Ten Years, Four Characters

My convention season starts this weekend with WonderCon, where, by the way, I will be fulfilling (and I am not kidding) a life goal of speaking on a panel at a comic book convention (thanks to Ron, Conor and Josh for the life goal hook up, by the way) and meeting old friends and diving back into the world of comics in a very "full press" kind of way. I will be at the panels, eager, for the most part, to see where the creators will take our favorite characters, be told, again, why these upcoming events are more important than the previous very important events were, and, hopefully meet some artists and writers that I have not had the opportunity to talk with before.


I realized that I have been back into comics for about ten and a half years now, which, you know, is a pretty long time. Longer than the six year life span of the normal comic book consumer, from what I hear. And while I have realized that the community of comics is at least as half as important as the actual books, I don't get to hang out with the community of comics more than a week a year, so, at the end of the day, it's the books that keep bringing back in. And by books, of course, I mean characters.


In the past ten years, I have learned more about plot and status quo and characterization that I could have ever imagined possible. Oh, sure, I knew a thing or two about literature and plays and understood the basic precepts of building a story, but little did I know that comic books would basically serve as my graduate degree in true storytelling.  I was thinking a bit about the various characters whom I have followed over the past years and the twists and turns their lives had taken and figured I'd share just a few that have stuck with me, with the hopes that you'll do the same.


If you have been generous enough with your time to have been reading my articles for awhile, you know that the Batman 10¢ Adventure was the book that brought me back into comics, which was the beginning of the Bruce Wayne: Murderer? Bat-event. This was the inverse one of the most personal impacts of Final Crisis which was, of course, the death of Batman, which I thought, was a pretty successful story.  Yes, we all knew that Batman was going to come back, but I certainly was not prepared for how elegantly his return actually was, with Dick taking up the mantle, Damien becoming Robin, and, at the end, the very compelling creation of Batman, Inc. Like, all in all? Pretty damn good. We actually saw different kinds of good come out of Batman's death: we got Dick growing into his own, and the creation of a totally different kind of Robin, who I think surprised most of us by becoming a fan favorite. We got to read the great miniseries bringing Batman back, and ended up with some new Batbooks as well, and many, if not all, of them kick ass.  I am buying more Batman books than ever, which is pretty good considering my Bat-appetite was already satiated.

I grew up a Superman fan, with the Christopher Reeve poster in my basement and Superman bedsheets when I was a kid. I loved the movies, the old TV series, I read the comics…but it was not until fairly recently that I have begun to appreciate him as a character, probably because, as I get older, the notion of someone being a "superman" has really changed for me. Is a super man more powerful because of his physical strength or his incredible intelligence? His ability to fly, or his ability to communicate? His ability to save a school bus full of kids or to finally let himself fall in love?  Yes, I know, a little hokey–but true, very true. Superman is more than a guy in tights who can fly fast, and I have written enough about him that I would not be doing anyone any favors by repeating myself here. Suffice to say, that while I have had struggles with many of his stories, I do appreciate that I was able to see Gary Frank and Geoff Johns re-imagine Superman's origin story. I was intrigued by the concept of New Krypton and still can't help but feel that it was an idea that was never given enough time to really solidify.  I've appreciated watching what other creators have tried to do with him, both when they've succeeded, but more so when they've failed.  Will I continue to keep reading Superman? Yes, but I can see myself needing a bit of a break, too.  We'll see how the next few months ago; I don't feel like rewarding DC's inability to tell a compelling Superman story with my money for that much longer.


I love Spider-Man. I love him. We all identify with the science nerd who becomes the funniest, most charming guy in the room—once he covers his face and becomes someone else. Peter Parker's stories — especially Bendis's work — have taught me so much about relationships and individuality and the desire to do good.  Superman is the notion of hope, of belief in something larger, Spider-Man is hope personified, the hope, the need, to do our best, no matter what happens. Peter's stories remind me of being in high school, struggling with grades, unable to cope with life around him…and, by reminding me of my youth, keeps me young at heart. What Ron said about the most recent issue of Ultimate Spider-Man, where, in a way, it could be the last issue, where things finally—finally—work out for Peter, really struck a chord in me. If there was ever a moment in my life when it would have made sense to stop reading comics, that would have been it. I don't need to see the death of Spider-Man. I don't want to see it—I don't need it in my life. I read comics because in comics, heroes live, they save the day when they should be doing homework, and sometimes, once in awhile, some girl pays attention.  So it pains me that as I reflect on the past ten years, the only real event that really didn't work out, the one thing that felt like a gimmick the entire time, was not One More Day but when Peter unmasked himself.  That was a huge, huge deal, and I find myself arguing not that it could have been handled better, but that it was one of those things that should never have been attempted at all, because there was just no way it could be anything other than a gimmick.  I know, maybe its not a big deal to you, but for some reason, it really bothered me, probably because the way they reset it, with that two page spread explaining the whole situation, just felt cheap and…unworthy of Spider-Man's legacy.  I think it weakened the experience. If you are going to do something like that, do it, don't weasel out of it like that.  But no matter; Amazing Spider-Man continues to be a must-read book for me, and I don't see myself not being a fan any time soon.


When I bought that Batman book, I also bought a Daredevil book, because Daredevil was a character that I had always loved as a kid.  When one thinks about all the craziness that Matt Murdock has endured over the past ten years, you can see why it's taking awhile for his miniseries to come out—he needs a break.  I think Murdock has been saddled with more than his fair share of heartbreak and agony, and has become this emotional whipping boy for far too long.  I mean, I remember seeing him smile once in, what, fifty issues? But his life…well, I guess the one good thing was that no matter how badly things were going in my life? Matt was a few levels lower, that's for sure. He falls in love, that falls apart. He ends up in jail, he loses his best friend, he identity gets compromised…and, yes, he gets possessed by a demon which clearly was over the top for many of us, who just stopped reading at that point. But not matter what happens this year—we got a good decade of stories, that's for sure. 


A lot can happen in ten years, which is why it's incredible, really, that we don't do what so many girlfriends (and several boyfriends, to be sure) have asked many of us in the past—you've already read so many stories, when will you be done?  Like, just read the old issues again, right?  Well, we all have our own answers for that, but as I think about the four characters and what they have gone through, I can't help but think about the writers and editors who have guided these threads over the years. They have managed to keep things consistent (for the most part), with deep story lines that always had a few convenient jumping-on points for new readers to come on board. And, at the end of these crazy arcs, the characters come back to this incredible center, where their base personality is intact, their intentions and goals and hopes and dreams recognizable to fans of yore, but shaded and blended with more recent experiences that give them a texture that those "in the know" can appreciate. 


That is, of course, the trick. To change these characters without really changing them, in some cases, to kill them without really killing them. No, calling it a trick cheapens it. This is the art of comics, the lines not drawn with pencil and ink but with emotion and situation, with hope and despair.  


For the past ten years we have been witness to a golden age of comics. Sometimes it is kind of nice to take a breath and realize which characters and stories shined brightly for you.


Hope I see some of you this weekend! Look for my WonderConWrapUp column next week!




Mike Romo is an actor driving in Los Angeles. Check him out on twitter, facebook, or drop him an email.  This article was edited once Mike was reminded that the Bat-event in question wasn't Who Killed Bruce Wayne? but Bruce Wayne: Murderer? — age, man. Age.


  1. I couldn’t agree more.  There have been some wonderful stories told in the last ten years.  I’m glad to have been along for the ride.

  2. The batman story that was kicked off by the 10 cent was ‘Bruce Wayne: Murderer?’, not ‘Who Killed Bruce Wayne?’

  3. hahaha, @mikeandzod21 — you are absolutely right. There was a reason I couldn’t find a link for it. I was exhausted last night and I totally and utterly misremembered it. Thanks for the note–I have edited the piece accordingly! You rock!

  4. @mikeromo no worries sir

  5. Just realised that I have been reading comics for six years now. Hopefully I will break the “average” limit.

    Great article! Very insightful.

  6. Yeesh, if 6 years is the normal span, I’ve got twice that.

  7. Random question: Where is the picture of Batman (at the beginning) from?

  8. I’m 34 and never stopped.  I did hide the fact for a long while when I was a late teenager, buying a lot of comics from grocery stores.  I’m also amazed at the fact that, the characters you mentioned, whom I’m a fan, are all characters owned by gigantic, billion dollar corporations.  I mean to think that people can still tell daring stories with Superman and Spider-man, decades after being created and passed through the hands of tons of creators in various forms of media simply amazes me.  I’m very glad that DC/ Warner and Marvel/Disney still let their toys sit in a sandbox where others can play and create meaningfull stories.

  9. i had a conversation today about this “golden age” and the concern was that there is a growing feeling that we have reached the crossroads…is it up or is it down? There is evidence to support both…