Thoughts on Anticipation and Comics

I remember the feeling pretty well. The feeling of looking forward to something, without any kind of additional thoughts to weigh that feeling of anticipation down. One of the moments I felt it most strongly was when I was a kid looking forward to the seeing Empire Strikes Back.  


Now, this is, perhaps me picking the juiciest moment possible, but I think it's worth discussing it anyway.  Empire had a lot of really great things going for it, in terms building anticipation:


1 – It wasn't really expected.  Like, Star Wars ended pretty well. Good guys one, bad guys lost. One and done. Yes, from a financial point of view it made sense to do a sequel, but in terms of pure storytelling, writing a sequel to a perfectly good single story is a pretty challenging affair. By revisiting the characters and the story, you run the risk of ruining all the good work that came before it (we'll just nod and acknowledge that the words "Phantom" and "Menace" might have flashed in your brain, but let's move on), but if the writer understands what made the first story work, there's a good chance that the second story will be successful. That brings us to…


2 – It brought us back all the characters we loved.  Suddenly, we were sharing the room with all of these characters we had great memories of and, like old friends, we couldn't wait to see them again, to hear their stories, to see how they had changed. That was one of the things I appreciated later–that some time had past between the two films, and the characters were the same…but were different, thanks to adventures and challenges the crew faced since we had seen them last. I loved that we "missed out" on stuff.



3 – And, of course, it had space ships and lasers. And snow. But I digress.


I have been thinking a bit about anticipation these days because I am finding myself dealing with the feeling very differently than in years past. I used to really look forward to things. For the Star Wars movies, I was one of those guys who waited in line for everyone else…like, I did this a lot. 7-8 hours? No problem. Easy. I remember showing up 6 hours early for a screening of Attack of the Clones only to find that, much to my chagrin, I was actually the first one in line…by at least an hour, at the Loews on 42nd St. (I think that was it. This was a while ago, obviously.) 


I realize that I don't value anticipation as much as I used to. I'll still see a movie on opening weekend, sure–but I am quite fine with reserved seating, thankyouverymuch. I just don't get excited about new books or games or music like I used to, though I think that I was never that excited, that I enjoyed the idea of anticipation with that kind of media. For me, a big part of seeing something when it came out was the opportunity to be with a large group of people that were also excited about the same thing coming out and wanting to see it as early as possible…with the same kinds of folks.


With comics (and, yes, finally, I am talking about comics), I realize the whole "thing" with comics is this ongoing feeling of anticipation. This…hope for some thrill, some new twist, some resolution, some excitement…something..unknown and surprising landing into our grubby mitts, week after week.  All well and good, but after a few years, I realize that my relationship with anticipation in comics has really turned into this mildly jaded skepticism that comes with experiencing the same variations of a variety of themes over and over again.

Case in point: Green Lantern. Now, I am sure there are many of you who are interested in this War of the Green Lanterns event, and I hope that this interest is rewarded by a compelling story and a wonderful experience, resulting in the same warm fuzzies for you that I still feel with the Sinestro Corps War saga in the same book a few years ago. I think about what is going on with Green Lantern and find that it really represents an entire arc of comic book experience, all distilled into this single title over a few years.


We had the initial excitement of Hal Jordan coming back. This was good, this was like Empire, with the return of an old character, kicking off a variety of storytelling opportunities. Just having Hal back was, for awhile, enough. Then the Sinestro Corps War event happened and we were all just blown away that suddenly this story, which had really been, at least for me, the chronicles of a single individual with a some cool side characters, become this magnificent tapestry of personalities, heroes, villains, technologies, worlds–it became so much larger than just a Hal Jordan book. Then we had Blackest Night…now Brightest Day…now…War of the Green Lanterns, which, who knows? Maybe it will be the fitting coda, bringing everything back, at the very end, to Hal Jordan.  Which would be, I must admit, pretty amazing and beautiful, in a way, when you think about the structure of it all…if it works.


However, from an anticipation point of view, it just seems that we have seen the limits, at least my limits, of how much the concept of anticipation (and hope) will compel me to participate in the storyline. I'm just burned out on it, and if I do buy Green Lantern #63, it will be out of anticipation's evil cousin, obligation. (Yes, I know, poor me, buying a comic because I feel like I have to, but this is what this part of my life is about, making sure I know what's going on with this stuff so I can say witty things at parties.) Obligation is a powerful force, of course, and who knows, maybe there will be so many people just willing to give another battle-filled series a go just because it might the last one for awhile. It's odd, though; I was so happy to see the world of the Lanterns expand, to see all these different corps, these different worlds and points of view, but, in the end, it was just too many colors, too many characters, too many explosions. It's a blur, now, and I find myself not caring whether things come back into focus or not.


I am feeling a different kind of anticipation when it comes to Ultimate Spider-Man. And by different, I mean, dread. Much to my surprise, this title has become one of the most reliably excellent book on the shelves. From art to character, from tone to theme, Ultimate Spider-Man delivers the goods. It's one of the best comic books that has ever been. I'll just put it out there and just say that. When I read these Death of Spider-Man books, I find myself not wanting to read them because I don't want the story to end. I don't think it will–I don't know what's going to happen at all–but basically instead of making me want to read this book, I am feeling like maybe I should drop it so I don't have to deal with whatever machinations they are going to put these characters through. I just don't want it to end. It's stupid, really, I realize this, I am sure they are not really going to kill Peter Parker, but if they do…well, that would be sad, it would be a waste.


I sometimes wonder that if I only bought a few comics a month whether or not I would be more excited about them, hold the visit to the comic book store with more anticipation due to the smaller number of books, due to my limiting my comic book experiences. I probably would–I would feel more excited about them. But clearly I would rather read them as a mildly jaded fan who reads lots of books than an eager, excited one who only reads a few. The love of comics would still be there, it would just manifest itself completely differently based solely on the number of interactions I had with the media itself. Maybe this is because I am older and would rather risk being jaded and reading 10 books than reading 3 books and feeling disappointed when 2 of them sucked. 


I dunno. I realized I love the ritual of comics, the whole weekly thing.  Ritual tends to destroy anticipation and mystery, of course. But with familiarity, we get comfort, and with comfort, we have the luxury of settling in, of seeing something familiar in a different light. You start to appreciate how new creators will tell a new story with familiar characters. You appreciate when stories echo older ones, when the same things come up time and time again.  Familiar but new, comfortable..but in a new way.  


I look at which books are coming out this week, and my thoughts speak volumes. I look at Chew #17 and get excited because it's been awhile (rather long while) and I am looking forward to seeing those characters again. I look at Incognito: Bad Influences #4 and I find I'm less interested in the story but looking forward to the art. Jonah Hex #65 – I like going back to Hex, because he's a reliably compelling character. Thunderbolts #154 – it's about Man-Thing, which is one of those characters I've always known about but never really actually knew about.


So, I guess my anticipation, the reason why I look forward to new comics, is to return to characters that I've known before. It's less about the story, at least this week, then it is the characters. Which makes sense–I think we often relate to certain characters and sometimes we take the stories more personally because of that relationship.


I guess I don't look forward to comics week after week the way I used to, which could be kind of depressing. I don't think of comics as an escape, really, and, sometimes, I admit I think of them as a bit of a chore, especially when it's a big week and I am just struggling to keep up. I think now, I go back because I like the familiarity, I like coming back to the characters that I've known for so long. This is why I am so happy with the new Bruce Wayne books. I am just stoked that he's back and I get to go to different countries with him, you know? It's funny–on the face of it, it's absurd, to be talking about the characters this way. But it's how I feel, and though I might no longer feel the childlike anticipation, that truly thrilling excitement that I used to feel when my dad would take me to get that single comic book after a haircut, to know I could get any comic, and read any story, which I would read over and over until the book fell apart, I feel something different but equally valid. It's a different kind of anticipation, less heady, less enthusiastic; it is the anticipation of inviting an old friend to dinner, or meeting the guys at the bar after not seeing each other for a few months. Comics may not be as thrilling and exciting to me as they used to be, and that's fine. Comics bring me comfort and camaraderie (both with the characters and with all of the people I know through (and because of) comics, they remind me of days gone by while keeping very much in the moment.


When you think about getting your comics, what drives you? Are you excited? Relieved? Curious? Do you feel any kind of anticipation at all?


Mike Romo is an actor and writer in Los Angeles. He's gonna start pointing you his burgeoning facebook fan page to keep things in check. Try the email, stay for the twitter.


  1. I’m kinda psyched about the GL War cause i have no idea what to expect. fear itself is the same way for me. all the teases really don’t tell me anything which is the way i like it

  2. Good article for reflection.  There are a number of reasons I would anticipate a comic, movie, music, etc.  It’s usually the creators and the concepts they will explore that get me anticipating some form of entertainment.  For instance, I anticipate the release of Moon Knight, because it’s Bendis and Maleev and they’re dealing with a character with interesting mental issues and I’m curious how Bendis will explore that aspect of the character.  Other times, it’s simply a character I miss who has returned, such as Bruce Wayne, whom you mention.  That Grant Morrison was bringing him back wasn’t what really had me excited, it was simply that Bruce would be back in the cowl.  I definitely outgrew the heated anticipation of my younger years, but every now and then I’ll get really excited for something and it’s usually because of a combination of the creators involved and the ideas/characters they want to explore.

  3. As a fan of the Fantastic Four, I’ve been on pins and needles over the last few months with the death and then the final issue of the series. But I’ll admit, it’s not often that this happens. While there are books I look forward to reading every month, by and large, I sometimes feel the pains of ‘obligation’ more than ‘anticipation’ as well. However, as my cash flow got a little tight I started to cut back and really, I think in buying less, I’m enjoying the experience a little more.

    I will put out the biggest killer of anticipation for me is waiting. When the final issue of Planetary came out, yeah, I was excited because I loved that book, but I had to wait, what, two years? With War Heroes, I don’t even know that I care to read the new one, as much as I remember enjoying the series when it first came out. Even those books which haven’t kept me waiting too long, like Young Avengers or Chew, I know that I want to check them out, but the wait has not really added to my anticipation level — it’s actually hurt it quite a bit. Perhaps I’m being a little cynical, and I can admit to that, but the wait just kills my desire most of the time.

  4. Really good stuff, Mike.  I’m looking forward to the day when Bruce is the only Batman in the DCU.  I remember being really bummed out when he died, and likened that to when Han was left in carbonite at the end of Empire.  As a kid, I thought I’d never get to see my favorite character again.  I got the payoff with Return of the Jedi, but not so much with Batman.

  5. For me the anticipation comes from finding good stories. For me comics are escapism and good old fun. The Hickman Fantastic Four run really highlights a lot of the things that i love about comics and when i come across something like that, i’m all in. 

    I can’t afford to be obligated to buy stuff. i have a tight budget so i’m more discerning. I don’t buy many books compared to others, BUT i have found that every book that i buy i want to read that day (even if i don’t get to). Thats good times. 

  6. I’ve been using anticipation to dictate what i’m purchasing right now, which ultimately is getting me to try new stuff. If there is a book that i no longer get that excited anticipation about, and the feeling stays with me, i’m going to drop a book and replace it with something else. I’ve been finding some great stuff, even asking for my LCS to special order things for me.

  7. I would agree, there are books I read out of obligation rather than anticipation. There are some books I regularly get that I am eager to read: Brightest Day, JSA, Action (with Luthor), Detective since Snyder took over, Generation Lost, Morning Glories, Mystery Society, Secret Six… I think I expect these to deliver, so I am eager to read them.

    I have had a higher level of excitement about a few books since some of the Sinestro War/Blackest Night stuff and the return of Bruce Wayne in “Batman and Robin.” Recently those are:

    -Punisher Max #10 – because the #9 came out in JULY. Six months is a long wait.
    -Scarlet – I dig this book a lot: the writing, the art, everything. And it’s only every two months.
    -The Twelve #9 – I still pine away for this like a spinster waiting for a husband. No light at the end of the tunnel.

    The thing all these have in common? The waiting. They either took (or “are taking” in the case of The Twelve) a long time, or they are less frequent than monthly. For some reason, for me a long wait really builds the anticipation to a high level.

    Now, the GL stuff and Batman was more about an exciting story. But to be fair, they were sagas that took a while to tell and resolve, so maybe the time factor played a role as well. But I would attribute my excitement level to the story and a “holy crap, what’s gonna happen next?!” factor.

    I was recently talking with an employee at my shop – I mean where I shop, not that I own it (“You own a church?” – Anthony Michael Hall, “Sixteen Candles”). She asked how I like the Zatanna book, and I replied, “I’m never eager to read it, but I’m never sorry I did. It’s pretty good.” Does that mean I feel obligated? I must confess I have the last 4-5 issues stacked and waiting…

  8. For me I don’t have any real anticipation when it comes to superhero books. Everything you can do has pretty much been done. I do get an anticipation towards smaller books like Scalped & Hellblazer & Criminal when it comes out. These books have a freedom that Superhero books do not and with that comes an uncertainty of what will happen next. With Superhero books you know the hero will prevail in the end.

  9. Hey all, 

    Really nice, thoughtful comics. Thanks for taking the time to read the article; I know it was a bit of a stretch and I appreciate what you wrote, for giving me a chance to think outloud about this stuff.

    @kennyg — I laughed when I read that.  I totally relate–there are a few books that I read that I put of for no really good reason, and every time I read them, I am like, “Why don’t I read this all the time?” Strange.  I started Zatanna with Cliff Chiang got on it, so I count myself lucky…

    @thechangingman – really good point. Superhero books follow a familiar pattern of plot, with only the character dynamics that keep us guessing.  The smaller books–totally, I think I am with you, I tend to really look forward to them more often than not, now that I think about it.

    @chrissnell – I love love love the Batman/Han Solo comparison and agree with you that the payoff for Bruce wasn’t as big. Like…seriously, we barely got Superman’s reaction (it was in a Free Comic Book Day book right?) and  we still haven’t seen Superman reacting to getting his friend back.  With Han’s return, the best part, for me, was that his friends worked so hard, together, to bring him back, and everyone was happy to be with him again for different reasons.  I really like that comparison and wish I had called it out! Right in front of my face.  Thanks for bringing it up.

    awesome comments! 

  10. @mikeromor – Thanks Mike!  You’re right.  Bruce is back, and where is Superman’s reaction to that news?  Superman, the man who carried Bruce’s lifeless body out of the wreckage.  Superman, the man who broke the news of Bruce’s death to Dick and Alfred.  Bruce is back and there’s no story to be told between the two!?

    I totally get where you’re coming from with Han’s friends working together to get him back, though for me the best part was just the fact that he was back.  I think you picked up on more than me, in all honesty. 

    Also, there wasn’t a replacement “Han.”  Lando wasn’t trying to be the “new” Han.  My “looking forward” to Bruce coming back was crushed upon learning that Dick was going to also be Batman.  I’m all for the stand-in, but I’m also for the stand-in moving back when the original returns.  I’ve said elsewhere, not sure if I have here, but it’s my opinion that there’s only one Batman, just like there’s only one Superman, and only one Wonder Woman.  Multiple Flashes?  Sure.  A number of Green Lanterns?  Yup, fine by me.  Two Batmen?  Nope, I just don’t like it.

    Thanks for the dialogue, and great appearance on the Pick of the Week!

  11. @mikeromo  Good point, Mike – Superman was like “Yeah, I’m going for a walk.” I expected a bigger reaction!

  12. Nice article i’m realy looking forward to the war of the green lanterns fear it self and flash point because we dont know a thing about them looking forward to somthing is what makes comics and events great you know its coming but you dont no what it is 

  13. @Thechangingman  – Right there with you. I’m one of those people who only reads a few comics a month and have pretty much dropped most superhero books (including GL) simply because I’m burnt out and feel that I get more of my money’s worth in terms of interesting storytelling by sticking to mostly indie and creator-owned books.