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The Start of the Silver Age at Marvel and DC

The Silver Age is often thought of as a superhero boom that started with the first appearance of the Flash in Showcase #4 (1956). But many of the earlier features of DC's Silver Age, such as "Challengers of the Unknown" and "Adam Strange", weren't superhero ones.

The Flash was preceded by the Martian Manhunter (1955) and narrowly preceded by Batwoman (1956), but his debut seems more significant as he was a lead rather than a back-up or guest character, his debut was followed by a series of Showcase features that went on to get titles or regular slots, and his success led to further superhero revivals - but not until after he got his own title at the end of 1958.

The Super-books shifted to a lore-heavy approach from 1958 (when red kryptonite, Kandor, Brainiac, Bizarros, and the Fortress of Solitude were introduced). From 1959 DC also started to introduce features into genre titles that hadn't been carrying them, such as war and SF comics.

Marvel's first superhero success of the Silver Age was Fantastic Four (1961), and its success led the company to introduce further superheroes the next year. So some regard Fantastic Four #1 as the start of Marvel's Silver Age. 

But even Marvel's Silver Age wasn't all about superheroes: it also published Westerns and war comics, for example. So I think it's better regarded as having begun earlier.

One might date it from the contraction of the line in 1957. At the start of the year Marvel was one of the larger companies. But when American News Company shut down Martin Goodman turned to DC's Independent News, and it capped the size of its line for many years.

One might also date it from Kirby's return to Marvel. He did some work for Marvel in 1956/57, but his Silver Age time at Marvel really began in late 1958/1959, after he fell out with DC's Jack Schiff. He quickly became Marvel's top artist.

Marvel stepped up its output of SF/horror comics in 1958. The monster comic approach took over this part of Marvel's line in the course of 1959.

The Silver Age Rawhide Kid debuted in 1960. He's arguably Marvel's first Silver Age character. The short-lived Dr Droom debuted before the FF in 1961.

Another point to note is the launch of Sputnik in 1957. This started the space race, and stimulated the use of SF in comics.

The Bronze Age at Marvel and DC

By 1971 both Marvel's and DC's lines had changed considerably. The transition was partly a generational change of creators. The new creators entering the industry were commonly former fans.

A trigger of the shift at DC was Carmine Infantino's becoming editorial director in 1967. Over the next few years DC was shaken up a lot. New editors were hired. Many titles were dropped, including several superheroes'. The look of DC's titles changed.

Infantino apparently preferred to try things other than superheroes, such as Westerns. DC started a horror line. Political content was introduced into some titles, most famously Green Lantern when Green Arrow became GL's co-star in 1970. Jack Kirby returned to the company in 1970, and Mort Weisinger departed at about the same time.

At Marvel the causes of the transition included Stan Lee's gradual handover of features to new writers, the arrival of new creators, the expansion of Marvel's line, and Jack Kirby's departure for DC. Roy Thomas replaced Lee as Marvel's editor in 1972.

Another factor was the revision of the Comics Code in 1971. Under the new Code horror elements such as vampires and werewolves could be used. Marvel had tried horror anthology titles in 1969-70, but apparently they were unsuccessful. The revision of the Code unleashed a wave of Marvel horror features.

Some fans identify the Bronze Age principally with the 1970s. Others understand it as continuing into the 1980s. On the latter understanding the end of the period is marked by Crisis on Infinite Earths at DC and Jim Shooter's firing as Marvel's editor in chief in 1987. Coming into the 1990s a speculator bubble developed that encouraged "extreme" content.

Beginning and end dates will be forever debated, to me the prime Silver Age years were 1958 to 1964.  The Flash becoming the first costumed hero in years to receive his own solo title in '58 up through Daredevil debuting in his title in '64. There was tremendous creativity at both companies during that period. In the years that followed both DC and Marvel held their ground so to speak. Marvel being constrained by their distribution deal and DC willing to work with their existing stable of heroes.

Your overview is very well done. It should be understandable to the uninitiated.

Thanks for the kind words. The third part is too vague, I think. I'll rewrite it if I get some ideas about what to add.

DC started dropping features from the early Silver Age in the mid-60s, before Carmine Infantino became editorial director ("Adam Strange", "Space Ranger", Rip Hunter, Sea Devils). By the early 70s quite a number of them had lost their features, but the superheroes were kept around as members of the JLA and in back-up features. The only Showcase alumnus who made it through the 1970s without losing his title for at least a period was the Flash.

In mid-1972 Flash dropped to bi-monthly frequency from 8 times a year (nine if we count giants).  That didn’t end until mid-1975, so I would guess it was in a little bit of danger at the tail end of the Silver Age.

Luke Blanchard said:

Thanks for the kind words. The third part is too vague, I think. I'll rewrite it if I get some ideas about what to add.

DC started dropping features from the early Silver Age in the mid-60s, before Carmine Infantino became editorial director ("Adam Strange", "Space Ranger", Rip Hunter, Sea Devils). By the early 70s quite a number of them had lost their features, but the superheroes were kept around as members of the JLA and in back-up features. The only Showcase alumnus who made it through the 1970s without losing his title for at least a period was the Flash.

I did not know that. Justice League of America went bimonthly for awhile too.

My pedantry forces me to add two footnotes to my generalisation about Showcase alumni: Lois Lane lost her title, but her feature continued in The Superman Family; Sgt. Rock was featured in Showcase #45.

It's interesting: the Unknown Soldier, Sgt. Rock, Jonah Hex, and the Haunted Tank did make it through the decade. Not the Losers, though.

Q.If the different versions of Iron Man all had a race, which would win?

A.The Iron Man of the mid-70s. By a nose.


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Luke Blanchard said:

Q.If the different versions of Iron Man all had a race, which would win?

A.The Iron Man of the mid-70s. By a nose.

That's hilarious! I do want to use it....but no-one I know 'in real life ' would get it!!!!

Luke Blanchard said:

Q.If the different versions of Iron Man all had a race, which would win?

A.The Iron Man of the mid-70s. By a nose.

It's a variation on a joke from the Tom Slick cartoon; the pilot episode, it turns out. I hadn't seen that cartoon for forty years but it stuck with me.

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