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Robbie Parry
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Posted: 11 February 2018 at 6:41pm | IP Logged | 1 post reply

Like any comic fan, I have fallen into the vernacular of designating certain comics as Golden Age, Silver Age, Bronze Age, etc. 

Does anyone have a view on such designations?

I have frequently told people that the majority of my back issue purchases are "Silver Age" (generally considered 1950s to early 70s, although some may disagree on specific dates). I've also got some "Golden Age" reprints. I rarely talk about "Bronze Age" comics (70s to pre-CRISIS), but I have used the term "Modern Age".

I am not so sure I am keen on such designations.

For me, "Golden Age" is a phrase, in all sorts of ways, that seems to denote quality. Just like a gold medal is the pinnacle of Olympic participation, I guess. I find it misleading. There are no doubt "Golden Age" comics that I would not enjoy, but "Golden Age" appears to be shorthand for "superior quality". It has entered our vernacular. I've heard movie fans say things like, "Movies today are no good, I miss the 'golden age' of movies."

Where "Silver Age" and "Bronze Age" fall down for me is, well, once again I use the comparison with sports. If was an Olympic participant, I'd want to win a gold medal. Sure, if I won silver or bronze, I'd graciously accept them (whilst seething inside), but I'd rather win gold. Designating comic book ages as "Silver" or "Bronze", and I am probably overthinking this, indicates lesser quality in the same way a bronze medal isn't as prestigious as a gold medal.

One could think about it in other ways. I often see adverts for gold and silver investment on TV, but I haven't seen any for bronze investment (and if any do exist, please don't post me links, I am sure they do, but more people seem to be investing in gold and silver).

What really bewilders me, though, is "Modern Age". I'm told it began in 1986. Which was 32 years ago. And it's still continuing (I guess we haven't found a new designation yet). Whilst Golden, Silver and Bronze all had specific tenures, it would seem "Modern Age" is eternal. Yet to a kid discovering comics today, would he/she be confused if I described a 1987 or 1988 comic as "Modern Age"?

None of this really matters, I just thought it might be interesting to highlight (it's pedantic, I know). I tend to shun such designations now if chatting to other fans or "civilians". I tend to just be specific. If I were to buy some 1960s FLASH comics, I'd be more likely to say "I've bought some 60s FLASH comics!" than "I've bought some Silver Age FLASH comics."

Any thoughts?
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John Byrne

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Posted: 11 February 2018 at 8:47pm | IP Logged | 2 post reply

The "Ages" spring from ignorance. Historians refer to the Golden Age of Greece, the Golden Age of flight, the Golden Age of literature. But they do not designate Silver or Bronze. As you note, those come from sports and, as someone harshly said once, they designate first and second losers.

Largely because of that, I have mostly rejected those labels. I use them for ease of reference, but I resent the implicaton that the work got progressively worse.

I'd rather see a division by decades.

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Brian Hague
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Posted: 11 February 2018 at 10:10pm | IP Logged | 3 post reply

The early Greek poet Hesiod wrote of The Five Ages of Man in his Works and Days (700 BCE) citing them as The Golden Age, The Silver Age, The Bronze Age, The Heroic Age, and the Iron Age. Ovid describes a similar structure of the history of man using four ages in his Metamorphoses (8 CE). He does not include a Heroic Age. In his Chronology or Chronicon, theologian and historian St. Jerome affixes specific dates and spans to all five of Hesoid's Ages.

It is the notion that the concept springs from Olympic medals that is borne of ignorance. The Olympics did not begin awarding Gold, Silver, and Bronze medals until 1904. The concept and names of these successive ages had been in common usage for centuries prior.

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Adam Schulman
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Posted: 11 February 2018 at 10:30pm | IP Logged | 4 post reply

I think the Golden/Silver/Bronze Age labels only work if we're talking about sales. Comic books sold better in the 1940s than they did in the 1960s. And they sold better in the 1960s than the 1970s.

I think we've been living in the Event Age since 1984, inaugurated by SECRET WARS and CRISIS. Lord only knows if it will ever end. 
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Robbie Parry
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Posted: 12 February 2018 at 3:20am | IP Logged | 5 post reply

 Brian Hague wrote:
It is the notion that the concept springs from Olympic medals that is borne of ignorance.

I never stated that comic book companies specifically "borrowed" the concept from Olympic medals. Nowhere in my post did I state that. I am certain that the publishers at DC or Marvel, or comic industry journalists, didn't say, "We need designations for comic book ages, let's look at the Olympics."

But from a modern perspective, one can look at such designations and equate them with sports. Or anything. Like I stated, I don't see many adverts for bronze investment, but there are certainly many adverts for gold and silver investment.

Today, from our perspective, one can equate such things. 
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Doug Centers
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Posted: 12 February 2018 at 5:54am | IP Logged | 6 post reply

I'm ok with "The Golden Age", I have a clear understanding of that time in comics. With few exceptions the art and writing are very identifiable to me.

It seems Marvel themselves help to perpetuate the "Ages" designations, with their "Marvel Age" in the sixties and "Marvel Age of Comics Phase Two" printed on the covers in the early seventies.
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Eric Sofer
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Posted: 12 February 2018 at 9:05am | IP Logged | 7 post reply

Brian Hague: May I note that those last two designations, "Heroic Age" and "Iron Age" were used by Marvel at one point, if I recall correctly? I don't think it says a lot for Marvel, but then not a lot recently says a lot good about Marvel to me anyhow...

At the late date that I started collecting comics (relatively speaking), I had no issue with a Golden/Silver/Bronze age (the latter being when I seriously started collecting). There are eras of comics, no question, and the "medal" system is divided into three distinct classes.

But it didn't leave very much direction to go in the future - and really, did anyone think that the Bronze age of comics would continue forever? Further, as Mr. Byrne eloquently notes, it indicates an ongoing decrease in quality - and that just wasn't the case. I personally much prefer an Edmond Hamilton or Cary Bates Superman story to a Jerry Seigel Golden Age tale... and Curt Swan or Wayne Boring were preferable to me over Joe Shuster. Obviously, they were the first... but styles change (even Shuster's style modified while he was drawing Superman.)

Mr. Byrne's reference of decades is a far more palatable option to me, but even so... the transition points don't associate directly with beginning/ending of decades. TANGENT: They don't need to literally be Jan 1, 1961 to Dec 31, 1970, because as Mr. Byrne has so perfectly observed previously, there's overlap between ages. (See? I paid attention in class! :)

I'll repeat a point I've suggested previously - what ARE the transition points for the eras? I think everyone can agree that the Golden Age started with Action Comics #1. When did the next transition occur? Showcase #4? Detective #225? Detective #327? All-Star #57? Superboy #1? Fantastic Four #1? A case could be made for each of these, to be sure.

The next high point? Again, a lot of folks have noted it's Giant-Sized X-Men #1... but you'll get arguments over that as well. 

I suspect that it might be easier to label our ages if we agreed what they encompass... and again, if they overlap, that's fine. This isn't a sporting event where there is a very clear cut differentiation. 



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Eric Jansen
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Posted: 12 February 2018 at 9:11am | IP Logged | 8 post reply

The different "Ages" seem to come naturally, though I can see JB's division by decade working too.  The designation of the "Ages" doesn't seem to denote quality to me, but rather order.  Gold comes first, Silver comes second, then Bronze--I loved so many comics of the 70's and I never once thought of them as third in quality.

I wonder how much of this is personal perspective?  To many of us growing up in the 70's or later, the "Golden Age" was an almost mythical "long ago" period where comics sprang from nothingness and were sold in the millions.  The "Silver Age" simply came second, but the term might have been an allusion to the "Silver Screen" as comics took on a more cinematic aspect (as opposed to the Golden Age features being more inspired by comic strips), tackling subject matter seen in the movies of the time (cowboys, westerns, romance, sci fi) and things we WISHED were in the movies (Lee & Kirby's FANTASTIC FOUR especially presented things that were simply beyond the limitations of what the movies could do at the time).  The dividing line between the Golden Age and the Silver Age seems clear enough (1956 and the Flash), but the Bronze Age seems almost like simply the second half of the Silver Age--the big characters were the same beings but there was an explosion of new characters and I'd be hard pressed to consider LUKE CAGE, SHANG CHI, THE NEW GODS, KAMANDI, DEATHLOK, BLACK LIGHTNING, CONAN, and so many others anything but a new age.  (Here's where JB's decades division would really come in handy--the 70's were definitely their own thing.)

For me, the Silver Age/Bronze Age world came to an end with CRISIS at DC, but something else less defined was happening at Marvel at the same time--or at least that's the way it appeared to me at the time.  To me, the next age would be the Independent Age!  I lost interest in DC and Marvel after CRISIS (and maybe a bit before, truth be told--and maybe I wasn't alone), and I was drawn to the new world of creator-owned comics like DREADSTAR, AMERICAN FLAGG, JON SABLE, THE ROCKETEER, MS. TREE, SOMERSET HOLMES, Neal Adams' Continuity Comics like MS. MYSTIC (yes, I liked all the first issues that Adams seemed to labor over before they all went off the rails), all of Pacific Comics and fun stuff from First and Eclipse, astounding graphic novels like I AM COYOTE which followed the earlier DETECTIVES INC. and SABRE, though those two continued or were reprinted (or I just found them) in the 80's.  And then these led us into the 90's with things like JB's NEXT MEN and Frank Miller's SIN CITY.

For good or ill (mostly ill, looking back), it also led into what I have to call the "Image Age" as that company made a big splash and then Marvel (and in some cases DC) started copying them.  I think this Age continues to this day (or at least to the New 52) at DC, with Jim Lee's style taking over, with the inevitable clones picking up the slack.  The last few years, especially at Marvel, there seems to be an "Indy-fying" of previously dynamic blockbuster concepts--is this going to be considered "The Dull Age"?



Edited by Eric Jansen on 12 February 2018 at 9:22am
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John Byrne

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Posted: 12 February 2018 at 9:27am | IP Logged | 9 post reply

(Here's where JB's decades division would really come in handy--the 70's were definitely their own thing.)

As were the Forties, the Fifties, the Sixties. . .

And even there, of course, there was overlap. Just as with real decades, what we call them does not really represent their span in years. (The Sixties, for instance, really started in 1963, with the Kennedy assassination, and continued thru the resignation of Nixon. Similarly, what we think of as the Fifties really began right after WW2.)

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Robbie Parry
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Posted: 12 February 2018 at 10:43am | IP Logged | 10 post reply

Yes, there's often overlap. I mean, there are early 90s bands that I feel would have been more at home from 1985-88 (one example).
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Brian Floyd
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Posted: 12 February 2018 at 11:52am | IP Logged | 11 post reply

Right now is the Steaming Pile Age.
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Brian Hague
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Posted: 12 February 2018 at 5:20pm | IP Logged | 12 post reply

If the Bronze Age ends in the mid-Eighties with the coming of Crisis, Dark Knight, and the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, three events very much unlike what had come before in comics, then you have a choice of how you want to proceed from there. Some have suggested that this time be known as The Age of Independents or The Chromium Age, when confidence in the product was high, speculators swarmed, and sales events became the order of the day. Image and Vertigo were launched. Valiant Comics were hoarded. Die-Cut, Embossed, Holo-Foil, and Chromium covers were turning up right and left. Rob Liefeld was modeling jeans on TV and all was right in the world, if you had a ticket aboard the gravy train. I've also heard it suggested that since this time largely coincides with the X-Men gaining marketplace pre-eminence and coming to dominate the shelves with a ridiculous number of titles that this era be known as The Adamantium Age. 

1996-97 brought us Marvel's bankruptcy and a general end to speculator interest in the industry. First pogs and now comics. Would the disappointments never end? And inside the books, the mood was no better. So we moved into The Dark Age, when heroes and heroism were miserable and unrewarding. Taking their cues from such sales successes as Watchmen, Dark Knight, Killing Joke, and the Death of Superman, creators determined that the way forward was a treacherous, unlighted path. The Authority were the heroes of the moment. Gory, unrepentant murderers glowered up at us from the panels. Norman Osborn was having his way with Gwen Stacy and Morlun was eating Peter Parker's eyeball fresh from its socket. Avengers were disassembled and Marvel went to war against itself in conflicts both Civil and Secret. Batman's back was broken and his city was leveled. Dr. Light raped the Elongated Man's wife and the Flash's Rogues Gallery made deals with the devil to gain power and become giggling serial killers. One Green Lantern's girlfriend was found dead in the refrigerator while the other was murdering her friend and dousing the corpse with lighter fluid. Reed was building Murder-Clones of Thor, Captain America was getting shot and killed, zombies were eating everyone, and comics most definitely were not for kids anymore. The Dark Age.

Marvel tried a couple of marketing campaigns with the names The Heroic Age and The Iron Age, but those were just sales periods, not actual eras. The concept of simply letting our heroes wallow in murder, blood, and misery indefinitely actually got old after a while and DC broke with the pattern to announce a company-wide restart, promising books with a more positive slant. They turned out to be of limited interest and quality, alienating whatever long-term fans had stuck it out through the defiling of Gwen Stacy and the rape and immolation of Sue Dibney, but they did somewhat shake both companies out of their self-mutilating doldrums. For the past few years, things haven't been AS god-awful as the days when Authority villains were literally killing the heroes with poisonous streams of projectile feces...

Or maybe they have. I'm not one of those who's read much since the Dark Age. If it should turn out in hindsight that the Nu52 does represent a line of demarcation, maybe in its honor, we can name this new era The Mandarin (Collar) Dynasty.


Edited by Brian Hague on 12 February 2018 at 5:27pm
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Phil Geiger
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Posted: 12 February 2018 at 6:01pm | IP Logged | 13 post reply

Defining comic book Ages down to individual issues or specific dates seems to me very much like the need for every issue of a title needing to fit into a tight continuity and never forgotten. Very fan driven. I don't think it's that important to be that precise and I only use the terms as a general reference to when a book came out or a time frame in the industry. But then, I grew up in comic's Silver Age, before we had to have everything defined and documented to the nth degree. You know, back in the historical Dark Age.
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Brian Hague
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Posted: 12 February 2018 at 6:50pm | IP Logged | 14 post reply

I agree that there is inevitably overlap between these times and that it is useless to try to determine absolutes with so many subjective factors in play. 

I do think, however, that while determining the starting points of certain periods is unproductive, there are eventually points where you have to say, "This can no longer be from the previous era. It has to be from the later one." Kurt Busiek's suggestion that the snapping of Gwen Stacy's neck put an end to the Silver Age is like that. I don't believe you can say that any Marvel moment after that point happened in the Silver Age. While a great deal of discussion can take place as to what other events may have presaged that; Lee's departure from Marvel editorial, Kirby's arrival at DC; "Kryptonite No More;" the dismissal of DC's old guard writers... There are any number of possible starting lines, but at a certain point, one does have to acknowledge, looking back, that the change has taken place; that a point of no return has been passed.

At a back issue retailer where I used to work, the line was drawn at the move to 20 cents on the cover. Lots of discussion can be held as to events before that, but it was maintained that there was no such thing as a regular-sized, 20 cent Silver Age book. It had to be Bronze. Conversely, anything before that had to be seen as Silver. Since sales were often predicated upon such demarcations, the line had to be drawn somewhere and that's where it fell.

As a fan, I enjoy the ambiguity of such questions. Julius Schwartz liked to tweak fans who maintained that the Silver Age began with Barry Allen's debut in Showcase #4. What about J'onn J'onzz? He was a League member and he began as a back-up in Detective #255. Before that, there was a Detective Comics story in which Batman teamed up with a Martian law enforcement officer with similar coloring and powers. If J'onn had a predecessor, why wouldn't the whole thing start with him? Or with Captain Comet, a mutant spaceman who was later treated as a super-hero in DC books? He began in 1951...

For me, it's Showcase #4. That was the domino that started all of the others in motion. J'onn J'onzz wasn't a super-hero to begin with. He was a gimmick detective like Roy Raymond, TV Detective or Pow-Wow Smith, Indian Lawman. He was a flatfoot with a badge and a trick up his sleeve; not a super-hero. Nothing came of his debut. The character wasn't treated as a super-hero until the JLA came about and J'onn's strip moved over into the House of Mystery. If J'onn doesn't count, then neither does his predecessor. Captain Comet was a generic spaceman with a gimmick, not a super-hero. He didn't kick off anything else and his inclusion later.in super-hero stories was a nostalgic sop more than anything else. 

But it's not up to me, and so the debate rages on... Which is fine. I agree that some things don't need to be nailed down. Unless you're pulling books to be included in this month's Bronze Age Specials sale, and then, yes, you have to pay close attention to that cover price...


Edited by Brian Hague on 12 February 2018 at 6:51pm
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Eric Jansen
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Posted: 12 February 2018 at 8:42pm | IP Logged | 15 post reply

I don't think any one issue at any one company can be the dividing line between ages.  It has to be a general feeling, crossing company lines and also affecting or being affected by the fans.  The Silver Age may have gotten rolling with SHOWCASE #4, but, Captain Comet and J'onn J'onzz were building blocks.

The Silver Age (at DC) and the Marvel Age may have coincided but they felt different at the two companies.  Still, we include the Marvel Age within the Silver Age as shorthand and because both were the age of new beginnings and the return of super-heroes.  DC's Silver Age started in the mid-50's, but the Marvel Age definitely started in 1961 with FANTASTIC FOUR #1.  But not much was happening at Marvel/Atlas before then so we throw those years in with the Marvel Age and call it all Marvel's Silver Age.

Skipping to the Dark Age, Brian Hague's account above of all the dark things happening all across the industry is right on target and shows that the "spreading darkness" was more of a movement than a specific plan of any particular company.

There's a book in all this!


Edited by Eric Jansen on 12 February 2018 at 8:44pm
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Jason Larouse
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Posted: 12 February 2018 at 9:16pm | IP Logged | 16 post reply

In terms of the "modern age" question I think you can make a pretty solid argument that a new age started around 2000 when Joe Q took over Marvel and writing for the trade became a big thing. There's definitely a difference between the way comics read post-2000 than in the 90s and mid-late 80s.   
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