The Nomenclature of Comic Book Eras

Happy Thanksgiving, friends. Been a while since I posted, so I thought I would regurgitate a write-up that appears as a footnote on the home page of the Real Batman Chronology Project. What is the history of superhero comic book eras, specifically when it comes to nomenclature? Let me elucidate!

taschen

Taschen collects superhero comic books, separated into their respective ages/eras, notably splitting the Modern Age into the “Dark Age” and “Modern Age [Proper].”

For the intents and purposes of the Real Batman Chronology Project, I have referred to the classical comic book ages that were born from line-wide continuity reboots—the GOLDEN AGE (1938-1960), the SILVER AGE (1960-1986), the MODERN AGE (1986-2011), and NEW AGE (2011-the present).

Batman wasn’t around until the Golden Age of comic books, but before that there was the so-called PRE-MODERN AGE (or PLATINUM AGE, VICTORIAN AGE, or PULP AGE), which has its roots in the mid nineteenth century, ending in 1938. In a sense, this first ever “comic book reboot” began with the creation of Superman and Batman at DC at the end of the 1930s. Scholar Ken Quattro has also coined the term NASCENT AGE to describe the period between 1933-1938, which either replaces or overlaps the end of the Pre-Modern Age. According to Quattro, 1933 was the first year that the format of comic books began to resemble what they would look like in the Golden Age and beyond.

In 1938, Superman was born and the Golden Age (1938-1960, roughly) started off with a bang. Batman was created a year later, cementing the new era. Ken Quattro has labeled the end of the Golden Age as the GENRE AGE or CODE ERA, reflecting the late 1950s boom of EC’s horror line, horror’s influence on the medium as a whole, and the subsequent Comics Code Authority being created in response. Heidi MacDonald of “The Beat” numbers the original Silver Age DCU as “DCU 2.0” since it comes from the first reboot and is therefore the second DCU. According to this logic, the Golden Age is “DCU 1.0.” The official end of the Golden Age is highly debatable since the beginnings of the Silver Age have a wide-range of possible starting points. We will now briefly examine that wide range.

The origin of the Silver Age starts as early as 1954, but is highly debatable, running for a nearly decade-long span where many different (and valid) arguments can be made supporting various starting points within that time frame. One can split the subsequent Silver Age into subsections: The early years of the Silver Age being the SILVER AGE PROPER (1960-1971, roughly) versus the later portion being the BRONZE AGE (1971-1986). Writers Gerard Jones and Will Jacobs have also goofily referred to the Bronze Age as the AWKWARD AGE—a sort of transitional era from Silver Age to Modern Age. Ken Quattro often refers to the Bronze Age as the NEO-SILVER AGE. And, as mentioned above, Heidi MacDonald numbers the original Silver Age DCU as “DCU 2.0.”

One can also split the Modern Age (1986-2011) into subsections: The early years of the Modern Age in the late 1980s being the IRON AGE, DARK AGE, or COPPER AGE where comics became more “adult-themed” and darker in general; the CHROMIUM AGE, GILDED AGE, or IMAGE AGE of the 1990s, named after Image Comics and the subsequent style that permeated all companies in that decade—which was then followed by the bubble bursting in 1996 and the steady decline of the industry for five years until…; the DYNAMIC AGE from 2001 to 2011 where DC and Marvel began branching out with more forward-looking, diverse storytelling by contracted big-name talents. The New 52 Batman Wiki site refers to the period between the original Crisis and Zero Hour (1986-1994) as the SIGMA TIMELINE. Using Heidi MacDonald’s numbering system, the Modern Age is “DCU 3.0.” A few other names attributed to the later Modern Age canon: the DOWNLOADABLE TORRENT AGE (as half-jokingly named by Mike Sterling); the FAN-FICTION AGE (as angrily named by Alan David Doane); the ZERO TIMELINE (a post Zero Hour name coined by The New 52 Batman Wiki site); the POLYBAG AGE (not attributed to anyone specifically); and the FINAL AGE (also not attributed to anyone specifically).

And the NEW AGE of comics (as I like to call it) began in 2011. DC, with its huge “New 52” hard-reboot in 2011, and Marvel, with its “NOW!” soft-reboot in 2012, both companies spawned a whole new era. Both DC and Marvel ushered in the New Age around this time with a re-purposed focus on nostalgia, even darker themes, decompressed continuity, and mega event crossovers. (Although, these themes changed rather quickly as both Marvel and DC started playing more fast-and-loose with continuity and publishing more light-hearted fare—specifically after DC dropped the “New 52” moniker in 2015 and after Marvel’s “All New, All Different” soft-relaunch in 2015.) Since the New Age really won’t be officially categorized until after it has ended, it currently has several different names, such as: The NEW GOLDEN AGE (as claimed by Douglas Wolk); the PRISMATIC AGE (as defined by Andrew Kunka, Grant Morrison, and the Mindless Ones blog); the BOUTIQUE AGE (as labeled by Ken Quattro); and the MEGA-CORPORATE AGE (as labeled by Charles Hatfield). Using Heidi MacDonald’s numbering system, the New 52 is “DCU 4.0” and the Rebirth Era is “DCU 5.0.”

And that brings us to where we are now. While building timelines on the Real Batman Chronology Project, these subdivisions and alternate names have been pretty much routinely ignored in favor of a hard focus on the typical Golden Age, Silver Age (Bronze Age included within), Modern Age, and New Age—for obvious reasons. Despite that, it’s always nice to know a little bit (or a lot) about how comic book eras evolve and have been named and renamed over the decades.

Related: http://comicsalliance.com/thought-bubble-4-age-comics-silver-age-golden-age-prismatic-age/

About Collin Colsher

Collin Colsher, the creator of The Real Batman Chronology Project and disCONTINUITY, is a writer, filmmaker, teacher, and comic book historian that currently lives and works in Brooklyn, NY. He has lectured at various universities, libraries, and book fairs. Collin has also served on the jury for the Lynd Ward Graphic Novel Prize, which is sponsored by the US Library of Congress.
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