Yes yes, and “Platinum Age” and “Victorian Age” and “Pioneer Age.”

§ February 4th, 2019 § Filed under Uncategorized § 13 Comments

So, going back to Friday’s post, I’ve got a little bit of follow-up. First, very briefly, as was pointed out in the comments there and on the Twitters, the early ’80s Ka-Zar was something of a popular comic at the time, as borne out by my own perusal of former boss Ralph’s early ’80s order forms. Not only was Ralph ordering nearly as many Ka-Zar as he was of Avengers, he was actually ordering more Ka-Zar than Amazing Spider-Man. Now whether this says more about the popularity of Ka-Zar or about possible sales doldrums for these flagship Marvel titles, I’m not sure.

Secondly, commenter Matthew asked:

“So if you don’t like ‘Bronze Age’ as a term, are there terms you do like?

“And do you think we need more ‘ages’? The current ‘modern age’ has been (according to Wikipedia) going since 1985, and so is longer (34 years) than the silver (1956 – c. 1970) and bronze (c. 1970 – c. 1985) ages put together (30 years).

“If you were to create more ‘ages’ what would they be and what would be the signifiers?”

These are all perfectly reasonable questions. I’ve discussed the whole “comic ages” thing before, perhaps a tad derisively. Though I quoted it there, it bears repeating that the Overstreet Guide itself resisted the term “Bronze Age,” defining it thusly in their 28th edition:

“Non-specific term not in general acceptance by collectors which denotes comics published from approximately 1970 through 1980.”

Well, it’s pretty much a thing now, I guess. Like I said last time, creating a “Bronze Age of Comics” more like a deliberate marketing strategy to get those copies of Human Fly out the quarter bins and into glass classes with “KEY BRONZE AGE BOOK” written on the price stickers. But, you know, it’s here now, and I just gotta live with it. Mostly I was just complaining without providing any alternatives, a thing no one in any fandom ever does I’m sure you’ll agree.

Do I like any terms? Well…”Bronze Age” may have stuck in my craw a bit, and here in an old blog post filled with linkrot I transcribe a somewhat paraphrased discussion between pal Dorian and me about said ages and our incredulity at same. Now it’s been…egads, fourteen years, so I’ve got the current Overstreet here with me and let’s check the definitions of terms:

Golden Age: 1938 – 1945

Silver Age: 1956 – 1970

Bronze Age: 1970 – 1984

Copper Age: 1984 – 1992

Modern Age: “catch-all term applied to comics published since 1992”

As you see, there are some gaps there, which I’ve seen folks describe as “pre-Silver Age” or “post Golden Age” and so on, though others just simplify matters and call a 1948 book “Golden Age.” I don’t think the Price Guide Police will get ’em for doing so. And yes, there’s a little overlap…I don’t think Bronze ends May ’84 and Copper picks up in June or anything, but I suspect if anyone really wants to split that hair I guess it’s a case of “I know it when I see it” in trying to decide if J’emm, Son of Saturn is Bronze or Copper. To be fair, I don’t see “Copper Age” used to much in the wild…guess I’m not hanging out with the right people.

There are other general terms, like “pre-Code” (anything put out prior to the Comics Code Authority being established in 1956) and “pre-superhero Marvel” (stuff I thought just meant “whatever came out before Fantastic Four #1, but apparently very specifically meaning Journey into Mystery before Thor showed up, Tales to Astonish before Ant-Man, etc.).

Okay, do I like these terms, Matthew asked? Well, it’s too late for me to do anything about them now, and my post here on this silly blog (remember blogs?) isn’t going to change anything. I’m fine with them, I suppose…I “get” the divisions, more or less. And “Modern Age” does sound better than “Holy Shit The Entire Comics Market Just Collapsed Age.”

Modern Age seems to be tied to the whole Image launch thing, which is about as definitive a division in eras as we’ve had in recent comics history. One can easily recognize a “before Image” and an “after Image” in the industry. While the Overstreet definition of “Modern Age” isn’t as long as the period is descried by Wikipedia that Matthew noted, it’s still over a quarter of a century. However, I can’t really think of a specific line to draw at any point here that seems like a definable “age” in the sense of the previous ages. I joked in the title of this post about “Downloadable Torrent Age,” but…maybe that’s close? Maybe we’re in the Digital Age, where that’s a significant source of distribution not just for the big comic companies, but for smaller creators too? That’s not perfect, but it’s a possibility. It’s more likely that any such further delineations will come about with more distance from the present and we can look back and get a better picture of how things played out over time.

We all know the facetious suggestions, like the “Polybag Age” or the “Chromium Die-Cut Foil Cover Age” or the “Jemas Age.” Okay, that last one I just made up right now, which I would describe as a period of increased antagonism between Marvel and DC. Or, maybe, the “Rebirth Age,” by which I don’t mean DC’s post-New 52 initiative, but that time when DC was actively trying to undo major events in the past to bring back Barry Allen as the Flash, Hal Jordan as Green Lantern, and so on. Maybe a period of attempts to return to form after upending all the characters for, like, a decade or two. Sort of company-specific, but then, so are the definitions of Gold and Silver.

So, to recap answers Matthew’s questions: I don’t care for the term “Bronze Age,” but now that it’s here I guess it’ll do.

No, I don’t particularly think we need new ages, but new divisions will likely become more apparent once we look back on this time with some distance.

And I do have a few semi-jokey ideas for new ages. “Rebirth Age” still sounds as likely as any to me. But I suppose “The Mike Sterling Age of Comics” is still in the running.

13 Responses to “Yes yes, and “Platinum Age” and “Victorian Age” and “Pioneer Age.””

  • swamp mark says:

    i think a good place for the separation of our current age would be when creating the artwork using computers took over from the detailed use of the pen. personally, that was when i took a hard look at the titles i followed and dropped many of them. beautiful cover art, and interior work that looks like simplified coloring book art. this gave a whole new “look” to the books that i, as an older reader who grew up on wrightson, neal adams, and bissette etc, just wasn’t interested in looking at, let alone paying for. it was the end of an age for me.

  • Brian says:

    What’s always struck me about the use of Modern Age in comics is how it uses “modern” in a very different fashion than is used in history, sociology, literature, or art. There’s no Modernism at play. If anything, given the ideas of rationalism, professionalism, and reflection on time that play into conceptions of Modernity — either in discussing post-Enlightenment history and society or Modernist art — I’d place a Modern Age of comics at that point where we speak of the fans taking over (with the likes of Lee, Kirby, Ditko et al replaced by creators who had read them) and Continuity in Comic Book Time (vs Golden or Silver Age books who operated in real time by our calendar, simultaneously with other books on the shelf) took over and stretched out asymptotically. What is called Bronze Age or Copper Age might be Early Modern as these practices and assumptions take hold (while the Image Era represents perhaps the comic book equivalent of Brutalism).

    Whether the rise of Independent Comics and their direct commentary on and response to these trends represents a sort of parallel Postmodern Age is another discussion. But either way, you begin to unify comics with other form of literature and art (and make it easier to discuss the sort of existential trends in later Modern works).

  • Donald G says:

    I haven’t purchased on Overstreet Guide in 15 or more years, but in one of the last ones I purchased closer to 20 years ago, they floated the category of “Atomic Age” to cover the post-WW II pre-Silver Age period. I liked that category, but it didn’t seem to catch on.

    My own system would go:

    Gold (1938-49)
    Atomic (1950-55)
    Silver (1956-67)
    Hippie (1968-72)
    Bronze (1973-85)
    Deconstruction (1986-91)
    Image (1992-97)
    Reconstruction (1998-9/10/2001)
    Terror (9/11/2001-present)

  • Bruce Baugh says:

    In the 1990s, someone on Usenet or GEnie proposed referring to then-current comics as existing the Plutonium Age: heavy, dull, toxic, and prone to exploding. I continue to regret that never caught on widely.

  • Bet-Z says:

    But… The Mike Sterling Age of Comics has been in effect since 1969

  • Chris K says:

    Aargh… the definition of comics’ Bronze Age is THE item for me that is both the most trivial, pointless non-issue of all as well as the hill that I will absolutely die on.

    1985 seems to be the consensus cutoff point, but it HAS to be the end of 1980. I would define it as the moment when the direct market took hold, and I’d mark the signifiers as X-Men 137 / New Teen Titans 1 / Miller’s first (written) Daredevil, all of which came out within the same few months.

    Really, I would mark it as the moment when X-Men became the industry’s bestseller (which I know, happened a number of months after #137, but that is the “symbolic” moment). It was when the best selling comic became a book that – for years – NO ONE outside of comic book readers had ever HEARD of. (It’s hard to imagine X-Men’s mainstream obscurity now, but man, it was the case at the time. I would get SO MANY blank stares from adults when I’d answer that “What’re you reading? question…)

  • Chris K says:

    (oh, god, he’s not finished…)

    I think the 1985 date comes from using Secret Wars / Crisis as the transitional book, but to me, that seems like saying the rock and roll British Invasion started with Sgt. Pepper. It codified it, but wasn’t the start.

    I think what sets me off about this issue was when the AV Club a few years ago did a primer article on the Bronze Age. The article itself was good, as I recall, but the comments started suggesting things like American Flagg, Zot and Alan Moore’s Swamp Thing which… just do not suggest Bronze Age to me in any way. I think being a direct only book (yes, I know ST was not direct only) disqualifies it.

    My definition of Bronze Age would be the dying days of the spinner racks, when books that would have been direct market hits in the 80s just died on the stands because there was no way to effectively sell them.

    Or, you could just say “the 70s” and save everybody some headaches :)

  • Jeff R. says:

    I still really like ‘Chrome Age’ for the speculator boom era.

    Stick a Renaissance Era between Bronze and that, and have a placeholder Modern age after and there you go.

  • klaas says:

    so…

    Whatever happened to the dark age?

    Has that been retconned out of history sometimes back without me noticing it?

  • Christian says:

    “Modern” in comics doesn’t refer to the literary terminology connotation of “modernity” though.
    It’s more that it happened in recent memory.

    I’d definitely say that sometime in the 1970s was when comic books first showed signs of the concept of modernity, in the literary sense.

    Then, you have writers like Alan Moore and other creators after him who really began to use the concepts of postmodernism in comic books for the first time.
    So, you could really mark Moore’s first issue on Swamp Thing as the beginning of the postmodern era in comic books.

    There was certainly a strict dialing back of postmodernism with comic books during the 1990s though.

    It’s amazing how far behind the wider literary trends that comic books end up being.
    Although, it’s an artform which only stretches back to the 1930s, so that certainly gives the fact that comics only began to discover modernism in the ’70s some grace.

  • Christian says:

    Grant Morrison began to use the term “dark age” first, I do believe.

    I always thought of the “dark ages” as that period in the early-1990s when creativity seemed to be lost in comic books.

    Morrison’s term seemed more literal, in that the comics plots started to get very dark and depressing.
    I didn’t see the term as being so obvious.

  • Steven R says:

    Of course, the Gold age is supposed to be the peak era, but for some reason most comic fans no longer think the sunset on comics back in 1945-1949 when the first wave of superheroes died. For me, we’re now in the “Comic Shop Age”.

  • Odkin says:

    Yeah, 1946-1956 is the Atomic Age… marked by no super heroes, and full of genre comics – romance, teen, funny animals, western, science fiction, war, crime, and horror.

    The Silver age has a CLEAR end – 1970, when Kirby left Marvel, Stan Lee stopped writing, and Mort Weisinger retired from DC>