Mark’s Remarks – Marvel Age #73 (April 1989)

For the second installment of Mark’s Remarks for MARVEL AGE MAGAZINE, I can think of no better topic to discuss than that very term that gives this magazine its name – the Marvel Age. Newer Marvel-mavens may not realize it, but the expression “the Marvel Age of Comics” has been around for quite a while, almost since the dawn of (ahem) the Marvel Age of Comics with the publications of FANTASTIC FOUR #1, cover dated November 1961. The first printed citation of the term “Marvel Age” I can find is on the cover of FF #20, ‘though I’d welcome earlier references if my research is slipping. The expression heralded a trendsetting new era in comics history, a time when the comic book super hero reinvented itself, thanks to the unfettered imaginations of a trio of comics legends by the names of Lee, Kirby, and Ditko.

So it that it? Everything to be said about the topic of the Marvel Age of Comics all in one paragraph? Probably. But I never let minor things like that stop me once I get going. First, I’m going to do a little archaeological digging and try to figure out where this notion of “ages” came from in the first place. Some of you may have heard the expressions “Golden Age of Comics” and “Silver Age of Comics,” both of which predated the term “Marvel Age.” Perhaps some of you even wondered where those terms came from and what they meant. Well, what those terms mean is pretty easy. “Golden Age” generally refers to comics published from 1938, the year Superman first appeared, to around 1951 when the first boom in super hero comics went bust. The “Silver Age” generally refers to comics published from 1956, the year the Golden Age hero the Flash was revived in a totally new incarnation, to some time in the late 1960s – the end of this era signaled perhaps by Stan Lee splitting up the two feature books like TALES OF SUSPENSE into their component feature books, IRON MAN and CAPTAIN AMERICA or when DC dismissed its first-generation comics writers (such as Gardner Fox and John Broome) and brought in a fresh crop of talent. Curiously, the five year interval between the Golden and Silver Age never had a label that caught on, nor has there been a generally accepted term for post-Silver Age era comics.

But where did these metallic names for comics ears come from? Aha, that I actually know. Two places, as a matter of fact. This first is the Greek philosopher, Hesiod, who was describing the history of mankind on Earth as a series of eras, each of which was of less value than the last. He believed that the quality of life throughout history was on a downward slide with the encroachment of civilization and all it encompasses. Hesiod identified five eras of history: the Golden Age, the Silver Age, the Brass (or Bronze) Age, the Heroic Age, and the Iron Age. It’s interesting to compare Hesiod’s schemata to a certain Biblical passage in the Book of Daniel (2:31-43) wherein the sixth century B.C. Babylonian king Nebuchadnezzar had the prophet Daniel interpret his dream image of a giant statue with the head made of gold, the chest and arms made of silver, the stomach and thighs made of bronze, the legs made of iron, and the feet made of clay. (Wanna bet that’s where the expression “feet of clay” came from?) Daniel interpreted this dream in terms of a succession of historical eras leading to the end of the world. Daniel’s gold-silver-bronze-iron-clay analogy is pretty darn close to Hesiod’s gold-silver-brass-heroic-iron one, eh? These two pessimistic individuals must have been on the same wavelength.

Anyway, the “Golden Age” of anything has come to mean that halcyon time when something was new and had been tarnished by time and progress. I’ve always found it curious that whoever coined the terms “Golden Age” and “Silver Age” in reference to the comics medium stopped there, and never got around to defining the subsequent ages. Hey, you know what? I’m going to! This is my column after all, and I can do what I want, Jim Salicrup willing. Okay. Let’s see…so the Silver Age I contend end around 1968. The Bronze Age of Comics I’d say begins properly with Jack Kirby’s migration from Marvel to DC around 1970 and ends a mere five or so years later with Jack’s return to Marvel. During the Bronze Age, the medium faced an onslaught of monster and martial artists, few of which survived the end of the five-year era by very long.

The Heroic Age of Comics I’d begin around 1978 or so, when MICRONAUTS and SHOGUN WARRIORS burst on the scene, heralding the era of toy tie-in books. Besides these outside-market influences on the various companies’ product lines, this age was noted for its plethora of spin-off heroes, such as Ms. Marvel, Spider-Woman, and She-Hulk, the Limited Series concept, and for the high-concept mass crossover, beginning with CONTEST OF CHAMPIONS in 1982 and continuing with SECRET WARS (itself a toy tie-in) and DC’s CRISIS ON INFINITE EARTHS, etc. I’d say the Heroic Age is virtually over – it’s hard to tell with trends when you’re sitting right on top of them – and the next era, the Iron Age of Comics, has begun. I’d characterize the Iron Age so far as the time when a plethora of “independent” comics companies began to make the field as diverse as it was back in comics’ heyday, the Golden Age.

That’s my view anyway. Undoubtedly being a card-carrying Marvel staffer for the past eleven years has skewed my perspective somewhat, so mine will not be the most unbiased viewpoint you could find. But as far as I know no one else has tried to define the post-Silver Age eras of this great medium of ours, so somebody had to do it. I’d be interested in hearing your views on the subject of eras in modern comics history. Write to Mark’s Remark in care of this magazine.

Till next time, keep aging! (After all, consider the alternative!)

– Mark Gruenwald