Part 1

One For The Ages:
Barbara Gordon and the (Il)-Logic of Comic Book Age-Dating
Part Two: The Silver Age And Beyond

So, if June 1938 - the publication of Action Comics #1 and the arrival of the first fully realized Superman - marks the inception of both the Golden Age and the superhero genre as a whole, what date captures its next significant shift, generally called the Silver Age?

Again, there is broad agreement, but not quite as widespread as Action Comics #1. A handful of individuals point to November 1955 and the publication of Detective Comics #225 as the inception of the Silver Age; this issue is significant in that it first introduces superhero J'onn J'onzz, the Martian Manhunter.

While J'onzz is both one of the first superheroes to emerge following the post-war slump and continues to populate the DC Comics universe even today, his debut itself made little impact. In their Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ) section at Rec.Arts.Comics.DC.Universe, Jerry Franke and Elayne Wechsler-Chaput hedge their bet by offering both J'onzz and the more popular flashpoint in superhero history, the emergence of the second Flash, Barry Allen, in Showcase #4 published September 1956.

In fact, Flash's Showcase #4 ranks as the second most expensive Silver Age book, according to Overstreet listings, outpacing the less valuable Detective Comics #225 ranked #9 (1999: 71).

"The beginning of the Silver Age is Showcase #4, the first appearance of the second Flash," says Busiek definitively (Lewis, 2002). And Coogan, who overlaps the Silver Age with Schatz's Classic stage where "conventions reach 'equilibrium' and are mutually understood by artist and audience," concurs with Busiek. Dashiell also affirms Showcase #4, saying that "the general consensus is that the first appearance of the modernized Flash was the beginning of the Silver Age" (1998: 80).

But, this returns us to the conflict with the fully realized Superman versus his earlier incarnations. Mougin is quick to point out that, though Showcase #4 is the first appearance of the new Flash, it isn't until 1959 that Barry Allen inherits his own monthly title. Of course, one has to ask, what is significantly different from the Flash in Showcase #4 and the Flash in Flash #105 almost three years later? The answer: Next to nothing. The essence of Barry Allen remains the same, making the later headlining and later date irrelevant.

Out of fairness, a brief summary of the potential Silver Age conclusions seems warranted, even if ultimately fruitless. Mougin implicates a number of suspect-dates: Some, he says, "place it at 1970, the year in which Jack Kirby left Marvel and started up the Fourth World saga at DC and in which Denny O'Neill and Neal Adams began their Green Lantern/Green Arrows. Still others [such as Mougin himself] would date it at 1972, the year in which Stan Lee quit writing for Marvel and gave his editorship to Roy Thomas" (Mougin, 1997: 72).

The Superman Through the Ages! website, also suggests publisher- and staff-driven alterations that trigger both the Silver and subsequent Bronze Age. Whereas Mort Weisinger gained "sole control over the character" and re-enlisted Siegel "to DC [Comics] in 1959 to write the adventures of his creation once more," Siegel's mid-60's departure and Weisinger's 1970 handing-of-the-baton to Julie Schwartz signals the change of era for Semich (2003).

Franke agrees with both Weisinger and Kirby's significance in closing the Silver Age, and Wizard magazine cites all of the above in addition to the three-cent price-hike and Marvel Comics' liberating distribution deal as all signs of the time. They also feature Busiek's "last gasp of the Silver Age […] the death of Gwen Stacy," Spider-Man's first love in Amazing Spider-Man #121 circa June 1973 (Lewis, 2002). Coogan dates the Silver Age's passing one month later with the demise of the Green Goblin in Amazing Spider-Man #122. These add two plot-driven dates to the heap of possibilities, which is the point: a different criterion guides each of these determinations.

The motivations and dates are even more scrambled for the next Age, which only some grant as Bronze. Coogan sees this as a time of Refinement, where "formal and stylistic details embellish the form" (2002: 430) - citing Teen Titans #32 in April 1971 as its "arbitrary" beginning (446) - whereas Wizard calls it "the 'Age of Repackaging,' where old ideas were spruced up for a whole new audience" ("One for the Ages", 2001: 90).

Dashiell cites the changing climate both of the industry and of the national as a whole; "not only was the comic book industry experiencing a decline in sale and personnel shake-ups, but the mood of the country was changing as deep concerns over civil rights, women's liberation, and the Vietnam war were reaching critical mass" (1998: 80). For reasons such as these, Dashiell sees the roots of the Bronze Age taking hold back in 1967, "a pivotal year for several reasons, not the least of which was the debut of the landmark Deadman series in Strange Adventures. Like Action #1 and Showcase #4, I think Deadman represented the birth of a concept," namely a mature, adult audience (81).

Overstreet might disagree with Dashiell, with Deadman having little collector's value, certainly not enough to crack its top 10 - but, then again, its Bronze Age top 10 is populated by only five genuine superhero titles, making its definition of the time rather different from my own.

This also makes Busiek's start-point of October 1970, the first issue of Conan the Barbarian, tricky: "The Bronze Age is starting even before Gwen is dead […] There's a new wave of experimentation going on with sword-and-sorcery books. And the Bronze Age eventually gets taken over with the success of Uncanny X-Men" (Lewis, 2002).

Busiek may inadvertently be supporting Wizard and Coogan's claims simultaneously: he values the creative embellishments, but also concedes to the revamped mutant title's dominance - in fact, Conan #1 even says on its cover "The First Time in Comic-Book Form!" (Thomas, 1970: cover, my emphasis).

Bailey shares Busiek's year, but not his reason: "To define it in terms of specific events, we might begin the Bronze Age with Jack Kirby's departure from Marvel Comics around 1970" (2000). Coogan, though, characterizes Kirby's move along with other mass creative staff changes, the failing of Charlton Comics, and the publications of the Overstreet Price Guide and All In Color For a Dime as "extra-textual events" (Coogan, 2002: 464, note 13), contributing to, but none singularly signifying, the onset of the Bronze Age.

All this may make Dashiell's 1967 seem rather premature, but other estimates are further belated. Klock suggests that the Bronze Age, as such, never took place, and that the Silver Age didn't reach its culmination until 1986 with Moore's Watchmen and Frank Miller's Batman: The Dark Knight Returns.

Klock instead names a "Third Movement" containing Warren Ellis' Planetary which will narratively return "to uncover the 'Bronze Age,' the successor to the Golden and Silver Ages of the superhero, in their archeology of mysteries" (Klock, 2002: 167). If Klock's contention reveals anything, it is both how individualized one's dating systems can be and how difficult the post-Silver Ages are to discern.

"Was there a tombstone on the Bronze Age?" was put to Kurt Busiek: "I think it's a little too close to tell," he responded in a 2002 interview (Lewis). For there to be a conclusion to the Bronze Age, there must be a clear next Age in effect, and, on that count, there is little agreement at all.

page 3

-- A. David Lewis

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