Diggin' Up Gold - A brief dive into the ages and eras of comics

By Rohit C. 

Comic books are a source of great entertainment and have a rich history. Modern-day comics have evolved brilliantly over time to their present form and diverse content. The majority of comic book fans and historians have consented that there are four ages for comics which are the Golden Age, Silver Age, Bronze Age, and the present Modern Age. Each age has a different feel, characters, drawings, storylines, and even the printing of comic books. Besides telling us about how the era looked through the eyes of comics, different comic book ages also help in determining the true value of a comic book - the older the age, the more valuable it is.

Some people have categorized comic books in more than four ages based on their perceptions, while some believe that focusing too much on ages is irrelevant, as it does not capture several genres like the comic newspaper strips, romance, international, independent, and underground comics. 

 

The Golden Age (1938-1950)

The birth of the Golden Age is credited to the birth of the first American superhero, Superman, arguably the most popular of all the superheroes until today. Comic books as an industry were booming, with superheroes bringing instant success. The list of superheroes to join Superman were all unique with their origin stories and superhuman powers. The likes of Batman, Flash, Wonder Woman, Green Lantern, and Captain America were able to mesmerize people with their amazing feats worldwide. 


Comic books grew at breakneck speed during WWII, fuelled by American patriotism. The stories and their characters were very much part of the events and values of that time. The cover of the first issue of Captain America donning the stars and stripes costume and punching fascist Hitler, was an instant hit among Americans living with the war. Comics were an affordable medium of entertainment for many and carried inspirational superhero stories of good winning over evil. The golden age of comics was not the only boon for fans, but also for creators, for it allowed them to create a diverse stream of comic genres. Undoubtedly, the most popular were superhero comics; other genres that also grew popular were science-fiction, western, horror, and crime. The teen genre was led by “Archie”, a highly popular character among teens. Not to be left behind were animal and jungle-themed comics with the likes of Mickey Mouse, Donald Duck, and Tarzan.

The golden age lost steam after WWII and with no Hitler to fight, the superheroes started to decline in popularity. People were now getting attracted to other genres like horror, crime, and detective stories, which were gaining ground. While the rise of the golden era of comics was breathtaking, the fall was shocking: with the way censorship was brought into the comics industry after the publication of Fredric Wertham’s “Seduction of the Innocent” book, that castigated comics as a prime source for the increase in youth crimes and responsible for damaging the moral fabric of the society. The creation of the Comics Code Authority ensured that anything and everything in comics was not okay, and that all the comics published had to pass the CCA strict guidelines. The once booming industry was now left in peril, with several publishing companies forced to close.

Though the Golden age had its dramatic moments, it also gave us some of the most liked and recognized superheroes.  Some are still alive to entertain us almost 80 years later, like Superman.

The Silver Age (1956-1970)

The golden age of comics was succeeded by the Silver age, after a pause in the early to mid-1950s. Silver age is credited with the artistic shift in comics creation that led to the birth of many popular characters, as well as the rise of some of the most famous writers and illustrators in the industry.


The Silver Age began when DC comics introduced a new origin story of superhero, the Flash. The success of Flash led to the introduction of a reworked version of several other superheroes: Green Lantern, Aquaman, Atom, and Hawkman. The re-imagined Justice League of Society became Justice League of America. The superheroes only had their original titles; the rest all was reworked with great style, starting with their costumes, origin stories, and imaginative scientific theories for their superpowers. 

Not to be left behind, Marvel comics introduced their superhero team book, the Fantastic Four, and the larger Marvel universe which included Spider-man, Hulk, Thor, X-Men, and The Avengers. The real-life storylines of superheroes, coupled with catchy prose and dynamic artwork, was getting popular with youth during the counterculture movement. The offbeat, flawed superheroes were a huge hit on college campuses as youth could easily relate with anguish and irreverent nature of characters such as Spider-man and the Hulk. 

The Silver Age does not have a universally accepted ending. The opinions vary regarding the events that some saw as the end of Silver age as the year of ending!


The Bronze Age (1970-1986)

The Bronze Age carried forward many of the standards of the Silver Age, with traditional superheroes remaining the mainstay of the industry. The change was in storylines with darker plot elements, showing issues relevant to the society of that period, such as racism, drug abuse, and urban poverty. 

Storytelling was evolving with changing times shifting to darker territory. Comics Code, which had terrorized industry earlier, was revised in 1971 to allow the use of vampires, ghouls, and werewolves in comic books, leading to a surge in supernatural and horror-oriented titles, such as Ghost Rider, Swamp Thing, and the Tomb of Dracula. Another notable development was the introduction of several minority superheroes such as, Luke Cage, Blade, Defenders, Vixen, and so forth. Company crossovers were becoming popular with the launch of several of them including, Superman Vs Spider-man and Batman Vs Hulk. 

 

Comics distribution also saw a sea change as comic books were now sold largely to comic book shops on a no-return basis - not like newsstands where unsold copies were returned to the publisher. Independent small-press titles were sold directly to market, keeping costs down and increasing profits.

The period of the Bronze age came to an end by 1985, when several events and trends took place at the same time. Marvel's Secret Wars series and DC’s Crisis on Infinite Earths were the first companywide crossover event that involved every character. Watchmen, by Alan Moore and Batman: The Dark Knight Returns, released by DC, were greatly acclaimed for “grim” and “gritty” stories, also signaling the beginning of an independent Modern age.

 

The Modern Age (1987-Present)

The period surrounding the Modern Age has always been subject to debate since many creations and their impact in the Bronze age of comic books continued their journey into the Modern Age. But there can be no debate on the amazing creativity that came alive as the Modern age progressed.  With a free mind and an urge to explore the unknown, creators like Alan Moore, Frank Miller, and Grant Morrison, to name a few, pushed the art of storytelling via comics to new heights, creating some of the most admired timeless classics. The birth of anti-heroes such as Venom and Spawn, and also the supervillains such as the Joker, the adoration of the dark vigilante catapulted comics creation to a different level. In the age of the internet, comic books are gradually going digital, attracting new audiences, developing newer formats such as motion comics, and the mobile app-based versions for binge-watching.

 

The comic book-inspired superhero movies have achieved great success in the new millennium and continue to rule the box office in the present day. The impact of special effects technology and a new generation of filmmakers who dared to think and act differently, their sole purpose being to make superhero movies bigger and better, brought amazing commercial success never seen before. The interest in the comic book-movie genre is so massive that the future of this genre looks bright!