What’s My Age Again? A Look At The History of Comic Books

History has always fascinated me, as have comic books. So when you combine the idea of comic books AND history to form comic book history, my ears perk up and get I get ultra fascinated. I’m a strong believer in the concept of in order to understand where we’re going, we need to look at where we’ve been. So because of that, I can’t get enough out of reading and learning about comic book history.

When I was in high school and at the high point of my naive comic book collecting, I also worked a part time job in my local public library. Having tons of information at my finger tips, you’d think I would have spent time studying my subjects for my classes at school. Nope, I spent much of that time in the library researching and learning about the history of comics, because obviously that was way more important than European geography or physics.

Now it’s important to note that this was in the early 1990s. Maybe 1992 or 1993. I was probably listening to Pearl Jam, but that’s besides the point. That’s important because at that point in time, there were really only three groupings of comic book history to read about: The Golden Age, The Silver Age, and everything post The Silver Age.

I realize that maybe not everyone is aware of the established terms and definitions of the history of comics, so allow me to recap:

The Golden Age of Comics – Defined as the period between the late 1930s and the early 1950s. This was the beginning of super hero comics as we know them, with the creation of Superman, Batman and Captain America. Many of these comics flourished in the 1940s during World War II. The Golden Age was cut short by the work of the evil Dr. Frederic Wertham, who publicly accused comics of being a bad influence on our impressionable children. Comics sales plummeted and super hero comics went away for several years.

The Silver Age of Comics – Defined as the period beginning in the mid 1950s to the early 1970s. The Silver Age of Comics heralded the return of superhero comics with the first Silver Age book — Showcase #4 — which contained the first appearance of the Silver Age Flash (Barry Allen), which highlighted new, more modern takes on the Golden Age characters. The emergence of Marvel Comics in the 1960s added to the momentum that DC Comics was building and ushered comics back into the spotlight as an industry.

Now, in 1992 or 1993, when I was reading and learning about The Golden and Silver Ages of comics, I was lead to the natural question of “What ‘Age’ of comics is right now?” or “What comes after the Silver Age?” At that point in time, no one had yet to define the “age” of comics that came after the Silver Age. Some places I read that anything after the Silver Age was simply considered “Modern Comics” and perhaps it was too soon to categorize comics that had come out within our generation.

Now apparently almost 15 years later either we’ve gotten enough distance between ourselves and the comics of the past 30 years where we can define those eras, or someone else just decided to, but it seems as if some additional categorizations have emerged:

The Bronze Age – Defined as the period of beginning in the early 1970s until the mid 1980s — or 1986 if you want to be specific. Bronze Age comics are a described as a transitional period of comics, with many comic book titles emerging as a mix of the simple comic book stories of The Silver Age with the modern themes and stories that were beginning to emerge. More socially aware stories began to creep in, with the best example of this being the Green Lantern/Green Arrow series by Denny O’Neill and Neal Adams. Bronze Age Comics can be described as the moment that super hero comics began to mature, as its readership began to grow up as well.

The Modern Age – Defined as the period beginning in the mid 1980s (or 1986 to be specific) to today. The Modern Age began with the Watchmen and The Dark Knight Returns, which ushered in this period of much more darker and mature stories. The “Grim and Gritty” comics of the late 1980s/early 1990s emerged as a force within the Modern Age, with morally questionable heroes such as Wolverine and The Punisher taking the limelight.

Now we could sit back and accept these two additional ages of comics. From far away, they seem to make sense. But the amateur comics historian in me doesn’t really love these two ages and their definitions. I think it may be a bit more complicated than how it’s been laid out.

Let’s start with The Bronze Age. Aside from really disliking the continuing of the metal theme and thusly hating the name “The Bronze Age,” I really have to question if this period of comics deserves its own segmentation as an Age. While I completely acknowledge the emergence of more mature, socially aware and somewhat darker themes working their way into the comics, I still look at the comics of the 1970s as the Silver Age. While these mature themes began to creep in, the majority of the comics were still bright and simple in terms of their stories and characters. I suppose the subtlety of the emergence of these changes is what defines the age. I see The Silver Age as running from the mid 1950s through the early 1980s, when it became clear that these mature themes had not only emerged, but began to take over, with the Watchmen and The Dark Knight Returns signaling the end of The Silver Age and the beginning of The Modern Age.

My issues with The Modern Age I think come purely from the lack of sufficient time to develop enough distance to look back. Ironically, my issue with The Bronze Age (being too short of a period, and thinking The Silver Age should last longer) is the exact opposite of my problems with The Modern Age. I absolutely agree that the comics of 1986, the Watchmen and The Dark Knight Returns, signaled the changing of the eras. The emergence of the grim and gritty anti-hero was indeed the new theme for comics. I could even understand and concede including the comics of the 1990s such as X-Force, WildCATs, Youngblood and the rest of the Image Comics revolution as part of this grim and gritty modern age. But what I take issue with is the inclusion of comic book post 2000 in this category.

In looking back, I would signify the launch of either the Marvel Knights line in 1998 or the launch of the Ultimate line of comics in 2000, both by Marvel Comics, as the end of this so-called “Modern Age” of comics and the beginning of a new age. Which probably means we’d need to rename the Modern Age to something more metallic (perhaps The Iron Age), and then call comics post 1998/2000 the Modern Age. Why do I think this is the case? Well I think it’s apparent that around the end of the 20th century/beginning of the 21st century, we saw a shift from the excess of the 1990s. Comics like The Authority, New X-Men, and Ultimate Spider-Man were comics that were different from the comics of the 1990s. The modernity and maturity continued to evolve as stories became more complex and refined, as the attention shifted from the artists who dominated the 1990s (like Jim Lee, Todd MacFarlane and Rob Liefeld) to writers (like Brian Michael Bendis, Warren Ellis, Robert Kirkman etc). I think anyone who’s been involved in making comics or talking about comics in the past 20 years can clearly see there’s a difference between the comics from 1986 through 1998 and post 1998 comics. Finally, while it’s apart from the world of comics, I don’t think you can ignore the wild commercial success comic book inspired movies have had on both the comic industry as well as our culture in general. The level of success and awareness of comics is at an all time high, surpassing even the most popular previous ages.

From a history standpoint, one wonders what are the comics that will define a generation. Will Bendis’ work at Marvel with Ultimate Spider-Man, The New Avengers and the like be the defining moment? Or will The New Frontier or Identity Crisis or 52 be that moment that is remembered and written about for years? Or could it be books like The Walking Dead, Powers, Criminal, and Wanted be the comics that are cited as the key works of this period, highlighting an era focused on creators? Who knows, only time will tell. I’ll be the first to say that it’s premature to categorize comics of the past 10 years in an “Age.” But I think it’s clear that there’s a difference and when enough time has passed, we’ll see that we are truly in the midst of a new and unique age, unlike any previous ages. And to step back and realize that now is pretty darn cool if I do say so myself.



  1. Ron: Totally loved this article and i agree with most of your points. I do however feel that the 70s is a "bronze age" but the thing that stands out for me was all the Kirby Stuff and the more experimental stuff than what was so new and shiny and polished in the Silver Age. New Gods, Kamandi, OMAC, Karate Kid. I think you are spot on about an Iron Age and now we are in a post Modern Age perhaps. It will take another 20-30 years to sort out. Perhaps we are even entering the Digital Age of Comics….Silicon Age? Platinum Age?  Can we at iFanboy be the ones to first coin these terms? You heard it hear fist!

  2. I’ve heard people list Kingdom Come as the end of the above-mentioned Modern Age.  That was sort of about ending the grim and gritty and bringing in the return to the bigger-than-life mythology of comics, but still with the sensibilities and maturing that comics had gained through the Bronze and Modern ages.

    What I dislike about something being called "Modern" is that eventually things move on and you have"post modern" or something awful.  And the progress of time makes the term "Modern" mean less and less until it starts to sound as though it’s used ironically (the "modern" era of architecture, for instance).

    However, Kingdom Come did feel very like a post-modern work, in the sense of post-modernsim as a style beyond comics.  At the time, I really started to hate post-modernism because I felt it was too self-referential.  For my money, that kind of post-modernism ended with guys like Warren Ellis and Grant Morrison.  Planetary felt like something beyond Post Modernism.  There was a different energy to it beyond the pastiche of the past.  It was once again about the big ideas.  So for my money, that’s when the new age started.

    But I don’t think we can define an age while we’re in it.  It must be looked at through the lens of history to really discern the heading our medium is taking.

  3. nice article.

    i agree with dshramek kingdom come or grant morrisons jla could be seen as the end of the morden age.

  4. In the past, I’ve seen the death of Gwen Stacy and Norman Osborn (ahem) cited as the end of the Silver Age, and that seemed pretty reasonable to me; it certainly signaled a dramatic shift in the kind of stories I was used to from that book, if nothing else. I’m sure a case could be made for the death of Phoenix as well.

    While 1986 definitely seems like a natural cutoff, I don’t feel like it signaled the beginning of an Age. Watchmen and Dark Knight seem like anomalies. I’d favor waiting five years or so for the birth of Image as the start of the Fool’s Gold Age. That was the change that kicked off an industry-wide seismic shift away from storytelling and toward advances in paper holographic technology. Death of Superman, Clone Saga, etc etc.


  5. I love the name "Fool’s Gold Age" Jim.

    Other possible names not in the "metals" theme?

    -Pointless Costume Redesign Age

    -Trenchcoats and Ponytails Age (can be shortened to TP Age…get it? Like toilet paper?)

    -Age of Embarrassment

    -The (should be) Forgotten Age

  6. After the crash, and the ushering in of Vertigo, and then Marvel Knights, we have the "post-modern" age.

  7. Yeah, I’ve always seen the death of Gwen Stacy as the end of the Silver Age.  It’s the moment that signified that comics were evolving into more mature, more darker territory like they did with GL/GA, Demon in a Bottle, and Born Again.  Watchmen and DKR might be the end of that age before we got the Grim n’ Gritty age where everyone went insane.  I’ve also heard the idea that the debut of Marvel Knights Daredevil should be considered the start of a new age since it was the catalyst for the standard of quality comics now enjoy and pushed comics into a place where books like Identity Crisis could exist. 

    I know it’s called the "postmodern" age but given that a lot of the themes of postmodernism (deconstructionism, metafictional narratives, existentialism, eyc) were heavily interwoven into books like Watchmen and Dark Knight Returns already so calling it the "Postmodern" age seems almost arbitrary to me.

  8. Art, literature, and architecture have already had their modern and post-modern ages, so for comics to be there now seems like an also-ran. Besides, these are basically just place-holders until someone down the line is able to give a better definition. Bronze and Iron seems like mixing metaphors. Are we in the Olympics or early human history? How about the Dark Age for circa 1984 – 1998 and the Imprint Age for 1998 – present? Or, alternately, the Tiny Lines Age and the Big Panels Age?

  9. Very good and totally agree.

  10. This is one of my favorite topics in comics, great article Ron. I have to agree with you that the era started by Moore and Miller in 86 has come to an end (I personally think it should be called the McFarlane age, and that’s definitely not a compliment), and we are now in a high renaissance period, where most mainstream comics are mature, but have themes harkening back the golden and silver ages. I think our current era "started" in 1995 with the release of Preacher, but that unlike in 1986 with Watchmen and Dark Knight, this change was not immediate, and took several years to completely change over, and that was completed when Quesada was named editor in chief at Marvel in 2000.

    I have to say, I usually hate history, but comic book history is definitely one reason why I love the medium so much.

  11. Who out there was collecting in the mid-80s?  What a great time.  You had the B&W explosion, Watchmen, Dark Knight, the rise of "Prestige Format" books, Secret Wars, Crisis, and Uncanny X-Men still at the height of its power. 

  12. B.S. (Before Superman) – 19– to 1938 

    Golden Age – Superman to The Evil Doc

    Silver Age – Comic Book Code and Intro of the Flash 1954 to the end of 12 cent comics in 1969

    Bronze Age – 1970 to 1986 Watchmen and Dark Knight 

    Modern Age – 1986 to the crash to 1996 the Marvel Crash

    Post Modern Age – 1996 to know… 


    That’s how I would break comic books down, I’ve added a few ages, I’m actually glad I’m in this age since I believe the best stories are being made now. 

  13. First thing, nice with the Blink 182 reference Ron.

    I have no idea when one "age" starts and when one finishes and who am I to say this is when the current one does or not. So I won’t speculate on all that.

    What interested me more was how we’re talking about it now, while we’re in it. It just makes me think that whatever we want to label this era, there is a marked difference in how we’re looking, analyzing and making decisions on these things because of the advent and proliferation of new technologies like broadband internet. Like one of Ron’s gripes about last year, we can get so much closer to our favorite creators now and be spectators to their process like we have never done before. We can debate and speculate on every aspect of comic books and their innerworkings as well.

    If we need to label this era anything, I think it might just need to be called "The Meta Age". We’re talking about comics more than we ever have. So much so, that the comics we read are talking about themselves and their place in the world. Kingdom Come is a great example of this type of storytelling where events and debates from our real world are entering into comic book characters’ consiousness and becoming major plot points in story arcs. Grant Morrison’s work starting with Animal Man, too. That was "meta" before anyone knew what the term meant. Sure some of the real life issues crept in during The Bronze Age, but it wasn’t til writers like Frank Miller, Alan Moore,Morrison, and others, started playing around not with the characters themselves, but with the whole medium of comic book writing that we got all these interesting, layered stories. It wasn’t long after that we, the readers, were able to get online and debate the hell out of what this or that story or event meant, etc., etc.

    Long story short, I think that’s what’s starting to define this era of comics. Interaction and convergence (to borrow a term from the tech community). So, I guess I am naming this era.

  14. Great article, Ron; I always enjoy comics history material.

    I think it is questionable whether or not the usual labels would be applicable to comic books.  If you are considering the stories themselves (as in, what’s going on in them), then going from Golden to Bronze would make sense (progression from innocence to worldliness, from a better environment to a worse one).  However, if we’re talking about the art form and the progression of quality, I would argue that this is the Golden Age, or at least a new Golden Age.  In terms of the writing, the art, the predominance of comics in general culture, comics are at the highest point.  As far as quality goes, I would argue we’ve been going from the Stone Age to the culmination of the form, which is now.  

    It might be better, like most art forms, to define it by periods than by the mythic monikers of "Ages."   

  15. I like the "Fool’s Gold Age."  I wasn’t reading during that time but from the way that people talk about it I am glad I wasn’t.  I’ve also noticed how far stories go to ignore or distance themselves from that of the 90’s.

  16. completley agree with teh article. good one ron!!

  17. The 90’s:Comics::The 80’s:Pop music

  18. The 90’s wasn’t all bad.  Mostly bad, sure, but we got some really good stuff, too.  Sin City, Bone, Sandman, Sandman Mystery Theatre, Preacher, Kingdom Come, Marvels, Morrison’s JLA, Infinity Gauntlet, Hellboy, JLA: The Nail, The Golden Age, Ron Marz on Green Lantern, Mark Waid on Flash, Mark Waid on Captain America, Age of Apocalypse, Man Without Fear miniseries, and From Hell were all 90’s.  There were gems in the 90’s, to be sure.

  19. I agree with you Tork, the 90s weren’t all bad and you can see how those good books have influenced the books we all love now. If the crash hadn’t happened and the emphasis hadn’t been moved from quanitity to quality, I think the industry may have been in a worse place then it found itself, it would have been a slow bleed and possibly the industry may have not recovered.

  20. @Tork: Keep in mind that when people talk about "the 90s" it’s generally the first half of the decade they are talking about.  The 1990-1995 period was particularly awful.  Things start turning around in 1996.

  21. Sure, but even then, there were good books coming out like Hellboy, Sin City, Marvels, Sandman Mystery Theatre, all the stuff Gaiman was doing on at Vertigo, Bendis was starting with Goldfish and whatnot, James Robinson was starting up Starman and The Golden Age at the time, Bone was starting up around this time, the Elseworlds line debuts its official imprint with Holy Terror, and the Infinity Gauntlet happened.  Now, mainstream DC and Marvel are mostly roasting in creative Hell at the time with Image playing the proverbial Lucifer, but I think it’s important to remember in this that some very critical, seminal stuff was happening at the same time amidst the fecal river.

  22. No one has ever claimed there was nothing good during that period.

  23. I know.  I’m just saying.  When we talk about "the 90’s" we always seem to talk about how horrible it was and how dark a period it was for quality, but when you look at what was actually being made at the time, there’s a lot of really important, really good stuff going on while Cable was king.  I’m just saying it wasn’t quite as bleak and devoid of quality as we typically make it out to be.

  24. Strangely, eBay classifies comics from 1984-1991 as the "Copper Age" and 1992 to now as the "Modern Age".

  25. We can call it The Diamond Era! Huh? Huh? who’s with me?

  26. @chlop: That’s actually not bad.

    To me, 2000 seems to be the year where everything starts to change for the better in the comic world. It’s a good thing it beings the new century too….I would call this the Post-Modern age, only because there is so much more original stories and abstract stories….It definitely feels Post-Modern like if this was an art period.

  27. I suggest the post 90s age be called "The Renaissance". It’s a "re-birth" so to speak. Comics were creatively incinerated and from the ashes rises the phoenix. No not THAT Pheonix.

  28. And call the times before that The Dark Ages?

  29. ‘Before the dark times….before….The Empire’….

    Sorry wrong topic 🙂

  30. We can call the DCs and Marvel rivalry "Wars of the Roses"…

  31. @chlop: Is Danny DeVito in the mix of that?

  32. No. I’m saving my lips for Daniel Craig.

  33. With so much retro overlap during this decade, one wonders if changes in the business and artform might overshadow the content of stories. I wonder if the "iAge" will be reserved for a coming decade, or will the solidification of online marketing, web communities, and digital production in comics, be what defines our age in years to come? [This might reframe the context of the ‘meta age’ theory].
    It strikes me that, while all of these things were present in the nineties, like the qualities of previous eras, they expanded beyond their influences to gestate into something significant in the 00’s.

    As the superheroes become increasingly self-referencial, even away from the "Big Two," one has to wonder if we aren’t beyond the parameters of what defined the past. The medium/genre has been in constant production for so long, it seems reasonable that we might be approaching what COULD be described as a ‘masters age.’ A time when thematic or aesthetic changes in our material is neither as significant, nor as dramatic. Silenced by the sheer volume and diversity of the work.

    I wonder if the potential enlightenment of the industry might not leave us with shorter ages, now.
    I’m inclined to agree that 2000 put a close on the grim n gritty and collector’s markets; the "Image/Modern/Copper/Platinum/Onyx/Grim" age.

    I think a lot about 2008 suggests another turning point, even if it isn’t as dramatic as those of the past. Looking off-the-page again, we see the dramatic significance of The Dark Knight and Iron Man as the logical conclusion of quality in cinematic adaptations. (The Film Age?)
    Back home, we have projects like Final Crisis, which recaps elements of most of the previous ages, doing so in a way that might have put punctuation on this era’s collision of historic nostalgia and storytelling techniques.

    There’s certainly plenty more to be pondered!

  34. I will say, for me, personally, a new age of comics began with the internet and the realization that there were entire communities of people doing things like, say, trying to deliniate the distinction between the bronze and modern ages. Rock on iFan-age!

  35. In my 85-6 marked the beggining of the "modern age".  ’98 marks "the renaissance" and 2008 marks the "media age".

  36. 2020: The Death of Comics. Everything will go digital and a nuclear holocaust will erupt making electronic devices useless. No Captain America for you!