I’ve been talking about the ages of comics for the past three columns (if you think I’m being long-winded, you should see all of the stuff I left out). Either way, I appreciate your perusal and participation. So far, I’ve speculated as to whether or not Brightest Day and Heroic Age will launch a new age, sided with the broad consensus that there is such a beast as a Bronze Age, and struck out on my own to propose a Fourth Age from 1987-1996. That leaves the issue of what do we do with the last dozen years or so. Is it another age?


If you’ve been reading along, then you already know that my answer is “Yes.” However, I’ll readily admit that this is my own opinion rather than a widely-accepted theory. There are two major arguments against this being a fifth age. The first is “everything since ****is just one big age.” There is some validity to that argument. Indeed, every new age has had to overcome that perception.


Jeff-of-Earth-J had a great quote in response to the first column: "Modern Age" is a term I use for whatever the current age which has not yet been defined. For example, I used to say "Golden Silver and Modern," but now I say "Golden, Silver, Bronze and Modern."


This shows that, despite initial resistance, the idea of a defined age of comics can gain acceptance.

The argument would have been at one time, “everything since 1970 (the end of the Silver Age) is just one big age.” Now, it’s more likely to be “everything since 1986 (the end of the Bronze Age) is just one big age.”



However, I argued that the years 1987 to 1996 have all of the features and characteristics of an age, with one notable exception- a widely agreed-upon name. However, if we were to insert one of the suggested names, we would have Golden, Silver, Bronze, Iron and everything after. In other words, “everything since 1996 (the end of the Iron Age) is one age.”


I’m glad to say that I’m not the only one who has considered this. In 1997 and ’98, Wildstorm Studios produced a crossover between the X-Men and their own Wildcats. The story would span several eras of time, reflecting the different ages of comics. The four issues were the Golden Age, the Silver Age, the Dark Age

(one of the other suggested names for the Fourth Age) and the Modern Age.


The second major argument against this being a fifth age has to do with sales. Figserello wrote, “Sales follow
successful new storytelling fashions, so the two are interlinked.” Indeed, the earlier ages are defined not only by peaks in creative output, but also by spikes in sales.

That causes a problem for the current age. After all, current comic book sales pale in comparison with earlier ages. The best-selling comics of today would be mid-level performers in the ’80s or in danger of cancellation in the ‘60s.




However, I don’t think that necessarily precludes the possibility of a fifth age. For one thing, an age is not necessarily a direct comparison between peaks. By that
definition, the Silver Age wouldn’t count as an Age either. After all, the sales of the Silver Age were one-fifth of the sales of the Golden Age. Similarly, the Bronze Age peak may not have been as high as the peak of the Silver Age but it was still a peak compared to the years that had come between.



On the other hand, the last fifteen years have given us a valley and a peak that help shape the ages of comics. The years of 1997-99 had the lowest comic book sales in history. They’re so low that I wouldn’t even include them in an age. They’re kind of like the years between the Golden and Silver Ages (which saw great sales in other genres but the near-extinction of superheroes) and the years between the Silver and Bronze Ages (according to some definitions). In contrast, the years 2000-2007 saw seven straight years of growth. That’s something that hadn’t happened since the Golden Age (the Silver Age’s best stretch was 4 years).



Another issue is that sales contrasts across eras are not apple-to-apple comparisons. Silver Age numbers are based on the number of issues printed for returnable newsstand distribution and could be double the number of issues actually sold. Current numbers are based on issues sold to the direct market- while ignoring subscriptions, newsstand distribution and international sales- and could be half of the actual number of issues sold. I’m not saying that current comics sell as well as Silver Age comics. They don’t. But the gap isn’t as great as some observers would have you believe. Plus, modern comics are also sold in trade paperbacks, a secondary market that extends shelf-life and raises readership.


The current age may not be as commercially successful as the Silver Age, but that doesn’t have to mean it’s not an age at all.

I think it is. I think the sales are part of the story (including the seven straight years of growth that I mentioned previously). I think the expansion of the market is part of the story. Comics have expanded into new genres, new formats and new territories. The last decade has seen the explosion of manga, trade paperbacks and bookstore sections devoted to comics. You can even buy comics in airport terminals.


Of course, it’s not only about sales. It’s also about style.

Luke Blanchard asked (yes, I’m quoting Luke again; sorry, Luke), “Is there the same kind of contrast between superhero comics of today and of fifteen years ago as there was between the superhero comics of the mid-70s and those of the early
60s
?”


I think so. Modern comics have very different features than Iron Age comics. Comics of the early ‘90s were often fast-paced, action-packed affairs. An actual story sometimes took back-seat to a sequence of fight scenes. Comics of the mid-aughts were slow-paced. They were deconstructed and fans would sometimes wait four to six issues for a big fight.


Compare Jim Lee’s first issue of Wildcats in 1992 with Joe Casey’s first issue of Wildcats 3.0 in 2002.
Compare the “Reign of the Supermen” in 1993 with “World without a Superman” this past year. Compare Joe Madureira’s X-Men in 1994 to Grant Morrison’s New X-Men in 2004. They’re completely different animals.


And I’m not the only one who’s noticed. John Dunbar made a good point when he discussed the history of Marvel comics in terms of its chief editors. The comic books from the Joe Quesada era are as different from the Tom DeFalco era as the Jim Shooter era is from the Stan Lee era.


So yeah, I think we’re in the fifth age of comics. Call them what you like: Chromium and Platinum (I haven’t given up on them yet), Dark and Prismatic (with a tip of the cap to Figserello), Iron and Modern. But I think that they’re two very distinct and different ages, rather than one big “everything after.”



And, yeah, I’m worried that we’re actually at the end of the fifth age of comics. After the highs of 2007 (the best-selling year since the pre-crash days of ’95), we’ve seen two years of slight decline. The industry isn’t back to the lows of 1997-’99. At least, not yet.




Which brings me back to the subject that started this all. I sincerely hope that DC’s Brightest Day and Marvel’s Heroic Age can reverse the trend. I hope that new technology like Apple’s iPad can be a jump-start for the industry the way that the direct market was at the beginning of the Bronze Age. I think things have
been pretty good for the past decade. And I’d like to see it keep going.


Thanks for listening, everyone. The End.

Views: 65

Comment by Jeff of Earth-J on March 19, 2010 at 11:07am
As common wisdom would have it, “The Golden Age is 12” (meaning 12 years old), but I’ve never entirely bought into that belief. I’d be much more likely to agree that “Everything since 19-- is just one big age.” I was twelve years old in 1976. A ten-year old comic from the ‘60s seemed far, far older to me then than a 20 year old comic from the ‘80s (or even a 30 year old comic from the ‘70s) seems to me today. In fact, I have a hard time accepting any comic book released after I began reading them to be in any way “old”. In that sense, I would classify everything since… oh, let’s say 1980… as the “Me Age” of comics.

I virtually dropped comics throughout three years junior high school, collecting only three titles via subscription. The very those subscriptions ran out is also the same year I got a driver’s license and began driving to the comics shops. Different titles entered the “Me Age” at different times, but they were all around the same time. Some titles have a more obvious entry point than others and represent a sea change in comparison to what had come before.

John Byrne’s Fantastic Four
Walter Simonson’s Thor
Frank Miller’s Daredevil
Alan Moore’s Swamp Thing

Using Fantastic Four as an example, until John Byrne’s tenure on the title, Lee & Kirby’s run had been the yardstick by which all subsequent stories were measured, but after Byrne’s stint, his work became the new high water mark. (Some might argue Mark Waid set another such standard, but I think it’s still too soon to tell.) Not coincidently, what I see as comics’ “Modern Age” coincides almost exactly with the “Me Age”.
Comment by Chris Fluit on March 25, 2010 at 3:25pm
Well, it looks like I stretched this topic out one week too long.

Thanks for being the only one to comment so far, Jeff.

A ten-year old comic from the ‘60s seemed far, far older to me then than a 20 year old comic from the ‘80s (or even a 30 year old comic from the ‘70s) seems to me today. In fact, I have a hard time accepting any comic book released after I began reading them to be in any way “old”

That's a great observation, Jeff. I've certainly noticed the same thing. I read my first X-Men comics in 1986 (at that golden age of 12) and their Silver Age adventures seemed absolutely ancient. But now, we're just as far away from those 1986 stories. Further, actually (23 years from '63 to '86, 24 from '86 to now). Except those 1986 stories still feel like they came out yesterday to me, while those '60s stories still feel ancient.

In that sense, I would classify everything since… oh, let’s say 1980… as the “Me Age” of comics.

Another good observation. I think it's easier to classify the things that came before us than it is to classify the things we were a part of. We're more likely to notice little discrepancies or focus on personal hobbyhorses than we are to see the big picture. As a correlation, I think it's even harder to classify things that happened after one stops paying attention.

Different titles entered the “Me Age” at different times, but they were all around the same time.

I'm going to agree with you again, Jeff (isn't that mean of me?).

One of the things that gets people hung up about discussing ages is the idea that everything changes at once. It doesn't. But then again, it never did. That's one thing that I appreciate about DC's Showcase series. They supposedly start with the issue at which each character entered the Silver Age (according to Mr. Silver Age and Captain Comics at least). However, they don't all start from the exact same month in the exact same year. Flash entered the Silver Age in '56, Superman in '58, Wonder Woman in '59, and so on. Even Green Arrow and Aquaman entered the Silver Age in different years ('58 and '59) despite co-starring in the same title.

It confuses me that so many people allow for such variation in the start of the Silver Age, but not in the start of the Bronze Age or the Iron Age. It seems like it should be okay to say "the Iron Age started in 1986" but that Wonder Woman, the Flash and the Justice League didn't enter the Iron Age until 1987 (when they relaunched with new titles).

Some titles have a more obvious entry point than others and represent a sea change in comparison to what had come before.

John Byrne’s Fantastic Four
Walter Simonson’s Thor
Frank Miller’s Daredevil
Alan Moore’s Swamp Thing


That's a pretty good list of Bronze Age comics. As I've said before, it may not be called that but Marvel's Visionaries series of trades is a pretty good representation of their Bronze Age classics. In addition to the three you mention (Byrne, Simonson, Miller), there's also Roger Stern's Spider-Man (which, unfortunately, only had the one volume published) and George Perez's Avengers. Their Legends line of trade paperbacks is also a pretty good representation of the Iron Age (Marc Silvestri's Wolverine, Jim Lee's X-Men, Todd McFarlane's Spider-Man, Ann Nocenti's Daredevil). It's not an exact system (the Bronze Age Korvac Saga is a Legends book, for example) but it's a pretty good showing.
Comment by Chris Fluit on March 25, 2010 at 3:41pm
Picking up on some of the comments from the previous thread pertaining to the current age:

the original b dog wrote:
A thought: You could tie in with the current age with the rise of successful superhero movies, perhaps even with the first X-Men

I agree. The rise of superhero movies is a significant part of the current age. That's been true before. The Batman TV show had a significant effect on the latter Silver Age in terms of sales and style. And the Tim Burton Batman movie was one of the heralds of the fourth age. But, definitely, the successful movie franchises of the past decade have been a dominant part of comic books. They've impacted the ways in which comics have been written (Mark Millar's concept of widescreen comics) and marketed (bookstore friendly trade paperbacks).

I think that movie led Marvel, under Quesada, to clean up the X-Men line -- even though there have been several different attempts at that. JMS coming to Spider-Man more or less coincided with that movie. Waid was brought onto Fantastic Four in anticipation of that movie. And lately the focus has been on the Avengers franchise, with those movies under way.

I must be in a good mood because it seems like I'm agreeing with everybody. I think you're right, b dog, about these various runs being the start of the Modern Age for each of these titles: especially JMS on Amazing Spider-Man in June 2001 and Grant Morrison on New X-Men in July 2001. I also think you're right about Waid and Wieringo taking on October 2002 (and Bendis taking over Avengers in 2004) but I can see how some people would think it's easier to point to the third volumes that launched in '97 and '98 as part of Heroes Return.

Another factor in the current age, as George mentioned, is the editorially driven, major-league crossovers, books such as Final Crisis, 52, Secret Invasion, Civil War and so on. The writers on the books seems to hold more sway now, whereas in the '90s, the Image effect asserted that it was style over content. But at the same time, computerized coloring has matured and really helped advance the look of comic books, usually for the better.

I agree, those are major features of the current age. The editorially-mandated crossover and the sense that the entire line was part of one big story is an obvious one. The computerized coloring isn't as overt, but it's still a big difference in the look between this age and all of the ones that came before. It certainly allowed for different artistic techniques such as the painted colors on Conan and 1602.
Comment by Chris Fluit on March 25, 2010 at 3:44pm
figserello wrote:
I argued in Alan M's thread that the movies in turn were very influenced by the Ultimate line of comics.

If I had to pick one book as the start of the Modern Age, I would go with Ultimate Spider-Man #1 (even though I didn't really enjoy myself and decided against following the series). It heralded Quesada's approach of enticing newer, younger readers (often at the expense of older readers). It's success led Marvel to try for more drastic changes in their Marvel U titles (such as the previously mentioned JMS Spider-Man and Morrison X-Men).
Comment by Chris Fluit on March 25, 2010 at 3:52pm
figserello wrote:
There was definitely a strong sea-change in content and the fashions comics were following that became mainstream around 96-97, even if that wasn't reflected in overall sales. The deliberate movement to stop the bleeding of fans and the harm done in the previous 10 years is obvious. Even if they didn't bring more fans into the medium (although they did), they did bring writer-driven quality into previously marketing-department driven comics production. It's a highly significant sea-change in how comics were breing produced.

I agree. There was a sharp shift in comics in '97 and '98. It's especially apparent in Heroes Reborn and Heroes Return. The Image-style artist-driven Heroes Reborn books were not nearly as well-received as the Heroes Return titles. However, they may have slowed the slide- and even plateaued it- but they didn't reverse it. I think it was a significant move. I've even coined my own term for it (Reconstruction). I'd love to be able to say those were the comics that set the industry back on an upward path. But the numbers point to 2000 and 2001, and other overt attempts to reach out to new readers such as Ultimate Spider-Man, JMS and New X-Men.

Even so, this is an area where I'm willing to agree to disagree. There is reasonable debate about the start of the Bronze Age ('70 or '75, and I flip flop from one side to the other on that one). And I think there's reasonable debate about the start of the current age- Heroes Return in '97 or the new reader outreach in 2000.
Comment by George on March 25, 2010 at 4:23pm
I suggested "Crossover Age" as a name for the modern era, not because of titles like 52, Secret Invasion, etc., but because of the way comics culture has "crossed over" into mainstream culture. With the popularity of movies, TV shows and video games based on comics properties, and the San Diego Comic Con becoming the hippest pop culture gathering on earth, there is no longer anything "fringe" about our little hobby. Now almost everyone wants to be a geek!

"... those '60s stories still feel ancient."

Maybe every generation goes through something like this. Golden Age stories seemed ancient to me when I first encountered them as a kid in the late '60s (through reprints in Fantasy Masterpieces and Marvel Super-Heroes, plus occasional reprints in DC titles). A lot of the superhero stuff from the '40s still seems primitive, particularly the VERY crude efforts of the Timely group. But there are G.A. comics worth reading as an adult. Anything by Eisner, Jack Cole, Lou Fine, Reed Crandall and a few others is worth seeking out.

And don't limit yourself to comic books. Milton Caniff's "Terry and the Pirates" and "Steve Canyon," Alex Raymond's "Flash Gordon" and "Rip Kirby," Gould's "Dick Tracy," Roy Crane's "Buz Sawyer," and a host of other newspaper strips from the '30s, '40s and '50s put the average modern comic book to shame. Immerse yourself in those, and comics from the past might not seem so ancient.
Comment by George on March 25, 2010 at 4:48pm
One thing I like about Silver Age comics is that every artist had a distinctive style. You had but to glance at a page to know whether it was drawn by Kirby, Colan, Romita, Kubert, Kane, Infantino or whoever. The hot young artists of the early '70s (Windsor-Smith, Adams, Ploog, Wrightson, etc.) also had very personal styles. I guess this started to change in the mid-1970s, when Sal Buscema and Jim Mooney established a generic Marvel house style.

But now almost all the art in mainstream superhero comics looks alike, regardless of the publisher. I assume all the young artists study the same how-to-draw-comics guidebooks, because they all draw in the same generic style. It's a style lifted in equal measures from manga, video game graphics, and what one how-to-draw book described as a "retro cartoon style" (think Space Ghost).

I read about one comics studio in Portland, Oregon, where the artists work uncredited on each other's books. Nobody can tell the difference, because they all draw alike. Whereas in the '70s, when a Neal Adams page was dropped into a John Buscema story, it was as noticeable as a nuclear explosion.

I suppose we're seeing a return to the "shop" method of the '30s and '40s, where comic books were produced on an assembly line basis by anonymous artists.
Comment by Chris Fluit on March 25, 2010 at 5:05pm
And don't limit yourself to comic books. Milton Caniff's "Terry and the Pirates" and "Steve Canyon," Alex Raymond's "Flash Gordon" and "Rip Kirby," Gould's "Dick Tracy," Roy Crane's "Buz Sawyer," and a host of other newspaper strips from the '30s, '40s and '50s put the average modern comic book to shame. Immerse yourself in those, and comics from the past might not seem so ancient.

I'll go you one further: Winsor McCay's Little Nemo in Slumberland. It may be 100 years old but it's still way ahead of most other work.
Comment by Chris Fluit on March 25, 2010 at 5:06pm
One thing I like about Silver Age comics is that every artist had a distinctive style. You had but to glance at a page to know whether it was drawn by Kirby, Colan, Romita, Kubert, Kane, Infantino or whoever. The hot young artists of the early '70s (Windsor-Smith, Adams, Ploog, Wrightson, etc.) also had very personal styles.

I don't know if that's true. There were a lot of artists doing second-rate Kirby (Don Heck, Werner Roth) or second-rate Swan.
Comment by George on March 25, 2010 at 6:24pm
You're right about Little Nemo. A surreal masterpiece.

Ditto for George Herriman's Krazy Kat. It ended in 1944, but it's still ahead of most work produced since then.

"Second-rate Kirby": I don't see much KIrby influence on Heck or Roth. I would describe Heck's work as second-rate Caniff. But some of those early Iron Man stories are lively and fun. Heck wasn't yet the drudge he became in the '70s.

I don't know who Roth was imitating, but I assume he had a background in romance comics. The most impressive panels in his X-Men were the close-ups of Jean Grey. He seemed to lavish attention on those, while hacking through the rest of the story.

Comment

You need to be a member of Captain Comics to add comments!

Join Captain Comics

Welcome!

No flame wars. No trolls. But a lot of really smart people.The Captain Comics Round Table tries to be the friendliest and most accurate comics website on the Internet.

SOME ESSENTIALS:

RULES OF THE ROUND TABLE

MODERATORS

SMILIES FOLDER

TIPS ON USING THE BOARD

FOLLOW US:

OUR COLUMNISTS:

Groups

© 2018   Captain Comics, board content ©2013 Andrew Smith   Powered by

Badges  |  Report an Issue  |  Terms of Service