A Summer of (a few) Surprises

I am experiencing a strange feeling these days. I believe people call it…"caught up" with my comics?  It's a wonderful feeling, really, to through go my comics and realize that they are in the wrong location, that instead of being by my nightstand or in the backpack they should be, really, in the closet, in that shelf.  

Being caught up has allowed me to listen to the Pick of the Week podcasts with wild abandon, with full "talk back" privileges when the guys discuss a certain book (I don't know about you, but I am a pretty vocal listener of the podcast, at least when driving), which is fun, but even better, it's giving me a chance to judge what comics are doing for me these days..which has been, I must say, giving me this other feeling of "surprise." So that's what I am going to focus on in this column, the things that are surprising me about current comics–both for good and for bad.  Let's see what you think.

DC is on a bi-weekly kick that would be infuriating if the books weren't actually delivering some pretty compelling stories, and so I give my "Biggest Surprise" award –The BigSur– to Brightest Day and Justice League: Generation Lost, but for different reasons…let's get to it, shall we?

Justice League: Generation Lost has been a surprise for me basically because even though I have zero history with Justice League International and with most of the characters, I still give a damn about what's going with the story.  Judd Winick has created a title that rekindles old relationships while giving the new reader enough for him to say, "Well, I may not know all of what this group of people has gone through, but I believe that they have, and I want them to succeed."  I have been enjoying the dynamic of a group of heroes that is being brought together against their will, uniting them to accomplish a mission, while at the same time healing old wounds and rediscovering why their friendships and their history are so important, not only for themselves, but, well, for humankind.

I like these characters. I like their vibe together. I like the knowing looks the characters share when Booster starts monologuing on something. I like the resistance in "getting the band back together"–it reminds me a bit of LOST, when Jack was trying to convince his friends that they had to get back to the island, that they are supposed to be together, that they need to work together to do something that's important.  Booster Gold, by the way, has become a character that I look forward to reading about, which truly is a surprise, but after the past few years, he's really grown on me.

The bi-weekly schedule has allowed for some issues to focus, more or less, on a single character; Captain Atom's trip to the future in the sixth issue comes to mind.  Like I said, I had no experience at all with this silver guy (if anything I was irritated by him because he reminded me of Steele, just cuz, well, he was all silver and I am kind of reactionary like that) but now I really like him, even though he can be a little serious sometimes.

And, like, that's how you talk about people, right?  "Oh, so and so, yeah–he's nice and can be fun, but sometimes he's just a little too serious, you know?" I love that.  I love that I have that kind of opinion of a character that I have only six issues of context to judge him by.  Again, tip of the hat to Winick. (And thanks to Cliff Chiang for that awesome cover, a detail of which opens this article.)

Here's the other thing about Justice League: Generation Lost. Except for the first two issues, I have been reading this book entirely using the DC Comics app on my iPad. What's more, I have been using the guided view throughout.  Like, forcing myself to use it to really experience what DC is trying to do with it.  And you know what?  It's pretty damn cool.  At first I was a bit put off by the guided view option blowing the art up so much to the point that the lines were a bit jagged (if I have a complaint, these things need to be brought in at a higher resolution), but after awhile I accepted it and realized that I was looking at the artwork…well, obviously, I was looking at the art more close up than usual. Because, you know, it was bigger. I know it sounds stupid, but, well, I don't usually stick my nose in a comic book–it's just not comfortable. Here, now, I was really paying a lot more attention to the artwork, noticing details that I would have missed and really appreciating the art in a different way.  I honestly wish that DC would start publishing more current books this way.  Like, right away.

So there you go–a few surprises already, and we're just talking about one book!

Brightest Day has surprised me mostly because, well, again: I care about it, even though it covers a lot of characters and the release schedule is breaking my wallet.  I like the variety of characters, many of whom I don't really have history with (I've always known about Hawkman and Aquaman, but really, aside from Superfriends, I never really watched them work!) At first I was tempted to just wait it out and read it as a trade, but time and time again the art and the writing have kept me coming back. So, that's a happy surprise, based fully on the content and the pacing of the book–there is enough going on with the characters that I find myself reading this book before Green Lantern and Green Lantern Corps, which…well, surprises me, since those books I always thought were somehow "better" than Brightest Day.  If pressed, I would actually like it if the Green Lantern books were about something else entirely, and Brightest Day would just handle the story…I can't help but feel the Brightest Day storylines bog down the other books in a way.  But maybe that's just me.  

Speaking of bogged down, even though DC is doing some great things with Brightest Day and JL:GL, with their other titles, I just feel a certain inertia right now, especially with DC's "Big Three" titles, which just feel stuck. Or at least just weighed down and kind of aimless–in different ways, which, again, surprised me, given that DC has been pretty on it with the successful delivery of Blackest Night and World of New Krypton stories. Superman, we know, is walking around, inspiring few, even though he's helping people (though even those stories feel odd–his ability to transform Detroit was neat, but, I agree with Conor–it's just so clearly not the "reality" that we are used to that it felt uncomfortably… made up). Wonder Woman is doing her own thing in some other dimension that I can't bring myself to care about…(I still don't know what is going on with that book, to be honest–and yes, I am reading it) and Batman, well, Batman's interesting because I feel like all of the books are waiting for Bruce to come back.  I imagine all of the books standing around the swimming pool, daring the other ones to jump in first, "You bring back Bruce, you go!" "No way, man, I am not ready–you do it!"

Another not so great surprise was the ending of Ex-Machina, #50.  Now, if you are on trades or haven't read the last issue and you care, you really should skip this paragraph, though it's not the details of the story that I was irritated about.  Sure, I had my misgivings about how Mitchell got his national position, but it made sense and felt right, even though I was personally a bit disappointed. It was a great twist, it made sense–good ending, and yes, a surprise. What I didn't like was how basically Vaughan just took out us out of a very specific moment, like in the middle of an action sequence at the end of #49,, and then just leapt from time period to time period, wrapping everything up, nice and neat, using a few pages to address any low-hanging plot points that needed to be resolved, so he could get to the final twist and just end the story and move on.  Now, you may totally disagree and think it was elegant and appropriate, and that's great–I just felt that, as someone who has been reading the book since I got the first trade, many years ago, somewhat cheated, a bit, by the way this played out, but I guess that's just how you gotta do it if you aren't going to publish thirty more issues.  This quick and dirty "summation finale" just seemed a bit cheap to me, a bit, even though I understand why a writer might be forced to do it this way. Still, I was surprised, after years of reading a story that was told using a pretty consistent time frame — days, weeks, sometimes months –just rocket ahead and start telling the story in years. It worked, sure, but it wasn't a success.

A pleasant surprise that happened last week was how how I felt during the last issue of Superman: Secret Origin #6 and Superman/Batman #75.  For whatever reason, I did not have many expectations out of the Secret Origin story, mostly because it had been sometime since #5 came out (I had to find it in the store, open the bag, and glance at the end of the issue to see if I had, indeed, read it or not). I really quite liked the book, the plot was resolved well, with solid ramifications, setting up opportunities and motivations for conflict in the future, but, toward the end of the book, it just kind of took off for me, emotionally. Gary Frank's art was just so good and what Johns was setting up was so…right, that I must admit, I was tearing up a bit. I think part of me was remembering how it felt when I first saw Superman: The Movie (in theaters!), where, towards the end, I realized that the legend was solidified, that icons had been created…Christopher Reeve was Superman, and all was good in the world.  The end of Secret Origin really crystalized the optimism and hope that really embodies what Superman is all about.  Just gorgeous, really. I was surprised, here, at just how deeply I felt about this character, and I am so inspired by Johns and Frank here, that they could rekindle those feelings.

Similarly, the series of two page stories in Superman/Batman #75? Incredible.  Totally captured the essence of the very unique relationship these two characters have. So many wonderful vignettes and almost a master class, really, showing us what you can do with "only" two pages.  The story that rocked me, though..well, it was a surprise–it was the Adam Hughes reflection piece with Batgirl and Supergirl. It took my breath away and…the sense of loss that I felt was palpable–but so, too, was the feeling that, indeed, life goes on.  It was the perfect example of being able to leverage (and celebrate) the relationships we have with these characters to create an emotional experience.  Just amazing. If you like these characters but have never read the book, or, if you dropped the series, pick this issue up–at least page through it–it's really fantastic.  (And can you believe we've had 75 issues of this book??)

The last thing that comes to mind brings me a feeling that is less "surprise" than "disappointment." I am referring to John Cassaday's covers for the Shadowland series of Daredevil books. When I see an artist of his caliber just text it in–because phoning it in would look better, get it?–it pisses me off, I gotta say. I think about all the artists out there that are so good, that are hustling and working every possible angle to make it as an artist who dream of getting a chance to do a cover for a title like that, and when they look to one of the most respected artists in the industry deliver work that is just, well, bad…it's depressing, really.  The frustration is doubled when I think about how great Cassaday really could be with one of my favorite characters of all time–Daredevil, you know?  It should be awesome.

It's very easy to get jaded and bored by comics sometimes. I've totally been there, many, many times.  What keeps us going in the thrill of being surprised, even when reading characters we've known all our lives. It's keeping that sense of wonder and being open to those surprises that is the real trick–even if the surprise itself is not all that positive.  I hope the books you are reading surprise you once in awhile…indeed, if anything has surprised you this past summer, let me know in the comments!  

Mike Romo is an actor in LA who is surprised you don't know that by now. You can write him here or follow him on twitter.


  1. I’m surprised be Generation Lost as well, and Ron too apparently. Also, thanks for putting into words exactly why I didn’t like the end of Ex Machina

  2. Paul Montgomery (@fuzzytypewriter) says:

    That’s a high five on Secret Origin. I know you’ve been frustrated with Superman in recent months and I was hoping you’d dig this one as much as I did. 

  3. Generation Lost surprised me. I initially skipped it because i had no connection to the JLI or those characters and just assumed it would be another mundane tie in type of title. I went back this week and got all the issues due to all the constant good reviews. Really been enjoying it so far. 

    Giving BD a 2nd chance after dropping it earlier…it seems to be getting interesting now.  

  4. I decided I could only afford either Brightest Day OR Generation Lost (unless I dropped the 3x monthy Amazing Spider-Man), in issues and the wait for JL:GL in trades is killing me. I love the JLI charactera, but I want the trade to look nice with those hardcovers and the "I Can’t Believe It’s Not…" softcovers. Gah!

  5. Surprises for me this past summer? Surprised of my dislike for Avengers and New Avengers. I’m not connecting with the story, characters, writing or art. I had all but dropped the book after issue 3, but then i saw a pencilled page from number 4, the big spread with Thor in the forground and Galactus in the back, it was beautiful and made me want to pcik up #4, then i saw the coloured version in my LCS and did not appeal to me at all.

    A out of left field surprise has been Aquaman. After seeing Arthur come back in BN 8, and him sporting some adjustments to his costume, and of course the beautiful ivan reis work, i had to know more about him, and i have been catching up. i will definetly be buying an ongoing or mini of his if one comes out after all this.


  6. Hmm….What’s been a surprise this summer? Surprises…

    Well if we start from June then I would say:

    Joker’s Asylum II: Harley Quinn by James Patrick/Joe Quinones. A fantastic, somewhat Animated Series look, at Harley Quinn. Art is absolutely fantastic and Patrick does a good job giving a good voice for Harley. Basically a good balance of being funny and insane without being annoying. Definitely a must buy for Bat fans if you haven’t read it yet.

    Thunderbolts. Like with everyone else, this title completely surprised me on just how good it is. It blows everything out of the water that Marvel is producing. Especially for the new Avengers books as they haven’t even come close to the level of quality as this. Even with pointless crossovers it is still better then most books coming out of Marvel.

    Superman. By this point I might be the only person reading this book without either: A) Laughing at how ‘bad’ it is. Or B) Vomiting violently on how bad it is. I genuinely think this is a very good take on the Man of Steel. Is it a bit uneven right now? Yeah, maybe a little, but I come to expect a start by JMS to be weird. Eddy Barrows also surprises me on how bad of an artist he is. Totally not suited for this title. 

    The Goon. I read the $1 reprint last week and it became my POTW! A funny, but exciting book with some fantastic art to boot. Can’t wait to track down the trades. 

  7. My biggest ‘surprise’ is Avengers Academy.  I didn’t know anything about this book going in and it’s been really compelling from issue to issue.  Also ‘Thor the Mighty Avenger’ took me by surprise, as did the fact that I’m getting back into ‘Daredevil’ and to some extent the X-Men, which I had mostly dropped.

  8. I never dreamed I would care about Avengers Academy, or that American Vampire would hook me. I never dreamed that I would be so eager to read the Flash book after that miniseries about his resurrection I got so sick of last year. Thankfully, most of my surprises have been pleasant ones; I was very skeptical before the Heroic Brightest Age Day, and my skepticism has been pretty unfounded.

  9. Great comments, guys. I totally blew it when I forgot to mention Thunderbolts, Thor: The Might Avenger and American Vampire.  I am interested in Avengers Academy but..oy…another Avengers book?  But after your comments and listening to Jimski talking about it on the podcast, I will have to check it out.

     thanks for reading!


  10. Love reading jla:gl on the iPad! I’m hoping for more day and date real eases on the iPad. Guided view real adds an extra dimension to the book.

    On the marvel side, I’ve really enjoyed shadowland, avengers, and young allies. Not loving new avengers…I guess I don’t care about the eye of agamatto.