Comics Buyer’s Guide #1607 (2005)

This issue of the venerable old fanzine CBG has a long article about the various "ages" of comics. It’s one of those "angels on the head of a pin" sorts of arguments, but here’s my take on it.
I have to agree with the general consensus that the Bronze Age began when Kirby left Marvel and ended around 1980. I’d put the end with Daredevil #168, the introduction of Elektra, who represents a completely different sort of hero than those who came before. After her appearance came a world of more moral complexity, where anti-heroes began to ascend comics, and where comics seemed to become more and more complex. At the time, the first appearance of Elektra seemed to be the beginning of a rising age of comics, where they became more complex, diverse and mature than before.

To me, the era between 1980 and ’88 or ’89 don’t represent an age as much as a sort of arc. The term I like to call that age is the Rise, while the era of holofoil, Marvelocultion and the death of Superman is the Fall.

During the Rise, comics became generally more complex. New publishers entered the market. Comics became more critically acclaimed and oriented towards adults. At the same time, Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles became a breakout hit, implying that the road to success in comics didn’t just go through Marvel and DC. It’s true that the Turtles ended up triggering the black-and-white bust, part of the Fall, but doesn’t every generation trigger its end?

The key year for the Rise has to be 1987. Watchmen, Dark Knight Returns, V For Vendetta and Maus all appeared that year, to thunderous critical acclaim. New publishers seemed to pop up nearly every month, promising new excitement and characters. And the indy comics market, exeplified by Love & Rockets, seemed to have an endless opportunity for growth.

The Fall came soon after. As the first Batman movie galvanized fan reaction, comics became fashionable. McFarlane, Lee and Liefeld became more and popular. Each had his Marvel series launch to overwhelming sales, and then each moved on to Image Comics, where, at least at the beginning, sales were equally tremendous. The comics market was booming, but comics themselves seemed to be getting worse and worse. The covers were more important than the interiors on many books, and we got more and more gimmicks.

At the peak of this era, Superman died, to massive sales. Unfortunately, widespread fan disappointment with the story caused the sales boom to backfire. Batman’s back was broken by Bane, with the same reaction. Marvel brought the endless clone saga, and the distrubutor wars brought bankruptcy after bankrupcy among the comics distrubutors. Marvel also split their line to mini-lines, an ill-fated idea.

The era ended with the end of the Heroes Reborn saga, when Marvel, desperate for sales, tried one last time to bring back its past glories. After that line died, Heroes Return seemed to start a new age. I’ll leave it to smarter minds to decide what age that is.


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