Marvel-ous! Issue #14: Comic Book Ages Explained!
Comic books have been around for almost 80 years, and have been steadily growing since then. With this in mind, comics have greatly evolved since the 1930s, prompting fans to catagorize periods of time as "ages" of comics. However, these ages are hotly contested, with some fans citing different events and dates as the book ends of ages. When we look at the current age of comics, some fans have even tried to establish new ages that are only recognized by some fans.
In this issue, I will attempt to sort through the mud of opinions and dates to give us a general timeline for the Ages of Comics.
Golden Age (1938-1950)
In June 1938, Detective Comics published Action Comics #1. This was monumental because it contained the first appearence of Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster's Superman. Superman would grow to be the biggest superhero, and thus comic, in the world. The release of this comic is typically used as the benchmark for the beginning of the Golden Age. While there were comics before this, they were unsuccessful and unpopular in comparisson, typically just compiling already published newspaper comic strips. During the Golden Age, heroes such as Superman, Captain Marvel (now known as Shazam), Batman, Captain America, Sub-Mariner, the Flash, Aquaman, and the Green Lantern were introduced. Comics would regularily sell over 1 million copies, which dwarfs the sales number of today by a great margin. This age carried through World War II, seeing many characters and heroes going overseas to combat the Axis powers.
Unfortunately, these times would not last. Following the war, superheroes had trouble adjusting to coming home. After fighting the Nazis, stopping street level criminals didn't hold the same weight as before, and people lost interest. This slow decline is the process that is most consistantly used to mark the end of the Golden Age.
In the time between the Gold and Silver Age, the Comics Code Authority had been created in response to the growing concern of relation between comics books and juvenile deliquency.
Silver Age (1956-~1973)
The Silver Age of Comics is characterized by an insurgence of great art and writing in the superhero genre of comics. Typically cited as beginning with the redesign of The Flash in DC Comics' Showcase #4, the age would see the likes of Stan Lee, Steve Ditko, John Buscema, and John Romita Sr. become big names in comics, bringing new sucess to the industry, as well as introducing names such as Neil Adams, Denny O'Neil, Roy Thomas, and Jim Steranko. DC Comics would see the Flash, Hawkman, and Green Lantern reworked to their modern versions, as well as the introduction of new heroes such as Martian Manhunter. Marvel Comics introduced the Fantastic Four, Spider-man, the X-Men, and the Hulk among others, with the majority of their creations becoming staples of the industry to this day. A major difference between this age and the last is the emergence of science as the main cause of superpowers, whereas before, most relied on magic of some kind. There is a saying that in the Silver Age, "if you needed a hero, you needed radiation."
The end of this age is difficult to narrow down, with several events seeming to bring it to a close. Some cite a notable change in attitude in the Green Lantern, a character that previously very optimistic. Others say that the end came with Jack Kirby leaving Marvel Comics, and Mort Weisinger's retirement from DC Comics in 1970 as the end of the age. It seems as though there were several events leading to the end, coming to a head with the death of Spider-Man's longtime love interest, Gwen Stacy, in 1973. For this issue, that is where I will draw the line for the age.
Bronze Age (~1973-~1985)
The Bronze Age of Comics saw the shift to slightly dark and gritty themes in comics, often relating to drugs, alcohol, and violence. This shift is the gradual beginning to the Bronze Age, which matches the drawn out ending of the Silver Age. For those who want a concrete start point, some cite the addition of Green Arrow to the Green Lantern title for DC Comics, while others refer to the "nerfing" of Superman's then-infinite powers, making him more manageable. Another shift at the beginning of the Bronze Age, is the migration of comic books from newsstands to the specialty comic book shops that we know today. This age would also see the departure of many veteran creators from the industry. The major developments in this age include Marvel's dismissal of the CCA, the massive success of the X-Men, and the introduction of graphic novels.
The end of this age is just as complicated as the beginning. Comics shifted even further into darker themes and events. The most common date applied to the end of the Bronze Age in 1985, which corresponds with the release of Watchmen by Alan Moore and Dave Gibbons, as well as Dark Knight Returns by Frank Miller. Another method used for marking the end of the Age is the simultaneous Secret Wars from Marvel and Crisis on Infinite Earths from DC, which were major crossover events that set up huge events in their respective universes.
Modern Age (1985-???)
The Modern Age is also referred to as the "Dark Age of Comics." This is the most contested age of comics in regards to a timeline. Starting almost immediately following the end of the Bronze Age, the Modern Age is characterized by the rise of independent publishers such as Pacific, Eclipse, Image, and First, as well as the return of fantasy and horror comics. Another component of this time is the rise of anti-heroes in popularity. Major storylines of this era were dark and tried to be shocking, incuding the death of Superman, the breaking of Batman's back, and Archangel as a member of the Four Horseman. This saw the marketing of comics as collectors items, which lead to a short term of huge sales, and a the subsequent crash of the comic industry in the late 90s.
This crash has been proposed as the end of the Modern Age, although many say that this age has not ended. Personally, I tend to believe that this age ended with Marvel declaring bankruptcy in 1997.
Because of this, debated end of the Modern Age, there is some contention to what age we are currently in. While many hold onto the Modern Age, there is another push to call this the Post-Modern Age. This proposed age starts with the boom of comic book movies such as Spider-Man, X-Men, and Blade in the late 1990s and 2000s, as well as the revival of Marvel Comics with the emergence of their Ultimate universe. I tend to agree with this view, although I like the term "Ultimate Age" myself.
What do you think? What age are we in right now? What is your favorite age of comics? Let me know in the comments!
As always, you can look back at my old blog entries for more information. Check out my "History of Marvel Comics" post for information on what Marvel was doing during each of these ages.
Thanks for reading!