Tuesday, January 19, 2010

A Proposal of New Nomenclature.

I propose a new way of referring to an era of comics.

Since we comics geeks have latched onto what is now a standard way of referring to different time periods/movements in American comic books, i.e. the Golden, Silver and Bronze Ages, I think it's well beyond time to add a new division. The Tarnished Age.

Hear me out. At first thought, The Tarnished Age sounds a little negative. However, I feel it is an apt description which reflects the intentions of the creators of the time. Most of the comics of the era I'm describing are re-examinations of traditional superheroes, looked at through the lense of reality and cynicism. Those once-gleaming heroes of the Gold and Silver ages have become...tarnished.

The Tarnished Age of comics would begin around 1982 with Alan Moore and Alan Davis' revisionist take on Marvelman, aka Miracleman.

From there, we jump across the pond to Mark Gruenwald's 1985 Squadron Supreme maxi-series.

Next up, we predictably move on to 1986 with Moore and Gibbons' Watchmen

and Frank Miller's Batman: The Dark Knight Returns.

From that point forward, nearly every hero gets a new, grittier take. Daredevil has a crisis of faith, Green Arrow has a mid-life crisis and starts using pointy arrows, Spiderman has a serious wardrobe malfunction, Lex Luthor becomes a Machiavellian CEO and Kraven the Hunter blows his brains out.

Sound tarnished enough for ya? The hardest part will be determining where the Tarnished Age stops and the next age begins.


  1. You might even say it began when Speedy tied that first tourniquet on his bulging bicep.

    Best thing to ever happen to Daredevil, imho.

  2. LWNC: Nice one! You'd think I'd have mentioned that one! "MY WARD SPEEDY IS A JUNKIE!!" Not sure which parent to blame, there; Green Arrow or Denny O'Neil ?

  3. Very intriguing thesis Aaron!
    Yeah, Speedy... (good one Lonewolf)
    But then when Reed and Sue filed for divorce...it blew my mind... that and when Tony Stark became an alcoholic.

  4. I like it! I will never forgive Miller for turning Batman into a scruffy, common street thug (and before someone comments, that was NOT how he was orignially). -- Mykal

  5. Mykal: I concur. Was Batman darker in the 1940's than in the 50's and 60's ? Yes. Was he a psychopath? No. Batman hailed from the previous, pulp traditions of Mystery Men, like the Shadow. He looked menacing to frighten the guilty. And, yeah, in early issues he took a few lives...but then Superman threatened to break a woman's arm if she didn't confess to murder in Superman #1, so it's really a late 1930's thing.

    Again, I wince a little bit every time I hear the term "Dark Knight". The original term was "Darknight Detective" meaning he was out in the dark of night.

    Of course, I've never understood why the Green Lantern was called the "Emerald Gladiator" either.

    These things are cyclical. Now that we have started a new century, and are again in an economic crisis, perhaps more escapist, lighter-hearted heroes are on the horizon?

  6. I notice that your examples are pretty much all products of the 80's. Reflection of Reagonomics and Iran/contra cynicism? Gerard Jones suggests as much in his book. I'll excuse O'Neill and Adams' GL/GA from this sordidness, though, because the second part (#86) attempted to show Speedy's redemption and rehabilitation--plus I thought it was a hell of a good story as a kid.