Friday, June 6, 2008

Age Old Concerns

Not too long ago, I had a debate with a former customer about which "age" of comics are currently in:

Here's what we know, so far:

The Golden Age of Comics truly begins with the publication of Action Comics #1 featuring Superman whose popularity soon begot Batman, Wonder Woman, Captain America, Plastic Man and a host of other often two-fisted four-color champions.

The Silver Age is widely accepted to have begun with the first appearance of Barry Allen as the all-new, re-imagined Flash in the pages of Showcase #4. The Silver Age is mainly remembered for the replacing and re-branding of Golden Age characters with newer science based counterparts such as Ray Palmer, The Atom & Hal Jordan, The Green Lantern. The Silver Age is also fondly remembered for ushering in the Marvel Age of comics were old favorites such as Captain America and The Sub-Mariner were dusted off and re-introduced to audiences, new and old. It may be better known for Marvel's introduction of young heroes forged in the science of their time such as Spider-Man, The Fantastic Four and The X-Men.

Many believe that The Bronze Age of Comics began with the 1971 relaxation of The Comics Code that allowed for the publication of horror titles such as Tomb of Dracula & Swamp Thing. Many more believe it may have begun with Jack Kirby's exit from Marvel Comics, the death of Gwen Stacy, the re-emergence of The Batman as The Dark Knight by Denny O'Neil & Neal Adams or the introduction of "relevancy" to comics such as Green Arrow's sidekick, Speedy's drug dependency.

The current argument is just what age are we currently in?

The Bronze Age is clearly over as we've moved beyond the things that categorize it. Are we in The Modern Age of Comics, as my friend suggests?

My buddy says The Bronze Age ended when Marvel Comics creator Stan Lee left comics for Hollywood and left his name to become a banner used to identify a Marvel comic, ushering in the first generation of writers and artists who grew up reading comics.

I believe we're in The Platinum Age of Comics, starting with the "Big Bang" of DC Comics' Crisis On Infinite Earths, an event that forever undid or re-positioned parts of their Golden and Silver Age histories, allowing for out-of-continuity comics landmarks such as Batman: The Dark Knight Returns and The Watchmen. I also believe that The Platinum Age of Comics began when a creator's name (superstar creators as marquee talent) on a comic became a comic's selling point starting with former Marvel mainstay John Byrne's exit to DC Comics to take on Superman, tangentially, leading to the formation of creator owned Image Comics by some of comics' hottest artists.

There's a very valid argument that the formation of Image may have kickstarted a whole new age, in and of itself but that is another fight for another day.

So, here's my question to you reading this:

What COMICS AGE do you currently think we're in and why?


Siskoid said...

Well, here's the thing. Whatever Age was heralded in ±1986, that was more than 20 years ago. We can no doubt name the previous age (Modern, Platinum, Dark, whatever), but we don't yet have the perspective to name the current one.

After 20+ years, we're due right?

I like to think of Kirby as the herald of the various ages. He was a Golden Age artist who kick started the Silver Age with Challengers on one hand and Marvel on the other. His move to DC and creation of the 4th World moves us into the Bronze Age. Not sure how he figures into the Modern Age, but maybe the Death and Rebirth of the New Gods this year could be a starting point for the Current Age. I really don't know.

There might not even be a significant difference between today's comics and those of 1986 and we're stuck on Platinum (though the progression should be downward, like Iron) since forever.

bittercupojoe said...

My take on it is that the Bronze Age ended sometime around when the Dark Knight and Watchman minis came out. Then we went into a Dark Age, which includes most of the 90s and the Image crap. Then we moved into the Modern Age with Marvels, Kingdom Come, and the Morrison JLA revamp. I'm not certain where we are now, but we're probably either nearing the tail end of Modern or have already entered into a new age without realizing it; it's hard to pinpoint that kind of thing until you're at least a few years past it.

Patrick C said...

I say we're ALWAYS in the Modern Age. We just rename the era once we're out of it.

BIG MIKE said...

I have kind of a crazy argument on this... but I want to save it for a post :)

Anonymous said...

Nah, the Platinum Age was everything before Superman.

I seem to remember an issue of The Flash -- one of Grant Morrison's -- where Wally, Jay and Dick Grayson sit around discussing what "Age" of Superheroics ("But if the Golden Age was from 1938 to 1953...") they're in now. They agree that the Dark Age ended in 1995 but it's too soon to tell what Age this one is.

Of course, that was in 1998...

Anonymous said...

A new era of comics started, I think, with "Starman" and continued through with "JSA", in that three new concepts took hold at DC:

- Legacies are a good thing.

- Old school superheroing standards are ultimately cooler than Dark Age edginess or Marvel-style moaning.

- Breathing new life into existing characters is better than trashing and replacing them.

I think even Marvel has come to realize this; hasn't "Secret Invasion" turned into a vehicle to undo needless character deaths by the score? And aren't they inadvertently building a Hawkeye family, a Cap family, and so forth?

So what we have is an era where they've taken the original gem of an idea and are letting it grow, its intrinsic properties driving its overall shape. Hence I propose: the Crystal Age.

Devon Sanders said...


The Crystal Age.

I really think you may be on to something. Starman was the book that entirely made me a comics fan again and it was for the very reasons you mentioned. With its emphasis on the city as "character" and superhero legacy, for me, Starman changed comics from mere hobby into almost a devotion.

Since then, the comics companies have been using the idea of legacies and families to keep their books fresh.

One need look no further than JSA and Captain America for great examples of this line of thought.

Thanks for sharing that. It really got me thinking.

Siskoid said...

Yeah KB, same here. Great thought!

Graig said...

patrick c said it right... the "modern age" is always the current age. I don't have any hard definitions but I always think of the 1990s as the "Chromium Age" where gimmicks triumphed over story. It was a short age, beginning with X-Men #1/Wizard #1 and ending with Marvel's bankruptcy (or whenever Quesada and Jemas took over and started focussing on story over what's "hot").

I think the modern age we're in should be named something like "the Commercial Age" where so much of what's published isn't about telling a good story but about selling a good story (not just to comic book readers, but to production companies, television networks, bookstores, toy companies, video game companies, etc.). Also fitting into the Commercial Age is the over-reliance on crossovers by the big publishers to drive sales. Think about the glut of toys hitting the shelves in the past decade (on even the obscurest of characters), the Animation ventures both DC and Marvel have undertaken, the huge success of Marvel films, and the snapping up of rights to comics beyond superhero books, like Whiteout or 30 Days of Night or Road To Perdition... Ghost World, American Splendor etc.

Even look at the bulk of the writers working on comics these days. They're novelists, tv writers or screenwriters more than they are solely comic writers.

I wonder if comics will ever return to focussing on their core business instead of being a format to woo licensers.