Green_lantern_76 For the past two weeks, I’ve written articles about the various ages of comics. It’s an admittedly academic topic, but one which fascinates me (and interests quite a few readers, judging by the number of comments generated by the past two columns). The first column speculated as to whether or not DC’s Brightest Day and Marvel’s Heroic Age are the start of a new age (probably not, but I hope they at least lead to a resurgence in the current age which is beginning to stall). The second column defended the existence of a Bronze Age, a term used to describe the third comic book boom.

In discussing the existence of a Bronze Age, I neglected to define it. Happily, the Legion of Superfluous Heroes (otherwise known as the members of the Captain Comics Message Board) took up the task. The discussion centered on two main theories. The first is that the Bronze Age lasted from 1970-1986, starting with
Green Lantern/Green Arrow #76 (sometimes in conjunction with other key issues
of ’70-’71). The second theory is that the Bronze Age lasted from 1975-1986, starting with the introduction of the all-new X-Men in Giant-Size X-Men #4 (with 1970-1974 serving as either a period between ages or a proto-Bronze Age). Both theories shared a common end-date of 1986- the year that the Watchmen, Dark Knight Returns, Crisis on Infinite Earths and Secret Wars II brought significant changes in both tone and continuity. Those weren’t the only theories- there are still those who reject the concept of a Bronze Age and others who offer a different end-point- but they seem to be the main ones.

This week, I want to move beyond that part of the discussion. What comes after the Bronze

Wa One major view is that nothing comes after the Bronze Age. Luke Blanchard wrote, “The last twenty years seem to me one long period.” Jeff-of-Earth J described the ages of comics as “Golden, Silver, Bronze and something else.” Wikipedia- a reflection of popular consensus-agrees. It follows entries for Golden, Silver and Bronze Ages with one for a Modern Age, encompassing everything from 1987 until now.

I’m on record with another view. I admit that I’m probably departing from the majority on this one. But I think that the past twenty-five years contains at least two distinct ages, bringing us to a total of five.

I see several different factors contributing to the beginning of the Fourth Age (which, for now, will remain nameless).

One is the change in tone initiated by Alan Moore’s Watchmen and Frank Miller’s Dark Knight Returns. Those two stories led comics to a different approach that was clearly distinct from the comics that came before. Story-telling was darker and more mature, which is why one of the most popular names for this period is the Dark Age (a quick aside: those two features are not always the same thing though they’re often treated that way). Those two works paved the way for other successful properties such as Neil Gaiman’s Sandman and DC’s Vertigo imprint. Byrne

Luke Blanchard is right when he writes, “I don't know that the post-Crisis DCU immediately got darker.” It didn’t.But the Silver Age didn’t happen over-night either. The new Flash debuted in 1956. Superman and Wonder Woman didn’t enter the Silver Age until 1958. Green Arrow and Aquaman entered the Silver Age in different years despite co-starring in the same title. Some people even argue that Batman didn’t enter the Silver Age until his “New Look” in 1964.

Another factor giving rise to the Fourth Age is the change in continuity. This was especially apparent at DC. Fans even developed a new lexicon of “pre-Crisis” and “post-Crisis” to refer to the many changes wrought by that series. This became particularly evident to me when I recently read the trade collection of Superman: Man of Steel. The changes to the character, the cast and the universe were far-reaching. The changes were so significant that the editorial and accounting departments actually credited the writers with creating new characters (Marv Wolfman mentioned in a preface that he receives royalty checks for creating a new version of Lex Luthor). In its way, the introduction of a new Superman in Man of Steel is as significant as the introduction of a new Flash in Showcase #4. This time, the new Superman was followed by a new Wonder Woman, a new Justice League and a new Flash. In a couple of years, Marvel followed with new titles for Spider-Man and X-Men.

That leads us to several more factors. The previous ages were all defined, in part, by an expansion of new characters, new titles and new companies accompanied by
a noticeable increase in sales. Well, that is certainly true of the Fourth Age. The Fourth Age brought Dark Horse (1986), Malibu (1987), Valiant (1991), Image (1992),Topps (1992) and Malibu’s Ultraverse (1993). Marvel and DC also expanded rapidly. The result is that the early 1990s saw more new companies and more new characters than any era since the Golden Age. Did all of these characters and companies succeed? No. But that was also true of the Golden Age. Most of those characters were canceled quickly as well. On the other hand, many characters from this period achieved popularity, longevity or jumped to other media (a category that includes Cable, Deadpool, Spawn, Hellboy,Witchblade, Static and Hitman).

The early ‘90s can also boast of publishing the most titles since the pre-Comic Book Code 1950s and achieving the highest individual sales since WWII. Yes, you read that right. The early ‘90s beat the Silver Age on several (though not all) peak markers. I know that many older fans don’t want to give this era the status of an official age, but objectively, it stands out as much as the Silver Age did.

Of course, all of this could be true and we’d still be dealing with only one post-Bronze Age era if not for another factor. There is a very clear end-point. In the first article, I mentioned that previous ages were characterized- not by the cancellation of one title such as Captain Marvel or X-Men- but by the cancellation of many titles and even the cessation of multiple publishers. This was true of the Golden Age. This was true of the Silver Age. This was partially true of the Bronze Age. And this was dramatically true of the Fourth Age. Static01

The comic book market, propped up by speculator and investment buyers, collapsed in 1996 and 1997. Almost all of the aforementioned companies went out of business or were sold. Even Marvel, the biggest publisher in the industry, declared bankruptcy. And both Marvel and DC slashed their titles until they were publishing between one-third and one-half of their peak numbers. The shock to the industry was so significant that George cites it as the end of the Bronze Age (which didn’t have the cataclysmic ending of earlier ages). And even Luke Blanchard seems to agree with me (phew! I didn’t want to disagree with Luke on everything) when he writes, “I suppose the speculator boom was a distinct period, since it brought with it new companies and characters which were wiped out when the boom collapsed.”

That’s a beginning, a middle and an end. That looks like an Age to me- the Fourth Age of comics.

Views: 284

Comment by Jeff of Earth-J on March 15, 2010 at 9:01pm
I don't expect everyone to agree with me (heck, I don't necessarily expect anyone to agree with me), but as far as I am concerned, we are now in a "New Golden Age" or a "second Golden Age" or a "Golden Age of Reprints" (whichever you want to call it). Marvel led the way in 1987 with Marvel Masterworks Vol. 1: Spider-Man, and DC followed in 1989 with with Superman Archives Vol. 1. Think about it: not only have both series thrived, but they paved the way for multiple new publishers to reprint the works of multiple defunct publishers to the point at which there are very few series of any significance at all that have not been reprinted.

If that doesn't constitute an "Age" then I don't know what does!
Comment by Chris Fluit on March 16, 2010 at 6:59pm
Jeff of Earth-J wrote:
I don't expect everyone to agree with me

I don't expect everyone to agree with me, either. I will vigorously defend my opinion, though.

as far as I am concerned, we are now in a "New Golden Age" or a "second Golden Age" or a "Golden Age of Reprints" (whichever you want to call it).

That's one of the reasons why I suggested "Platinum Age" for the current age. It's not just your enthusiasm, but Cap's as well. There's a lot of great things going on, some of which I'll get into in the next column (hint, hint).

Of course, Figserello didn't like that one...

Figserello wrote:
If you wanted a sort of metal theme for the speculator-boom years, perhaps The Foil-Embossed Age?

That was the idea behind my "Chromium Age" suggestion (which you didn't like- nya, nya). A quick scan at mycomicshop shows nearly 60 chromium books (it also shows over 200 foil books, phooey). That also reminds me of my Naturally Enhanced- The Best of the Hologram, Die-Cut, Glow-in-the-... column from last year.

The bigger problem is the mirror issue with the Dark Age- it only covers one aspect of the age and not necessarily the age as a whole. That's why I'm coming around to the idea of an Iron Age.

I'm looking forward to what you have to say regarding the 1995-present period.

Thanks. I've had a lot of fun working on this series of articles and I'm glad that it's created such a great response.
Comment by Chris Fluit on March 16, 2010 at 8:40pm
Luke Blanchard wrote:
"Golden Age" and "Silver Age" both express a value judgement. "Golden Age" was current by the mid-60s and expresses an idealisation of American comics during their post-Action Comics #1 boom. "Silver Age" was in use by the mid-80s, and expresses an idealisation of the late 50s/60s (as well as a sense of the period as having ended; in contrast, there was a lot of continuity between 70s comics and comics from the first half of the 80s). "Bronze Age" may have gained currency because it suggests to people "that period which came after the Silver Age which wasn't as good". It may also have gained currency because some of us are a bit nostalgic for the period.

Since the turn of the 80s US comics have become increasingly dependant on a fan audience which buys its comics from specialty shops. You could call it "the fan age". The speculator boom was a product of this new situation.

I've encountered very little nostalgia for the comics of the speculator boom. I think some of the Legionnaires like some of the Impact titles, and some liked some of Milestone's.

Let’s take a look at your argument, Luke.

In the 1960s, adult fans looked back on the 1940s comics of their childhood with an idealized view and declared the comics of their youth to have been a “Golden Age.” In the 1980s, adult fans looked back on the 1960s comic books of their childhood with a similarly idealized view and declared the comics of their youth to have been the “Silver Age.” You also admit the possibility that in this past decade (the 2000s), adult fans looked back on the comics of the late ‘70s and early ‘80s with a similarly nostalgic view and declared the comics of their youth to have been the “Bronze Age.”

I can’t speak for you but I notice a pattern. Those who grew up with the comics of a certain era are the ones who later idealize them as adults and retroactively give them the status of an “Age.” It isn’t the adults of the ‘40s who called the comic books of that era, “The Golden Age.” They considered them trash and threw them out (or donated them to paper drives for the war effort). It was the children of that age who placed the comics of their youth on a pedestal. It wasn’t the adults of the ‘60s who called the comic books of that era, “The Silver Age.” They considered them illiterate and dangerous (thank you, Mr. Wertham). It was the children of that age who placed the comics of their youth on a pedestal.

As each new generation of fans reaches adulthood, they become creators, publishers, journalists, scholars and so on. They look back on the comics of their youth through the same golden glow of nostalgia that earlier generations looked back on the comics of their own childhood. They then have a natural and healthy desire to describe the comics of their youth with accolades, including the official status of an “Age.”

Yet older fans resist this. When it comes to later ages, there is a tendency to turn precedent on its head. It is most often those who were adults during the 1980s who reject the notion of a Bronze Age. It is most often those who were adults in the 1990s who besmirch that era with an intentionally negative name. It is the older fans who say to the next generation, “Your age isn’t worthy of the official nomenclature of an Age”- with the often unstated judgment, “the comics of your youth are not as good as the comics of my youth.”

Well, wait a second. Shouldn’t each generation be able to define itself? Shouldn’t each generation be able to choose what they feel nostalgic for, without an older generation saying, “You can’t possibly feel nostalgic for that”?

You may not have encountered much nostalgia for the comics of the speculator era. I don’t know how old you are so it’s possible that I’m way out there on this but could that be a product of the people you associate with? Could it be that you’re talking to people who were already adults by the time the speculator boom came around instead of those who grew up during it? I was in high school and college in the early ‘90s, at the height of the speculator boom. My friends, my college roommates, my brother, my cousins- we’re the ones who grew up with this stuff and I can tell you that we loved it and we look back on it fondly. And I can tell you that we’re not the only ones. Check with almost any fan between 25 and 35 (old enough to have been there, young enough to have loved it) and you’ll find someone who has nostalgia for the comics of that era.

I had somebody tell me the other week that he’s especially excited that Iron Man II is going to feature War Machine. He never thought he would see War Machine- one of his favorite characters- in a movie. Yes, I know that Jim Rhodes was introduced in 1979, during the Bronze Age. But it was during the Chromium Age (or Iron Age, or Dark Age, or whatever people want to call it), that he graduated to being a lead character (1992) and having his own series (1994).

And it’s not just random people I happen to know. Take a look at some of the titles on the current charts: X-Force is selling over 50,000 issues; Deadpool is starring in three different titles; Haunt, with art by Spawn stars Todd McFarlane and Greg Capullo, is the second highest-selling indie; Image United, featuring the original Image creators and their original characters, is the third. Marvel is telling new stories picking up on continuity from 1991 (X-Men Forever, X-Factor Forever). They did a 10-year anniversary special for Age of Apocalypse. They’re even bringing back Spider-Man’s Clone Wars for crying out loud. Meanwhile, DC is working the Milestone characters into their regular line-up and trying a second crack at the characters who were part of their Impact line. Robert Kirkman has revived such ‘90s characters as Sleepwalker, Darkhawk and supporting characters from Savage Dragon. And, oh yeah, Jim Valentino announced that he’s bringing back the original Shadowhawk. Is Chromium Age nostalgia the biggest mover and shaker on the sales charts? No, it’s not. But it’s certainly a presence.

Look, you don’t have to buy into the idea that comic book history can be divided into ages. That’s fine. As I said in my previous post, I don’t expect everyone to agree with me (plus, it would be a pretty boring world if they did).

But I do think that the people who grew up at that time (including me and Robert Kirkman) should be allowed to express the appreciation for the comics of their youth as much as any previous generation. And, as I said in the article, I also think that, objectively, the late ‘80s-mid ‘90s contains all of the characteristics of an “Age.”
Comment by Figserello on March 16, 2010 at 9:08pm
Kudos, Chris.

Never have such duff* comics been so well represented. You put a great case.

*By duff, of course, I mean duff to me. YMM of course V, which is the name of the game.
Comment by George on March 16, 2010 at 10:25pm
Chris, you are right about the proliferation of titles in the early '90s. This was when I gave up on trying to follow the whole field, or even Marvel's output. There was just too much stuff to buy and read, and a lot of it was a waste of paper and ink. It seemed the Punisher was in every other Marvel comic (and if not Punisher, it was Wolverine or another mutant. It was overkill.)

I'm waiting for someone to discover Ann Nocenti's work on Daredevil from roughly that time frame (1986-1992). Most fans hated it at the time, and I thought it was too esoteric. But it has improved with age.
Comment by Chris Fluit on March 16, 2010 at 11:03pm
Thank you, gentlemen.
Comment by George on March 16, 2010 at 11:11pm
I don't think we should let nostalgia blind us to whether something is good or bad. I was a child in the '60s and a teenager in the '70s, but I sure don't revere everything produced in those decades (in comics and other fields). There was some great stuff and a lot of worthless junk. The '80s and '90s also brought great stuff and worthless junk.

If my childhood tastes were all that mattered, I'd be collecting those awful "Mighty Crusaders" comics that Archie put out in the late '60s (Fly-Man, Steel Stirling, the Black Hood, etc.). I loved 'em as a 7-year-old. But I have no interest in wasting my time or money on them today. I'd probably also be collecting "The Brady Bunch" on DVD. But I'm not.

In reality, there never has been a "golden age" where everything was wonderful. Every era brings a mixture of good and bad.
Comment by Luke Blanchard on March 16, 2010 at 11:11pm
Regarding Daredevil, I very much liked the issues I read by Nocenti and John Romita Jr. I lost track of the title after John Romita Jr. left.
Comment by the_original_b_dog on March 16, 2010 at 11:36pm
I like the name "Dark Age." I think it fits rather nicely for an era starting in 1986 (Dark Knight Returns, Watchmen) and concluding ... well, I just don't know when. But I think that era is already over.

Let's explore this a little:

I think dark fits the tone of many major stories, titles and characters from the era, almost pervading them. Starting with Batman and Wolverine (a progenitor) and engulfing the Punisher and hoards of other characters. Dark also describes one of the most successful titles of the era: Neil Gaiman's Sandman. Now, that was a dark title.

We also have the speculator boom and bust of the '90s, which shut down many comic-book shops and nearly destroyed Marvel -- one of the industry's darkest hours. Does the start-up of Image fit under this umbrella? No, but many components of what could be called the Image effect do. I think the idea of cover gimmicks run rampant as a symptom of this problem certainly does.

That, in a very, very rough nutshell, is why I think Dark Age fits. The question is, when does this era end? I'm not really sure, but I certainly think it's over. 2000, maybe? It helps if you have a series of influential works to peg the beginning of the next era on, and I'm not versed enough to know what those works might be here. I might consider a date that coincides with the rise in power of Joe Quesada at Marvel and Dan DiDio at DC. They certainly have made comic books very different from what I remember as a regular reader. In some ways, for the better. But not all.

My two cents.
Comment by Figserello on March 17, 2010 at 12:53am
The question is, when does this era end? I'm not really sure, but I certainly think it's over. 2000, maybe? It helps if you have a series of influential works to peg the beginning of the next era on, and I'm not versed enough to know what those works might be here.

I think I'd peg the key comics of the age that followed as Morrison's JLA (1996) and Busiek's Avengers (1997). Around them you can congregate lesser selling but influential titles such as Robinson's Starman (1994), and Busiek's Marvels (1994) and Astro City (1995)

All of them were an attempt to get back to basics with superhero stories that harkened back to the Silver Age and deliberately turned away from the waning snarling in shoulderpads and grubbing around in trenchcoats of the Image template.

Indeed Marvel's Heroes Reborn seemed to show that the emperor had no clothes anymore, and Image titles themselves seemed to acknowledge their revolution had run out of steam when they brought in Alan Moore on Wildcats, and Ellis on Stormwatch. Both toned down the Imagisms in the storytelling, with Ellis's work paving the way for The Authority which retained a lot of the darkness and violence of Image, but also harked back to the sleaker, more streamlined heroes of the Silver Age. Artist's like Bryan Hitch arguably owe more to Curt Swan than to Rob Liefield.

Of course, this is all just concentrating on the superhero end of things. Whereas Image and Co were indeed a crazy revolution in comics, most of my examples above were a consolidation and retrenchment of the artistic values and storytelling elements of previous eras. Even though the comics I'm citing here are amongst my favourites ever and I have no love for Image, there's probably a lot to be said for stepping boldly into the future instead of retreating to the past, which is what all my post-Dark Age harbingers have in common.


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