Dr Arnold T. Blumberg and J.C. Vaughn co-author an article titled Comic Book Ages: Defining Eras (pp 42 – 46) in the Overstreet Guide To Collecting Comics.
Although Blumberg and Vaughn acknowledge the Victorian, Platinum and Golden Ages, they really only define the year ranges for Silver (1956 – 1970), Bronze (1970 – 1984), Copper (1984 – 1992) and Modern (1992 – present).
The closest the pair come to defining the earlier ages is a combination of:
- Information contained within a series of illustrated panels which precede the article in the book and which reference The Brownies as being printed in 1887; and
- A statement in the article on page 44 that reads:
Surely Action Comics #1 begins the Golden Age just as The Brownies begin the Platinum Age…
I was fascinated when Blumberg and Vaughn described the ages as denoting the creative teams and the editorial & business decisions of each era, rather than the comics themselves. Therefore, the “Ages” of comic books really only exist as a means to identify, or provide a “verbal shortcut” to explain, the style of writing and art from the creative teams or the editorial and publishing decisions identifiable in a specific comic or set of comics. (Which makes perfect sense).
Blumberg and Vaughn go on to say that the creation of Ages and placing comics into these specific groups creates an “illusion” that comics are not part of a bigger picture… when in fact they are just once piece of a much larger world of collectibles that are based upon characters from comics…. Which is in itself just a small slice of the even larger world of pop culture.
The article continues by identifying how the Comics Code itself has continued past the existence of the CCA through the embodiment of editorial decisions on how to address societal issues, such as the change from an age of innocence through to the portrayal of drugs in comics and the (unrelated) evolution of more violent characters, such as The Punisher.
The article concludes by debating that, since the Ages are “arbitrary” and born of developments in the real world, then individual comics that have been identified as heralding a new age instead actually signify the beginning of a phase. For example, Showcase #4 (1956) began the segue between Golden Age and Silver Age and that the transition to Silver Age ended with Fantastic Four #1 (1961).
I couldn’t help but wonder how this analysis would apply to present day.
Based on the above, it feels safe to presume that the “Modern Age” will always be “present day” and, despite being in the Modern Age in perpetuity, in the future we will retrospectively identify “changes” in the writing, art and associated business decisions the publishing houses make. The changes we identify will form the basis of recognising a new age, which we will probably slap some kind of metallurgical title on.
If so, it’s arguable that we are in the middle of a transition phase right now… Between 2011 and today we’ve seen many events occur, including:
- DC and Marvel both rebooted their universes, risking major alienation of their dedicated readers to start afresh and appeal to new readers.
- Marvel introduced us to a gay Green Lantern and Image Comics published graphic homosexual imagery in SAGA #12, both highlighting society’s evolving maturity.
- The writing and art of many titles is darker, grittier and aimed at a more mature audience than ever before (think: Snyder and Capullo’s Court of Owls arc in Batman Vol. 2).
- There seems to be a revival (no puns intended) of the horror genre. (Yeeeeah!)
- The value of a comic can rise exponentially based on the character’s portrayal in other mediums, such as television or cinema.
- We are seeing an increase in creator-owned titles.
(Not to mention the gazillion other events that have occurred in books I haven’t read and therefore I’m unaware of).
Under Blumberg & Vaughn’s theory that the Ages transition and do so in response to real-world developments, this could be a fit… If so, what will the post-Bronze Age be called?