Welcome to CBH, today we’re talking about the 8 ages of comic books including the:
Platinum Age (1897-1937), Golden Age (1938-1947), Atomic Age (1948-1955), Silver Age (1956-1969), Bronze Age (1970-1984), Dark or Copper Age (1985-1991), Extreme Age (1992-1998), Movie Age (1998 – 2016)
Read below and/or click to watch the video:
How does defining these ages help us? I think it creates some sort of structure or framework within which we can talk about other comic book events or people. How do we define an age? These ages really tend to focus on the presence or absence of superheroes, and if present, then what flavor of superhero the mainstream is paying a lot of money to see more of. What are the cons of focusing too much on ages? They don’t address comic newspaper strips, romance comics, international comics, independent comics, underground comics, and other genres. As far as comic book history, comic books have been aroundfor a very long time. In 1837, we have the first recorded graphic novel with sequential art called “The Adventures of Obadiah Oldbuck.”
Theoretically sequential art goes back to the ancient Egyptians, but for the sake of simplicity it’s good to start somewhere. In 1897, we have our first real comic book called “The Yellow Kid” which is a reprint of the Yellow Kid newspaper strip. Something special here is that it actually says its a comic book on the back, so this is thought to start off the pre-Superhero Platinum Age.
There are many more examples of platinum age comic books like this 1911 reprint of the Mutt and Jeff newspaper strip.
Fast forward even more comic books to 1937, we have Detective Comics 1 which is comprised of comic short stories with content based on old pulp magazines.
This 40 year period from 1897-1937 is marked by different attempts to reprint newspaper strips with expensive licenses or create new pulp inspired comics at cheaper rates from new young artists and writers. There were many attempts to make a profit during this time, with many failures and success.
Ultimately there was 40 years of comics before the Comic Book that heralded the Golden Age (1938-1947) which was Action comics 1, 1938, the first appearance of Superman.
This comic, based on circus gear, capes, and Douglas Fairbanks type heroism was so successful it heralded many other me-too characters like Batman in Detective comics 27, 1939,
and the first appearance of Wonder Woman in All Star comics 8, 1941
as well as Captain America Comics 1, 1941.
These are only a few examples in an explosion of Golden Age Superheroes that would do well in these World War 2 years, into the early to mid 50s.
After WW2, Superhero comics would start to trickle out of the mainstream and their books would mostly transition to non superhero genres. In 1948, All American comics 102, 1948 would phase Green Lantern out of the top left corner and rename the title into All American Western 103.
The same thing happened to the Human Torch, who was famously on the cover of Marvel Comics 1. He would get phased out of his comic by issue 93 with a complete renaming of the comic book in 1949.
Although Batman and Superman would continue to exist through this time, Captain America did not fare so well. His book was renamed into Captain America’s Weird Tales and was completely phased out of the comic in the same year as the human torch and replaced with horror genre material.
By 1951 most Superhero books were discontinued for other genres, and this brief hiatus of the mainstream from Superheroes is currently called the Atomic Age (1948-1955).
Roughly around 1950, Horror comics became very popular, and the most successful publisher producing those books was EC Comics’ Bill Gaines. These stories visually depicted beheadings of women, murders, and other crimes so eventually there was some pushback from more conservative groups in America especially Dr. Fredric Wertham who felt these books were encouraging juvenile delinquency. Whether those claims were true or not, the accusations were enough to bring some congressional oversight which led comic companies to regulate themselves with the comics code authority. The comics code authority set up a series of rules that narrowed down the type of creativity that could be used in comic books. There was a period of stagnation where publishers were trying to figure out what to safely publish and still make a good living. Bill Gaines couldn’t produce good Horror comics under the code so discontinued EC Comics and started Mad Magazine.
Over at DC Comics, Carmine Infantino applied his art to various genre of comic books, and one that struck a cord with the mainstream and did well under the comics code authority was Showcase 4, 1956 which introduced the modern Barry Allen Flash and started off the Silver Age (1956-1969). This story written by Robert Kanigher about an average guy gaining superpowers under a bizarre science fiction event would be the template for a lot of character creation for the next 14 years.
In 1959, Gil Kane and John Broome created Hal Jordan Green Lantern for Showcase 22, again about another guy who gained a super powered ring under a bizarre science fiction event.
The groundwork for the DC Silver Age was roughly established in the later 1950s, but many events came together in 1960 to accelerate the coming changes. Rawhide Kid 17 was Jack Kirby and Stan Lee’s first collaboration on an ongoing character, Cassius Clay would win the Olympics in boxing, the first issue of Justice League of America debuted, JFK was elected president, and the Beatles formed their group.
In 1961, the age of the astronaut would officially begin. Alan Shephard flew above the atmosphere and back down establishing the USA’s first step into space. John Glenn was the first American to orbit earth in 1962, and Neil Armstrong would step on the moon in 1969.
These men were true heroes of the decade and 4 months after the 1961 mission, Fantastic Four 1 by Jack Kirby and Stan Lee was published about 4 astronauts who became superheroes in keeping with the Silver Age theme of ordinary humans gaining superpowers in a bizarre science fiction event.
Marvel would create other characters such as Spider-Man by Steve Ditko and Stan Lee in Amazing Fantasy 15, 1962.
By the time it was 1969, both DC and Marvel had created a whole mythology of heroes who gained their powers and stories through bizarre science fiction events.
There was a period of social relevance that started in 1970. Green Lantern Green Arrow 76 by Neal Adams and Denny Oneil premiered, the first Friday Foster Strip was introduced, The Kent State Massacre had occurred, Mort Weisinger left DC comics as Editor of the Superman line of comics with Superman 231, Jack Kirby left Marvel for DC to introduce New Gods in Jimmy Olsen 133, Janis Joplin and Jimmie Hendrix died, Paul announces the Beatles break up, America was worn down by the unsuccessful Vietnam War, NASA lost its funding for furthering space travel, and Conan 1 by Roy Thomas and Barry Windsor-Smith starts as the Comics Code Authority loosens its grip.
At this point the Silver Age innocence was lost and the hardened realities of the Bronze Age begins. I have reason to agree that Conan 1 started off the Bronze Age in 1970. The Silver Age was characterized by a burst of new superhero creation. However the Bronze Age appears to be a similar movement with the industry creating more pulp-era vengeful anti-heroes. Conan is a hyborian Tarzan, an animalistic survivor in a kill or be killed type of world. This hero was very unlike his predecessors from the 1960s. Conan premiered during a time when there were a lot of tragedies and disappointments happening, and people welcomed this violent antihero with open arms. This comic was critically acclaimed and successful which led to many more violent antiheroes for example the Punisher, a Dirty Harry type character who developed a large following.
There was also Wolverine in Hulk 181 who carried a similar theme of being a good guy type of killer who got the job done.
Both Punisher and Wolverine came out in 1974, With that, there were many anti-heroes that burst onto the scene during the 1970s defining the Bronze Age.
The Bronze Age continued until 1985 when we have the birth of the Copper or Dark age.
This age was more ambiguous, but there were certain industry triggers like the growth of the direct market with competing independing publishers, which did not require comics code authority approval to produce dark, psychologically complex stories. The Big 2 companies, DC and Marvel were likely nudged by this trend to break their superheroes that came before into something new, dark, and psychologically complex for the latter 1980s.
1985 Crisis of Infinite Earths by Marv Wolfman and George Perez essentially accomplished this, continuing into Dark Graphic novels like the Dark Knight Returns by Frank Miller
and the Watchmen by Alan Moore and Dave Gibbons.
Marvel also had their fair share of Dark, psychologically complex stories like the Morlock Massacre, Scourge murdering villains, and the Punisher being a hero compared to dirtbags like Nuke or Sabretooth.
The Dark Age continued until late 1991 when comics would go EXTREME!!!
There were many comics in the late 80s and early 90s which would trickle into this Extreme Age, but for over simplification sake I would say the issue that heralded this type of comic and defined the new trend was X-Force 1 by Rob Liefeld. Shortly after X-Force 1, he would go on to make Youngblood 1 when he and other artists would leave Marvel comics to start Image Comics.
DC Comics also started the Death of Superman story arc that went on for a few years.
This Extreme Age would continue til 1998 and would define itself by the need to feed into Extreme over the top aesthetics, stylistic sensational multiissue crossover storylines which maxed out consumption as much as possible where plot or even basic anatomy didn’t matter as much as the visual gimmicks, die cut hologram covers, and swimsuit specials that were used to sell to a collectors market that busted up pretty bad. Eventually people got tired of this type of comic book storytelling and it just sort of went away.
In 1998, a movie came out named Blade which was the first successful Marvel attempt and making a movie,
which led to later films like X-Men
and all of sudden we have a whole slew of successful comic book movies.
This ends my introduction to the comic book ages. Remember, these are generalizations since there are a lot of comics made during these ages that have nothing to do with superheroes or movies, etc, but once we define the Golden and Silver Ages by flavor of specific Superheroes, then that starts to define the other ages. How does defining these ages help us? I think it creates some sort of structure or framework within which we can talk about other comic book events or people in future episodes of CBH. Stay tuned and we’ll talk to you later.
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