StarNinja’s Six Ages of Comics

Hey y’all,

It’s a new year and I’m feeling reflective. And when I get reflective, I also get analytical. So, here’s my thoughts on the Ages of Comics.

Now, a lot of ink has been spilled trying to categorize and delineate the different eras of comics and since I read and write about comics so much, I thought I’d throw my take in the ring as well. Here is StarNinja’s Six Ages of Comics and how they’re reflected through the world of Origin, my superhero universe.

Masks and Mystery Men

Before the first superheroes graced comic pages, men and women would put on masks and fight injustice with little more than their fists and their wits. Masked detectives, dashing rogues, swashbuckling outlaws, no matter their background or their M.O., these brave men and women held one thing in common, the betterment of society through expertly applied punching. They could be Robin Hood types fighting economic injustice, or they could be outright villains, making the world safer by hunting even more monstrous beasts that hide in the shadows. There wasn’t one formula for making these types of heroes. With a few changes, you could just as easily end up with a Scarlet Pimpernel as a Zorro or a Phantom. But no matter what mystery they delved into or wrong they tried to right, Masks and Mystery Men did it in style.

In the world of Origin, vigilantes have existed for as long as crime itself, though it wasn’t until the advent of mass-produced printed material that these mystery men became commonly known. The 19th Century saw an explosion of these individuals though their exploits remained the stuff of urban legend. The first superhuman, a Mexican vigilante named El Chacal, was discovered in 1910. He changed the game until it was changed again in the late 30’s when some clown decided to fight crime in a pair of brightly colored tights.

The Golden Age

1938 changed everything. Superheroes were not a category onto themselves before then. A masked crimefighter could be seen in the pages of a crime comic, a horror comic, a mystery comic, an adventure comic and so on. That all changed with Superman. A strong man, a wrestler and a fighter of oppression rolled up in one, Superman stood up for what was right, but perhaps more importantly he stood up for the little guy. In fact, many of Superman’s first villains were corrupt land lords and mob bosses who oppressed the common man. After the success of Superman the flood gates opened. Over the next several decades, hundreds of superheroes graced the pages of comic covers fighting crime, the mob, corrupt landlords, aliens, wizards, monsters and every kind of super threat imaginable. Many of these superheroes were punching Nazis before the U.S. entered WWII, showing comic creators were not only progressive, but ahead of the curve in the fight for justice. That’s not to say that there weren’t a lot of cringey racist and sexist caricatures in those days, of course. The Golden Age didn’t end so much as slide off a cliff into Oblivion. Superheroes’ popularity waned as all things eventually do. At one point, only 3 superhero comics remained in print at all! A lot of blame has been laid at the feet of the Comics Code Authority for shutting down many of the more popular comics of the time, but superhero comic sales had already begun to slip in favor of Westerns and Romance comics.

In the world of Origin, the Golden Age began when a young man named Andy Johnson became inspired by the ‘Hero comics’ he’d read in his youth. He too had powers, but didn’t know what to do with them until one fateful summer day when something clicked in his brain. With power like his, it was his responsibility to fight for the common man. But it wasn’t enough to wear a mask. People had to know he stood for a greater good. A higher purpose. In the age of the Great Depression, people needed an icon, a beacon of hope in a dark world. And so, Right Cross, the first superhero in history, was born. He went on to found the first super team, the American Hero Society, as well as participate in many public-private partnerships with law enforcement that would solidify general relations between the law and the superhero, setting precedents for decades to come. The end of the Golden Age of Heroes in the world of Origin is even less clear than in our own, but by the mid 50’s many heroes had retired due to age or disability and very few heroes had replaced their number.

The Silver Age

There are several candidates for the start of the Silver Age of Comics. Some put it in 1961 with the start of the Fantastic Four while others put it earlier with the revamp of several Golden Age heroes over at DC starting with the Flash in 1956 and going on to the Green Lantern and others. The Silver Age was the age of the Space Race, the fight against Communism, and the slick new American Dream being sold in magazines. Heroes were overtly science based and got their powers in freak science accidents or in pursuit of scientific discovery. Marvel changed the game by injecting the monstrous design sensibilities of their monster comics and the soap opera drama of their romance comics into their superheroes. Their heroes were relatable and had everyday problems. Thanks to the Comics Code, comics also became more silly and outlandish at the exact same time they were getting more grounded in reality. Superman ruled lost tribes as a god and got a lion head. Batman went to space and got a rainbow colored bat suit. The Thing went back in time and became the historical Blackbeard.

In the world of Origin, the Silver Age began with Shadow Boxer II reinventing modern crimefighting along a science based axis in the late 50’s. Every modern vigilante owes a debt to the innovations he made. Things really got going when the all-female crew known as the Estronauts carried out the first manned orbit of the Moon in 1961. Utterly transformed by extra-dimensional energy during the flight, their space module disintegrated on re-entry, showering the Earth with dimensionally charged spaceship shards. The Estronauts survived their ordeal with newly empowered bodies and a proliferation of superpowers tied to the ship shards began! Supervillains got goofier, inventing sillier gimmicks and plots every day. Superheroes could barely keep pace. The Silver Age of Heroes ended abruptly in the world of Origin in 1969 when the Blue Death took the Empire State Building for ransom. Many hundreds died in the ensuing siege and the government began to crack down on superhuman activity as a result, not trusting heroes to do their part. For many folks, the silly costumes could no longer hide the fact that superhumans were dangerous.

The Bronze Age

Comics got serious. Important characters died. Other characters got hooked on drugs and alcohol. Minority superheroes fought to clean up their neighborhoods. In short, comics began dealing with real world issues, leaving alien space wizards behind (though they would continue make an appearance every once in a while).

In the world of Origin, the Bronze Age began in an age of turmoil. Vietnam war protests, mass shootings, political assassinations, it felt like the country was coming apart at the seams. Government crackdowns on supervillains extended to crackdowns on superhumans in general. Villains ditched the costumes and the corny monologues for guns and explosives. What heroes remained got edgier as well. At the height of the Bronze Age, the Summer of Love seemed like a distant memory.

The Iron Age

Sometimes called the Dark Age or the Modern Age of Comics by bleak types, the Iron Age is when comics got dark. Real dark. Then they got edgy and X-TREEEEEEEME! You might say this could rightly be called the Pumping Iron Age. Get it? Because of the outrageously muscular heroes that popped up everywhere? Ha ha…. Anyways, this was the age of heroic deconstructions. This was the age of tearing down and examining comic tropes. What actually made someone a hero? What would motivate people to wear spandex and “patrol the city” looking for criminals to beat up? These interesting questions were soon forgotten and a veritable tsunami of gun toting, pouch wielding, muscle bound maniacs started getting churned out on an assembly line. Like the id made manifest, these heroes smoked, drank, fucked and killed!

In the world of Origin, things got out hand, to say the least. Heroes became nihilists. Nothing mattered anymore. The Bronze Age was an age of social consciousness and political activism; a push back against the Status Quo that the Silver Age heroes had established. But despite their effort, the Bronze Age heroes realized that there was still very little noticeable change in the world. Villains became depraved psychopaths. Heroes wore leather jackets and chains, soon becoming indistinguishable from the enemies they fought. Everything came to a head in 1999, when the Iron Age heroes went too far, declaring war on the Powers That Be and demanding change at any cost!

The Modern Age

The age as hard to categorize as it is to name, our current age emerged in a post 9-11 world. As hard as it is imagine, even the darkest, most exxxxxtreme 90’s comic still had a tinge of immaturity at how far the writers and artists tried to push the medium. When the real world came knocking that fateful September morning, for many people, innocence truly died. Comic creators had to contend with this new reality as much as the rest of us and they worked their fears and hopes out in the comics we read. But, what distinguishes the Modern Age from the Iron Age is the heroic reconstructions. The return of comic tropes but in a newer light. But not everything is rosy. The question of responsibility is raised. When cities are leveled in a super fight, who foots the bill? Why aren’t superheroes curing cancer with their super medical technology? And on and on. The biggest change might be the shift of comics from a niche hobby to a mainstream multi-media juggernaut. Everyone knows the names of B and C-list comic characters now. The market is saturated to the point of absurdity. Where does it end? What do superhero comics even mean when everybody interacts with them? What does it mean when everyone has an opinion on them?

In the world of Origin, the Modern Age is still in its infancy. A decade of fighting the War on Terror has challenged many assumptions that folks had when the Iron Age began. Slowly, people are starting to remember what heroism is really all about. People are beginning to remember that there are things worth fighting for besides themselves. But this age is still unformed. It’s true nature has yet to reveal itself. Will it continue its rise from the deepest pits of despair? Or will it slide back down into darkness? Only time and the efforts of the heroes of the world of Origin will tell.

Modern Age Possibilities

The Modern Age has yet to receive a name, but here are a few possibilities floating around right now. In a decade or two, with a little hindsight, one of these may come to fit the bill.

Diamond Age- Like light reflected through a prism, this age will be a rainbow of diverse voices, styles and genres that edge toward the brighter side of things. But, it will also be a hardened age set in its ways with crystalized opinions and no room to grow.

Obsidian Age- The Dark Age that never ended. Obsidian’s bleeding edge cuts deep, its black face reflects no light or joy. Characters die, worlds end, gimmicks spin off of gimmicks, all marching to the tune of corporate interests as the art is pushed aside in the name of Capitalism; a fact many realize has always been true. All meaning is lost in a swirling black hole of nihilism.

Copper Age- Highly conductive like the wires that cross the globe, the Copper Age will be remembered as a high speed and super connected age where opinions travel at light speed, informing a work before it even has time to be released. While valuable, this age won’t last long in its current state. Like the metal that bears its name, the Copper Age will age very quickly and very poorly.

Brass Age- More malleable than bronze, the Brass Age will prove to be a fusion of all that came before. A flexible age that caters to all tastes and interests and expands to hold all viewpoints, yes even the messy ones, this age will be looked back on as a course correction, when the world bounced off rock bottom and began its ascent back into the light.

One response to “StarNinja’s Six Ages of Comics”

  1. […] Star Ninja‘s the only one who ever comments. And he only does that because he’s nice. He’s […]

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