Friday, May 16, 2008

Comic Book Age Categories

Greg Buls is again our guest columnist and today's topic is on the Comic Book "Ages". Thing is, I tend to agree with Greg on this topic and it is one of the more hotley debated comic book topics (with the other two being grading and the pros/cons of CGC - sorry, we don't debate stuff like who is better: Marvel or DC anymore..... um, we don't do we?)

Greg Buls has been a dealer-collector for more than 20 years. He found the pedigree Circle 8 collection in 1991. Greg operates S&V Collectibles on eBay - some really nice stuff you gotta check out!


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Presently, books are divided along age lines that don't make a lot of sense. The golden/atom age runs from the superheroes through Showcase #4, which introduces the Silver Age flash, in 1956. The silver age runs through 1969, and the bronze age begins in 1970, ending in 1980. The Showcase #4 makes some sense as a starting point for the silver age, but the rest is arbitrary. Let me suggest a better categorization. If anyone reads this who discusses these things online, please take this and run with it if you think it's a worthwhile debate.

Golden age: Through 1949 or 1950. At that point, the size of the books changed, as did the paper quality. This cutoff would also coincide with the beginning of the real world atom age, since the Soviet Union began to challenge US atomic supremacy about this time.

Atom age: 1950-1960 & Silver age: 1961-1968 - Aside from the weak argument for the Silver age beginning with Detective #225 and the introduction of Jon Jonzz, there is only one other 50s book that is ever mentioned as the best starting point for the Silver age, Showcase #4. From 1956 through FF #1 (or perhaps Tales to Astonish #27, 1st Ant Man), nothing of note happens. The marginal exceptions include the introduction of secondary characters such as Adam Strange and the Challengers of the Unknown. An argument can be made for Showcase #22, introducing the Silver age Green Lantern, but if you like that book and era, why not the #4? Both of these suffer from two of the same shortcomings: They don't introduce truly new characters and concepts - they are adaptations of existing characters. Not so Adam Strange and the Challengers, but they are not significant enough to warrant starting the Silver age with their first appearance.

Likewise Brave and the Bold #28, which simply teams up existing characters. No, the Silver age has to begin where it really begins, with FF #1. It was all new, enduring, and it signified the opening of the Lee/Kirby creative floodgates which would change comics forever. Had Marvel stayed limited to monster books and Torch/Cap stories, the face of comics would be radically different today. Marvel exists and is propelled ever onward on the strength of characters introduced from FF #1 on. DC is still largely coasting on the work of the 1940s (with hats off to Vertigo).

Bronze age: 1968-1984 (that's right, I said it! 1984!). 1968 saw the next big wave in comics: Hulk, Cap, Submariner, Captain Marvel, and Iron Man all kicked off their modern incarnations in 1968. 1968 also saw the beginning of meaningful speculation; up until about the late 1980s, it seemed like these books were a dime a dozen. One can dispute the significance of these re-launches, but this break makes more sense than 1970, which is totally arbitrary. Another change around this time is worth noting. For the bulk of the silver age, the cover paper of the books was different than they were from about 1968 on. Look at the paper and texture of a 1965 comic cover, and compare it to the paper and texture of a book like Amazing #58-64, or any of the Silver Surfers. The Surfers have what is essentially modern paper, no different than books published a decade later, while the 1965 book's cover paper is distinctly different in appearance and texture. There's little consistency to this change, some Spideys in the #60s and #70s seem to have reverted to the old paper, and this is true of other titles as well.

Modern age: 1985-present - As for the period extending through 1984, the reflects both scarcity and market realities. The direct market came into being in 1984 (and Geppi smiled, and saw that it was good). Up until that point, comic stores were newsstand distribution sites; unsold copies generally went back and were mulched. The DM both increased margins and introduced overstocks to many dealers who had not previously been in a position to purchase extras. The result is that books from 1985 and on are generally more plentiful than their earlier counterparts. And again, while there is some room for disagreement about the significance of 1984, at least there's some significance to it, 1980 as a cutoff is completely arbitrary.

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Thanks again Greg! Again remember to check out Greg's offerings on eBay - great stuff every week.
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