Last week, I wrote about the possibility of Marvel’s Heroic Age and DC’s Brightest Day ushering in a new age of comics. Along the way, I discussed the previous ages of comics, the eras by which many categorize its history. I received some excellent feedback and I’d like to respond in this follow-up column.
First of all, let me say thanks for the compliment, Jeff of Earth-J; the thoughtful reply, Luke Blanchard; and the exceptional reference, Turning Point.
Luke Blanchard wrote, “I'm always uncomfortable with attempts to continue "age" periodisation down to the present.”
You're not the only one, Luke. Besides Turning Point (who posted in response to the initial column), there's also Maggie Thompson, the editor of Comics Buyer's Guide. When they had their Bronze Age issue, she commented that she didn't believe in the existence of a Bronze Age. As far as she was concerned, there's the Golden Age, the Silver Age and everything after (that’s a paraphrase, not a direct quote).
However, I think there are a couple of problems with that stance.
The first problem is that the ship has already sailed. Bronze Age has entered common usage. I mentioned eBay in the first article; I recently typed “Bronze Age comics” into eBay and it came back with 2,253 results. That’s more results than “Golden Age comics” and within a 1000 results of “Silver Age comics.” I tried Google and got over 800,000 results including a very lengthy description on Wikipedia and several blogs that specifically focus on Bronze Age comics. Retail sites use the term as well. Capital Comics and House of Comics have entire Bronze Age sections (in addition to Golden and Silver Age sections). The term exists and it’s here to stay.
The second problem is what to use instead. No offense intended, Luke, but I think your post illustrates this. You rejected a historical categorization of comic books based on capital- “A” Ages but you then proceeded to discuss the history of comics based on a different set of ages. It’s just that you used decades rather than the metallic nomenclature of Golden, Silver and Bronze Age. Are decades the best way to categorize and understand the history of comics? Maybe they are. We certainly use decades for other facets of pop culture, especially music. But maybe they aren’t. A comic book in 1983 has a lot more in common with a comic in 1977 than it does with one in 1989. The beginning and end-points of some movements coincide with the beginning or end of a decade, but not always.
On the other hand, I think there are advantages to using Age categorizations to comics. The main one is that it does a better job of reflecting the periodic nature of comics and conveying the movements within that history. The history of comics isn’t a steady march over time, as a decade-by-decade survey might suggest, but a story of rises and falls.
Some of the best evidence for the existence of a Bronze Age comes from people who don’t use the term, including those who were involved or who were there. Mike Richardson, publisher of Dark Horse Comics, doesn’t subscribe to the notion of a Bronze Age. But in his book, Comics between the Panels, he writes about a “creative revival” in the late ‘70s with Claremont and Byrne on Uncanny X-Men, Frank Miller on Daredevil and Walt Simonson. Jon Cooke, the editor of Comic Book Artist, refers to Marvel’s “Second Wave” in the ‘70s including the origin of the new X-Men, Jim Starlin’s cosmic books and Mike Ploog on Ghost Rider. Actually, many issues of Comic Book Artist are celebrations of the Bronze Age, despite the fact that Cooke doesn’t use the term himself.
I wish I had the reference handy, but one of the creators of the time (I think it was Walt Simonson) even called the late ‘70s and early ‘80s “Marvel’s Silver Age” (Marvel’s real Golden Age being the Lee/Kirby/Ditko years upon which most of the company was built). In addition to the previously mentioned creators, there was also Shooter and Perez on Avengers and Roger Stern’s Spider-Man.
Then, there’s the 1981 article from Amazing Heroes that Turning Point posted for us. The “Third Wave” that Michael Catron writes about is what we now call the Bronze Age. He got a few things wrong. He anticipated the possibility that DC’s Third Wave would inspire their main competition at Marvel to follow suit, as had happened in the early Silver Age when Marvel responded to the success of JLA with Fantastic Four. But he didn’t notice that the tables had turned and that DC’s Third Wave was coming in response to Marvel’s Second Wave (as coined by Jon Cooke). Specifically, the New Teen Titans were a response to the Uncanny X-Men. However, he also got a few things right. He noticed that the advent of new publishers like Eclipse and Pacific were indicators that a Third Wave was already underway. Indeed, Pacific and Eclipse (as well as other companies like First and Comico) played a similar role in the Bronze Age that secondary superhero publishers Archie, Charlton and Tower played in the Silver Age. They were part of the creative resurgence that contributed new titles and new characters.
Richardson’s Revival, Cooke’s Second Wave, Simonson’s “Marvel’s Silver Age” and Catron’s Third Wave are all terms for the same time period. It’s the Bronze Age. You don’t have to embrace the term in order to notice that there was a creative, cultural, and consumer ascendance. The Bronze Age is a handy term for describing it.