Greetings from the Odinson,
Last week, the Odinson started going through the Ages of comics history (i.e. The Golden Age, Silver Age, etc.) and pointing out the single most important issue or storyline that, to him, embodies each of these Ages. He started with the glorious Golden Age (Action Comics #1) and the birth of the super hero. Then came the science fiction influenced Silver Age (Flash #123). This was followed by the genre rich Bronze Age (Conan the Barbarian #1). And finally, he ended with the Modern Age (Watchmen) which features the maturation of comic book storytelling. Plus, I added a fascinating sub-Age (indicate with an *) to the list – The Marvel Age (Fantastic Four #1). This week I will continue my trek through the Ages of comics by exploring some more of these sub-Ages. .
Part 2 of 2: Post-Crisis DCU to The New Age
* Post-Crisis DCU (1985-2005): Legends – In the wake of Crisis on Infinite Earths, the DCU canned its convoluted multiverse and re-launched as a single cohesive universe. Titles like Man of Steel, SHAZAM: The New Beginning and Batman: Year One reintroduced the DC icons and rebooted their origins for a whole new generation of comic readers (my generation). This Post-Crisis DCU was the perfect jumping on point as the worlds of DC, from Smallville to New Genesis, unfolded before me as if for the very first time. Heroes were interacting and meeting each other for the very first time and the story that brought it all together and gave this bold new direction cohesiveness was Legends.
Legends was the launching pad for everything that was to come next. In this tale, a major Big Bad, Darkseid, threatens planet Earth and forces this world’s greatest super heroes to assemble and fight this threat side-by-side for the greater good. In the aftermath of Legends came Justice League and with the launch of Superman, Flash and Wonder Woman the DCU was reborn.
The most beautiful thing about the Post-Crisis Age is that it is actually an overall story arc with a beginning, middle, and an end. Its origins are result of the events which take place in the pages of Crisis on Infinite Earths. Over the course of the next two decades, the DC heroes and villains and their lives are explored, dissected, deconstructed, and put back together in ways they had never been before. Pick a character, and whether it’s Superman (his Exile, his Death, his Wedding, etc.), Batman (A Death in the Family, Knightfall, Cataclysm, No Man’s Land, etc.), Auqaman (losing his Hand, losing his Kingdom, his complicated love life, losing himself, etc.), or Green Lantern (Hal Jordon – His Fall, His Redemption, His Return, etc.), during this crucial twenty-year stretch the readers can follow a character’s arc - his growth, his failures, his struggles, his triumphs. Like a long running daytime soap, each story arc begets and influences the next.
From Legends to Zero Hour to Identity Crisis, the Post-Crisis Age of Comics is brought to a beautiful and satisfying close in the pages of Infinite Crisis, as every single subplot and major plot twist of the previous twenty years is given closure in this epic bookend to one of the finest endeavors in comics history.
* Age of the Renegade (1992-Present): Spawn #1 – Once upon a time, names like Todd McFarlane (Spider-Man, Hulk), Jim Lee (X-Men), Marc Silvestri (X-Men, Wolverine), Erik Larsen (Spider-Man), Rob Liefeld (New Mutants, X-Force), Jim Valentino (Guardians of the Galaxy), and Whilce Portacio (X-Factor) were rising stars in the Marvel Comics bullpen. They were the Young Guns of comic artists - young, hip, cocky, smart, and, above all else, talented. These brash young super stars rocked the comic book community in 1992 when, at the height of their collective powers, they decided to leave Marvel Comics and form their own company. It’s called Image Comics and it’s been a force to be reckoned with for twenty years and counting now.
In the beginning, Image was dominated by the super hero genre. Each creator added his own spice to the pot - Todd McFarlane (Spawn), Jim Lee (WildC.A.T.s), Marc Silvestri (Cyberforce), Erik Larsen (Savage Dragon), Rob Liefeld (Youngblood, Brigade, Supreme), Jim Valentino (ShadowHawk), and Whilce Portacio (WetWorks). But in the years since its inception, Image Comics has grown to become so much more. It has become a haven for creator controlled properties and a breeding ground for bold, new, and fresh ideas. From Astro City to Bomb Queen to The Maxx to Witchblade, Image has allowed the creator to tell the stories, good or bad, he/she wants to tell, without the hindrance of outside influence.
Image has also become the breeding ground for super star level talent of its own. Robert Kirkman’s Invincible is arguably the best teenage super hero comic book since Stan Lee and Steve Ditko’s debut of Amazing Spider-Man in 1963. And no one can argue that Kirkman’s The Walking Dead isn’t a spectacular pop culture phenomenon unlike few other properties in the history of comics. In recent months, Image has seemingly struck gold again with the runaway success of Brian K. Vaughan’s Saga. There have been other independent comic companies established in opposition to the Big Two, but none have had the staying power or success of Image Comics.
* Death of the Super Heroes (1982-Present): Death of Superman – Sure there were some heroes before 1982 that made the ultimate sacrifice for the greater good. Bucky’s heroic demise haunted Steve Rogers for years, and Jean Grey’s selfless sacrifice to stop the out-of-control Phoenix Force left us all in tears, but it was the poignant Death of Captain Marvel that kicked off an era of death in comics that is still going strong to this day. After the shocking and sudden demise of the Protector of the Universe, a chapter in heroic history that was handled with great care by the capable hands of Jim Starlin, the comic community was put on notice – who’s next?
Again, there were others, but probably the first really major death in the super hero community to follow Captain Marvel’s had to be the death of Robin (Jason Todd). This is a chapter in the annals of comics that shaped the character of Batman for years to come. But as significant as the demise of the Boy Wonder was, it pales in comparison to the death that rocked the comic book community to its core.
The Death of Superman is, without a doubt, one of the most singular and most significant moments in the history of comics. The world’s greatest super hero falls in battle to save the world from an unstoppable monster. This event was so huge that even people who don’t or never have read a single issue were affected by it. It was covered on national news as the major story it really was. If the death of Captain Marvel signaled to the rest of the community “who’s next?”, then the Death of Superman sounded the alarm – nobody is safe!
And nobody was.
Over the next twenty years, we saw the demise of almost every single major comic character to grace the four-color medium. Batman, Captain America, Wonder Woman, Thor, Green Arrow, Iron Man, Aquaman, Wolverine, and many, many others have danced with the reaper. It has happened so often that death in comics has almost become a cliché. And with the recent Dying Wish storyline in the pages of Spider-Man, it doesn’t look like the Death of the Super Hero Age is going to end anytime soon.
* The Ultimate Age (2000-Present): The Ultimates – In 2000, Marvel Comics wanted to use the coming of the New Millennium to reinvigorate and reintroduce their properties to a whole new generation of readers. But they didn’t want to rock the boat of their already successful main stream universe. So with the release of Ultimate Spider-Man, the Ultimate Universe was born. This alternate version of the 616 (Marvel’s core Universe) was a new take on classic concepts. Here, the creators could go back and explore the early days of the Marvel Age but with a New Millennium twist, an updated and fresh look.
In the Ultimate Universe, Peter Parker is a teenager once again enduring the trials and tribulations that go along with High School. The Ultimate X-Men are once again the young neophyte heroes struggling to find their place in a world that fears and hates them. And the Ultimate Fantastic Four are a team of young, bright super humans at the forefront of universal exploration. But nothing embodies the Ultimate concept more than the flagship title of this universe – The Ultimates.
With the Ultimates, Mark Millar took a look back at the long and illustrious history of Earth’s Mightiest Heroes, clipped away all the convoluted and unessential luggage, narrowed the concept of the Avengers down to its bare, beautiful nuts and bolts and created the definitive super hero team for the New Millennium. The Ultimates made everyone remember why we love these characters. Captain America is the ultimate fighting machine and leader that struggles with being a man out of time. Bruce Banner is a brilliant man cursed to walk the earth and try to keep the monster within in check. Thor is a mighty warrior of unparalleled power who hails from another time and place, a god amongst mere mortals. Iron Man is a billionaire, playboy, philanthropist and a man who struggles with the vice of alcohol and, no matter how brilliant he may be, can never escape the physical ailment that is slowly killing him. The Wasp is whimsical and Hank Pym, despite his brilliant mind, is tortured by insecurities that will cause him at crucial moments to make bad decisions.
But despite all these flaws, when the chips are down, these heroes rise to the occasion and do what must be done in order to ensure the safety of mankind. This is the essence of the Avengers. They are Earth’s Mightiest Heroes.
The success of the Marvel Movies owes a great debt to the Ultimates. The influence the Ultimate Universe has had on the current stock of super hero movies is evident. Take note, movie makers, when it comes to super heroes, don’t try to “Hollywood” it up, and don’t try to reinvent the wheel. There’s a reason these tales have been around for almost a century. Just break it down to its essential elements and you shall find that there is gold to mine. Example: Marvel’s The Avengers.
** The New Age (2011-Present): Justice League #1 – The last Age of Comics is the one we are currently heading into – The New Age. The New Age is the great unknown. Where do we go from here? It’s a new Beginning, a fresh start. It’s a great jumping on point for new and lapsed readers alike. And with the launch of DC Comics: The New 52, Marvel Now, and the return of Valiant, the New Age has already begun.
For the last 75 years every generation has had an Age that has defined their era of comics experience. The Golden Age (1939-1955) was the first, a bright, shining moment in history that birthed the super hero, inspired the imagination and led the way for all others to follow. The Silver Age (1956-1969) embraced the Atomic Age, asked questions, and explored the furthest reaches of science fiction. The Bronze Age (1970-1981) challenged the readers to think outside of the box and embrace new ideas and new concepts and explore different genres. The Modern Age (1981-2011) challenged the way we look at and read comics. It broadened the horizons and took the medium further than anyone possibly could have imagined. And now it is time for the New Age of Comics. Oh, what magical avenues of discovery will they think of next?
“The Future is Now!” Welcome to the New Age of Comics.
This is Odinson bidding thee farewell