Man, but I’m going to make an effort to try even more new books that look appealing to me next year.