So do I sound like a bigger douche than usual if I say that I feel like comics grew up with me right around the last yelps of my college years? No? Yeah? Kindasortamaybe. Sure I missed the really important stuff, given that I’m only twenty-five… but I think what so many call the Modern Age ended right around the time I left university, and comics became this new animal that was just rife with this manic purity and self-awareness that I got sucked back in after a withdrawal from the medium around the mid-to-late nineties.
When I think of the Golden Age (late thirties to early fifties), I think of the invention of the superhero and the birth of the icons. I think of comics catching on as portable war-time pamphlets egging troops on with stories of good winning over evil. After all, comics were the iPods of the forties… if iPods indirectly conditioned you about the dangers of radiation and the terror of atomic energy… but no yeah, you get the idea.
When I think of the Silver Age (mid-fifties to early seventies) grounding the tales in science more than magic, what with everyone obsessed with nukes, I think of space cop Hal Jordan replacing mystic Alan Scott. I think of the Fantastic Four. Heroes became more flawed, and we got Spider-man. Art became a bigger factor, and we got Kirby. DC started becoming the legacy universe, while Marvel grew into the Wild West.
The Bronze Age/Dark Age (mid-seventies to the late eighties) saw a growing appreciation for serious real-life issues being filtered through the comic lens. Schwartz took over for Weisinger to scale Superman’s ridiculously near-infinite powers. Speedy on speed. Minority heroes. The Dark Knight Returns. Watchmen. Vertigo. The picture of justice became less and less stark black-and-white, but a thick muddled gray. This was when I started.
And then came what I like to call the Image Era—the nineties. Not to point any animosity on Image the company or anything, but I feel like the term really captures that decade’s mood as well as the perceived superficiality of the medium at the time. Superman’s death. The Spider Clone Saga. Inter-company Crossovers. Amalgam? Need I go on? It felt like a very events-for-events-sake time. This was when I stopped. Sure, feel free to call me out on the occasional Gen13 and Battle Chasers splurge in the middle of it all, but hey man…. hormones.
Then when it felt to me like comics were all but tits up, someone lent me the trade for Grant Morrison’s X-Men run. And all at once, it all felt right again. Fresh again. New again. Like the first time I heard the Beatles. And it wasn’t so much that Morrison was simply introducing new ideas—no, he completely and respectfully was building on old ones, expanding the mythos, broadening the scope. And up until then, I had felt like no one had really even tried to do that in a while. Then we got Identity Crisis and things just started to happen. Brave things. Fists in your fucking face things. The Authority. The Ultimates. Planetary. All-Star. Civil War. And I wasn’t sure if it was Bendis’ DD run or Last of the Independents that made me say it out loud, but comics had grown its fucking balls back.
When the boys and I drink, I tend to bring up how exciting comics are right now… and how this is probably the most energetic time for the medium since the Golden Age. A new Golden Age, if you will. It’s always fun to watch people play when literally no one is afraid to break their toys anymore—Steve Rogers is dead! And there are real efforts to make things like that mean something now, and that to me makes this a fascinating ride. The one term mentioned more often than “superhero”? — “status quo.” There is a fearlessness about creators today that make them unafraid to really torture their characters. But at the same time, what I love most about this era is that creators, on the whole, respect the creative lineage enough to make sure that how they piece their heroes back together absolutely earns them the way in which they broke them. Here’s hoping it keeps up.