When The End…Really Is


I have been thinking a lot about endings these days.  As I alluded to in last week's Grab Bag, I have, like many of you, been watching quite a few stories that I have been following for years–like years–come to an end, with Battlestar Galactica, Lost and 24 being deleted from my DVR's recording schedule.  Both my DVR's hard drive and my brain suddenly have all this free space–which got me thinking about the concept of what it means to end a story and how we, as comic book fans, integrate endings into our reading.

Though the merits of each of the endings of those series are more than ripe for debating, I think I'll avoid trying to judge the quality of the endings (these shows have gone on so long that I honestly think that there is no way to end the shows in a way that will fulfill everyone's expectations, and I'd rather have a conversation about them rather than make proclamations). While it looks like there will be a 24 movie, Battlestar Galactica and Lost are quite done. And though television shows were the impetus for this rumination, I think that comics have a lot in common when it comes to the challenge of ending a story.  Indeed, the story of the New Avengers just ended, which apparently was the culmination of seven years of storytelling, so it does seem like endings are all around us these days.  
I am always told that when it comes to writing, getting the beginning and endings are the easy parts, it's the juicy middle that gives you such a hard time. This is true, I think, when you are talking about pretty simple stories, I am not convinced crafting an ending for more complicated, or at least longer, stories is simple at all.  I mean, if you read fantasy books, you have had to look upon the meandering plots of George R.R. Martin and the late Robert Jordan with a combination of amusement and exasperation.  Though authors are always seem to be telling their audiences that they know how they are going to end their opus, it does seem to sound like they are trying reassure themselves just as much as they are trying to placate irritated fans.
One of the concepts I remember most about Final Crisis was actually in the Final Crisis: Superman Beyond 3D comics.  The story, which happened during the events of Final Crisis in a blink of an eye, had Superman going to an alternate universe to save the day with other versions of Superman from various timelines and instances (I forget the details and the book is buried somewhere, but I think that's right).  Anyway, I was struck by the ending of the book, which I think was really what Grant Morrisson was interested in in the first place with the books, which culminated with Superman using the three most powerful words in existence, three words that defined existence, in a way, to make sure the beings of this alternate reality knew he would be back if they screwed things up again: To Be Continued.
I just remember gasping when I turned to that final full page spread.  Even thinking about the image as I write it gives me pause.  It's a beautiful concept (Dan Didio often signs off his DC Nation letters with with "to be continued…") and is, obviously, the binary opposite to the words "The End".  Of course, at the end of any story, regardless of medium, the reader encounters a version of one of them.  
I was tempted to focus today on how you rarely see the words "The End" in comics.  It is true, of course–some series do actually use those words, to great effect, but it is rarer still that the audience is not invited back to share more adventures with those characters, or to go to back to the world of that story to see what other adventures are to be had.  Most of the time, with the mainstream books, we just don't see those words, or, at least, they are not used with that effort of absolute finality.  
Of course, though we rarely see the words "The End" in a comic, the comics, do, for many of us, end.  By that, I mean we stop buying them. Josh commented during the podcast for New Avengers: Finale #1  that if this were the last Avengers book he was going to read, he'd be fine with that.  He'd be done. I realize that I have had a few books end like that for me, though without such a clear (and satisfying) finality. For example, I used to be a huge Daredevil fan.  When I got back into comics a decade ago, I walked out with a Daredevil book and haven't missed an issue.  
Until this year. Until this new direction happened, with Matt running The Hand and all that. Like, I just…I just couldn't get on board.  It seemed forced, the whole situation.  The book had changed so much, Matt had changed so much…like…even if the writers did some backflips to make it look like Matt had a plan…I was just–I was done.  I realize, as, I think about it, I could have dropped off when Bendis and Maleev stopped working on the book–even with the cliffhanger…oh, I don't know. I really do want to pick up the books to see what happens, so it's not really an end, but right now? Like…I could very well be done with the title if I didn't have an article that I need to write a in a few months about returning to books I had dropped for awhile (yes, I am always thinking of article ideas; it's almost pathetic).  If I wasn't writing for this site?  I'd be done.  Daredevil would be "The End"-ed.
Which is fine.  Which is good, even. Because Marvel's not going to put a "The End" on the last end of a Daredevil book anytime soon.  (At least, I hope not!) By definition, comics are a "To Be Continued" medium– not necessarily title to title, more often character to character. Look at Bruce Wayne's Batman.  There were way more books published with Bruce Wayne as Batman, week after week, than there were with Dick Grayson as Batman.  Even if Bruce really died, the other books were all going to come out. To Be Continued — To Brave Continuity?  That's why continuity is such a big deal–nothing ends!

Given my situation, with the vast majority of the stories that I experience week to week pretty much never ending (given the caveats explained above), I think it is fair to say that when coming up to a real, straight up-final-this-is-it-there-ain't-no-more ending, I feel a certain degree of stress. You should have seen me toward the end of Lost, when I paused the DVR to see that there were only ten minutes left in the show. The amount of mental and emotional backflips I was doing while the show was paused, trying to figure out how things would be tied up by in ten minutes was excruciating.  It was exhilarating, I have to admit–regardless of whether or not I would be satisfied with the reality that would be described ten minutes later, it would be done, finis, and the only control I could leverage, really, would be to turn off the TV and just not commit to it–which is what Conor and I ended up doing with the last episode of Angel, I seem to remember. He didn't want it to end and it wasn't going to end, for him, until he experienced that last episode.  So, he never watched it (that still the case, man?). (Actually, it isn't. Conor replied," That's not exactly correct. I most definitely watched the final episode and found it so perfect that I don't want or need any new ANGEL stories. It's why I'm not interested in the comics."  His experience still works, though, but in a different way. He found the ending he wanted and didn't need new stories. – mike)

As much as we need beginnings, I think we might need endings even more.  Our lives are defined by them, which is why I think so many people have a hard time understanding why people get into comics: there is no end to (most) of the stories.  One of the most intriguing aspects of comics, the timelessness of them, is also perhaps the most infuriating.  Perhaps, and this might be a stretch, perhaps the whole stereotype of the comic book geek, the guy still living at his parents' house, the guy who never grew up, perhaps aspects of this "never-ending childhood" stereotype come about because the comics themselves never end?  Perhaps, but in the end, it doesn't matter, because growing, maturing, attaining wisdom, adapting–it all comes from you deciding when to stop, it all comes from you deciding, "this is the end of ___" — and you can fill in that blank with so much: eating fast food, buying comics, buying videogames, buying collectible card games, feeling bad about yourself, this relationship…whatever it is, there has to be a point where "to be continued" simply is not an option, you know?  There has to be an end.
Even within today's comics, it seems that we have passed a certain marker in time, somehow. Marvel's Heroic Age is definitely the beginning of something new (though it feels very much the same so far, if you ask me) and DC seems to be wrestling with a new status quo, as evidenced by the release of their retelling of the DC Universe in the DC Universe: Legacies series, providing readers an engaging way to see how the current world came to be.  It will be interesting to check back a few years from now to see if there really was a definite break that happened over the past 4-6 weeks, if this really is a new era in comics for DC and Marvel.  Sometimes it seems easier to notice when something is beginning, rather than a definite end…we'll just have to see.
The best endings leave you wistful yet satisfied. I keep thinking back to the end of Local.  A wonderful ending to a wonderful series. Megan wasn't dead or anything, and she had lots of challenges ahead, but that was the end of the tale she was going to share with us.  A good ending makes you wish there was more, makes you wish you could check in a few years from now…but eventually you learn to accept that what you had was enough–it has to be–and that's all right.  Whether the creators decide to end the story or you decide the story is over for you, an end has to occur and you learn to be okay with it.
All this doom and gloom about things ending are happily balanced about by the countless boxed sets and trade paperbacks we have around us, so we can always "go back to the island," as it were. Comic books just continue to get better and there always seems to be something new to look forward to at the movie theatre (did you see the new Scott Pilgrim trailer?)–in a way, we're just getting started; which is fantastic, but it's nice, every so often, to experience a bit of closure, even a bit of loss. 
How about you?  Have you "the end"-ed any books as of late?  What "the ends" have stayed with you through the years?
See you next we–er, ahem:
To Be Continued…

Mike Romo continues to be an actor in LA.  You can reach him via email or feel the burn on twitter.

This article was corrected with Conor's clarifying remarks.


  1. I got used to the idea, that no matter what meduim, movies, comics, tv series, it’s gonna be a sequel prequel spin off something. So "the end" it doesn’t the same meaning.

    But for some reason, I cry in the last episode of "The 3rd rock from the sun". 

     Good article

  2. RE: ANGEL

    That’s not exactly correct. I most definitely watched the final episode and found it so perfect that I don’t want or need any new ANGEL stories. It’s why I’m not interested in the comics.

  3. In the last year or so, I’ve started to want endings more.  I think that this is something I’m learning from comic book mini-series like Local, Demo, 52 and others, and applying to television.  I’d rather see a show, or a comic, end while it is still going strong, go out with a brilliant finish, than limp along for a few extra years like an arthritic hound dog that no one has the heart to put down.  When I think about the TV shows I truly loved, many of them were finite: Slings and Arrows, Farscape, Wonderfalls.  Even Dollhouse, which wasn’t the most brilliant show, ended exactly when it should have.  At this point, I bless cancellation, because it keeps shows that were once excellent (like Grey’s Anatomy) from becoming hollow shells, devoid of creativity or quality (like Grey’s Anatomy).  Shows that now make me sad, like Star Trek, went on long past their time.  Is there sometimes a creative resurgence?  Sure, it happened with Stargate in the last two years, but it’s rare enough that it’s not worth waiting around for.

    The Superman books are a perfect example of this.  I feel bad for anyone who missed "War of the Supermen," because it was the ideal ending to the last year (and change) worth of Superman stories, and now I can walk away feeling like a complete story has been told.  I expect the Return of Bruce Wayne to be much the same: when he’s back, that puts a bow on the story and I’ll stop buying Batman books.  I’ve been loving mini-series, though, from the series of Nemesis mini-series to DV8 to Daytripper, some of my favorite comic books are destined to leave when their time is done.  This pleases me immensely.

  4. Nice, thoughtful piece, Mike. Makes a nice companion to Jimski’s "LOST/Claremont" piece last week. Have you read Margaret Atwood’s piece on endings? I think it’s called "Happy Endings" — it’s a sort of metafiction on writing stories, focusing on the fact that the only REAL ending is when the character dies. So we have to pick our stories, and bring them to a conclusion — it’s not THE end, it’s AN ending.

    Your Daredevil anecdote reminded me that I do that ALL the time. There are series that I eventually just decide it’s time to walk away from. There’s nothing wrong with the character. There’s nothing wrong with the writing. But I feel as if I had my "fill" of this character. Because I know that the story is "never-ending," you have to make your own end. Usually the end of an arc, maybe when writers change hands — I also exited Daredevil with Diggle’s first arc. I found nothing really wrong with the basic concept of Matt running the hand, I just… didn’t need it.

    Sometimes, though, I can wait awhile and then jump back on a series with a fresh perspective. There may come a time where I’m digging Daredevil again. We’ll see.

    As for ends that stick with me — I think it tends to be arcs or series that reach a finite conclusion: Grant Morrison’s Animal Man, for sure. His Doom Patrol. Neil Gaiman’s Sandman. James Robinson’s Starman. Delano and Ennis on their respective Hellblazer runs. Preacher, of course. Bendis’ Alias. There are so many books that are canceled without a proper finish. So many writers who leave or are replaced on books before they get to reach that natural conclusion. So the aforementioned stories are runs that ended when the writers brought the story in for a landing. The story they set out to tell.

  5. You want an end…… Read “y the last man”. Boy that was a good one. How about watchmen too. Good endings are out there, but they are few and far between. I think the future if comics lie in good quality mini series ?

  6. What is the general consensus on Diggle’s Daredevil so far?

  7. Brilliant article, very thought provoking. On the subject of endings, I remember being very satisfied with the way Whedon left things at the end of his Astonishing X-Men run. I picked up the first issue the next writer did (was it Ennis?) but just didn’t enjoy it and I realised that yeah, I’d had enough of these stories. Astonishing X-Men had ended for me and that was cool.

    Another ending that sticks out in my mind was a prose series by Brandon Sanderson called the Mistborn series. The end was definitely the end of the stories, and that was sad but it was ok. It was a very good ending. 

    It really is interesting to think back on how endings have effected you. Something I’m still annoyed about years later is how they ended Veronica Mars. The entire last season was pretty lame and the very last episode was awful. I understand they didn’t expect to be cancelled but still, what happened to the storytelling. As far as I’m concerned it ended after season two. And I’m fine with that. Sort of.


  8. Oooh boy. When it comes to endings alot comes to mind, but I’ll just highlight the ones with most resonance. 

    New Warriors ended pretty sparsly but I accepted it because of Night Thrasher’s very optimistic (and ironically Obama-ish) speach.

    When it turned out that Kyle/Yost’s New X-men’s ending was going to be in the middle of Messiah War and their creative team would move on elsewhere to X-force I was enraged but I accepted it.

    My point is though there are some comics that end abruptly or unsatisfyingly I tend to remember the highlights of the series and dwell on those arcs instead of how badly they ended for whatever reason.

    In some strange way this doesn’t apply to English Dubbed Anime. The ending episode of these niche action-packed series makes or breaks the genre for that market.
    S-CRY-ED‘s ending for example being so spectacular and full of excess that it could only be best described as a "Mark Millar Episode".

    As for Manga, alot of endings tend to go out like Brian K Vaughn’s baby Y: The Last Man or the psychedelic ending of Grant Morrison’s run on New X-Men. Take Tsutomu Nihei’s BLAME! (also creator of SNIKT!) That ending was so existential and metaphorical that to this day I’m not entirely sure what happened. I feel that the medium of manga is heading in a direction that the comics market can take note of, that endings aren’t necessarily as important as the road towards that ending. In the end (no pun intended) I really feel that it’s up to the audience you’re writing for and the type of story you are building. If built accordingly and considered during the process of telling the story then a satisfying ending shouldn’t be far from grasp. Then again satisfying is such a relative term…

  9. blank_page

    Since I have lost my job a month ago, I have to stop reading comics because I don’t have the money to keep going. So, I am slowly droping books at the end of their story arks because it would be much harder to leave this media if everything came to a dead stop. I want to have the best ending I can get to this fantasticl getaway I have had every Wednesday for the past five years. In a way, I am trying to make my "perfect final episode" in my series of reading comics. I wish nothing but great times and good stories for everyone who keeps reading this wonderful media. For me, "The end is nigh."

  10. What great comments, guys! I am so happy to read what you wrote, really great stuff. Conor, I will corrent what I wrote in the article right now…though I do admit I rather enjoyed my made up version of what you said!


    Dave, I will check out that Atwood book! Quinn–I have the four "War of the Supermen" issues, I have been hesitant about reading them for some reason, having felt more than a little singed from Superman over the past year.  Thanks for the callout there.


    Very pleased you liked the article. Thanks for taking the time to read it and share your thoughts–it’s a busy day on the site!




  11. It’s actually just a short essay, Mike. Here, I googled it and the text is online…


    The bit at the end is a quote I find myself referring to almost constantly when discussing the craft of fiction (and that tough "middle" you mentioned): 

    "That’s about all that can be said for plots, which anyway are just one thing after another, a what and a what and a what.

    Now try How and Why."

  12. One of the reasons I watch so many U.K. television series is due to them having an ending.  Rather than run the series into the ground they tend to run a few seasons with a definite arc and a fantastic finish.

    Look at the U.S. Office versus the U.K. Office.  While I love the U.S. version, I feel the U.K. one was much stronger as it had three very strong seasons, it showed the changes that David Brent when through, and had an awesome ending resolution to the Dawn and Tim relationship. 

    The U.S. version still remains pretty strong, but really, how many stories can you tell with the same characters before you are forced to put out filler just to keep up? 

    The X-Files were great until it became obvious that they had no idea what they were doing and were just trying to prolong the show.  Had they had a definite story arc with 5 or 6 seasons that show would have been an enduring classic, but it became a poster child for the "they’re making it up as they go along" detractors.

    One of the great thing about trades, especially the omnibus stuff, is that I feel like I’m getting one "story."  Yes, it’s part of an ongoing, but with most of them you can decide to stop at the end of the omnibus and feel like you’ve gotten a complete product.