Tuesday, January 7, 2014

Readers' Write (4): True or False? The Silver Age Ended When Kirby Left Marvel

While Karen and Doug are on vacation, our readers are setting the day's topic of conversation.  For our "True or False?" posts, the first commenter can pose a statement.  Of course, it should be somewhat controversial, and you of course do not have to believe the statement yourself.  The goal here is to stimulate some lively conversation.  In the past we've had conversations such as - "Rock is dead." and "Fantastic Four is the World's Greatest Comic Magazine."

Thanks for keeping things moving during our break!

J.A. Morris has the question today:  True or False?  The Silver Age ended when Kirby left Marvel.


J.A. Morris said...

True or False:
The Silver Age ended when Kirby left Marvel.

Doc Savage said...

I think the tone of stories changed well before that, I'd probably put the end of the Silver Age as when the fans started to be the writers. Was that '66?

All of this assumes there was a Silver Age and a Bronze Age, etc., which I'm not too sure is true in the first place.

david_b said...

FALSE, but a good topic for pontification today.

I like Matt's mention of tone. You always wonder when a biggie like Kirby leaves, what ripple effect that announcement does to the rest of the bullpen staff, especially since Marvel was still a very small outfit back then (compared to the more 'MadMen-esque' atmosphere of DC Comics back then..).

FF was obviously the flagship title for Marvel, along side ASM, and with all new Silver artists hired being instructed to mimic Kirby, you get the sense that a lot of folks were scrambling. 'Untold Stories' brushes on the topic slightly, leaning more towards the dramatics of Kirby's departure than it's effects on the staff.

Bluntly speaking, the transition from Silver to Bronze started with O'Neil-Adams tenure on GL/GA and ended with Gwen's death.

Certainly any noteworthy coincidal moves during that period can be counted, such as Kirby's last FF, Conan's premiere, Comics Code approval excluded from drug issues, etc.. But if you're looking for a single action to determine the 'changing of the guard', it's not that simple.

Edo Bosnar said...

Matt, there are definite differences in the comics (in superhero fare at least) of the 1950s, '60s, '70s, etc. Calling them 'ages' is just a convenient shorthand.
Anyway, I would answer false, especially when we're talking about Marvel. As Matt noted, the tone of the stories changed sometime after the mid-1960s. Personally, I think Roy Thomas ushered in what we call the Bronze Age at Marvel in many of the titles he was working on, especially the Avengers and X-men. I also think Spider-man was very deeply in the Bronze Age before issue #100 - the drug issues are nothing if not Bronze Age stories in my opinion.

Doug said...

I'll agree with those who've said that Ages are blurry at one company, let alone across the industry.

Kirby's departure, for me at least, signified the end of an era more than the end of an Age. We've discussed before about his output waning creatively during the previous couple of years he was at Marvel. It's well-documented how dissatisfied he was with his perceived working conditions. So his move from Marvel to DC is perhaps more a page turned than an industry shake-up. Looking at his output at DC, that company has struggled since Kirby went back to Marvel in terms of how to effectively use his Fourth World creations. They haven't exactly had an easy time of sticking with the public fancy.

One of the demarcations of the Silver to Bronze Ages at Marvel is the advent of the split books; of course, once the distribution conditions were changed and the Marvel explosion took place, that's another line worth noting.

So maybe it's best to stick to story tone, and expansion of art. The arrival of Steranko and Adams, the explosion of John Buscema's abilities, and that second round of writers that landed in the very early 1970s -- that's where the change takes place.

Edo, do you want to stretch that Spidey line even back a few more months to the death of Captain Stacy? Or are you focusing as much on the story in the drug issues as on the fact that they were published outside the Code?


Edo Bosnar said...

Doug, I've only read a smattering of ASM stories between the Ditko run and issue #100 - i.e., the aforementioned drug issues, plus a few random stories that were reprinted in various other books. So I'm not really an expert on when Spidey went Bronze. However, the tone of the drug issues, like that 3-parter that started in issue #100, just seems very far removed from what we normally call the Silver Age.

Doug said...

Edo --

I concur. Somewhere in the #90s Spidey's book matured a bit.

Incidentally, #90 is cover dated Nov. 1970; the drug issues begin in May 1971. This period corresponds to Kirby's departure for DC.


Rip Jagger said...

I'd say true.

Kirby leaving Marvel is a good enough marker since his work with Lee on the FF, Thor and other Marvel titles largely defines the late Silver Age begun technically with the return of Flash in Showcase. That's a good long time and Kirby was with DC at that time of Flash's debut since the Challs were part of that same push. So his return to DC is a logical note to end the "Age" on.

As for tone, the shift at DC of firing some writers (Arnold Drake and especially Gardner Fox) really caps the generational transformation which was as mention bringing in the first fan boy generation of creators. Neal Adams was the herald, but soon Steve Skeates, Denny O'Neil, Roy Thomas, and others were aboard.

The Bronze Age begins for me really with the publication of Conan the Barbarian #1. This happened almost in the same month as Kirby's first issue of Jimmy Olsen hit the stands, specifically those books dated October, 1970. Since books were dated three months in advance I'd say the Bronze Age began in July or August of 1970.

It was a Thursday. (Maybe not.)

Rip Off

Doc Savage said...

As far as Marvel goes, I'd probably be okay with saying the Bronze Age began when Roy Thomas arrived as a writer. Given how Kirby willfully stopped creating for Marvel towards the end of his tenure, his departure isn't really artistically significant so much as it was embarrassing for Marvel and a harbinger of change vis-a-vis treatment of creators.

mr. oyola said...

I'd say false, but. . . any indicator of the turning of "the Ages" is essentially arbitrary.

mr. oyola said...

P.S. I am never going to get to one these early enough to determine the day's topic. Dangnabbit! ;)

Hoosier X said...

I think 1970 is the best year to cite as the start of the Bronze Age.

In the years before 1970, there are a few things that later became characteristics of the Bronze Age - the rise of Neal Adams is a great example, the death of Captain Stacy is another - but for the most part, comics still had so many Silver Age characteristics. (For example, I don't think the splitting of Tales of Suspense or Tales to Astonish into two books is a good place to mark the Bronze Age because you just had longer Silver Age Hulk or Iron Man stories.)

But 1970 ... just month after month, this is the year that indicated that things had changed. Neal Adams draws his first Batman story in Detective #395, Kirby moves to DC and the Forth World begins, the first issue of Conan, the Spidey drug issues, O'Neill and Adams on Green Arrow/Green Lantern. You can argue about the significance of any single one of these events, but as a whole, this is a watershed year for the comics.

But what do I know? I say the Silver Age started with J'onn J'onnz and Batwoman.

Hoosier X said...

I like Roy Thomas a lot, but I don't see what makes his early stories "Bronze Age" stories. I just read The Essential Avengers, Vol. 2 (Avengers #25 to #46), and they are great stories!

The first Roy Thomas Avengers story is here (#35). (This has the infamous bit where Captain America's shield is disintegrated by a laser on page 2 and shows up intact later in the story with no explanation.)

This is some really good Silver Age writing. Hercules and Black Widow have great supporting roles. Great art by Don Heck and John Buscema. Diablo, Dragon Man, Sub-Mariner.

But no Bronze Age characteristics that I can see. That will have to wait for The Lady Liberators!

mr. oyola said...

Maybe I have brought this up before? Or maybe it was on another site - and maybe if there are any historians here they can elaborate, but when it comes to the comic "ages" I like to adapt the idea of the "Long" centuries or decades that historians use allow their specialty to bleed into the arbitrary distinctions of years. So for example, the Long 19th century can be measured from 1789 to 1914.

So, I like a Long Bronze Age - so while 1970 seems like as good a time as any to start, someone might be able to talk about a particular story from '69 or '68 and call it "Bronze Age." Similarly, for me the big question is when does it end - which I'd say is 1988 - but might even go as late as '90.

david_b said...

I agree with Hoosier X and Rip for 1970 being 'the year'.

However, I still stand on my 'window' rationale for no other reason as I visualize it like 'Moving Day'.

Typically you call friends over to help you move.. You're startin' Friday night with pizza's, which turns into all-day Saturday, then you're settling in by Sunday evening.

O'Neil/Adams -----> Gwen's grave scene.

Voila, you're FIRMLY Bronzed.

And since I'm always SUCH an agreeable kind of guy, mega-kudo's to Edo's torch-passing mention of Roy Thomas, just looking him up on wiki about all the Bronze characters he created (Conan, Black Knight, Vision, Yellowjacket, Adam Warlock, Morbius, Doc Samson, Ms. Marvel, Valkyrie, Ultron, Werewolf by Night, and Killraven), all before he was named Editor-in-Chief.

That would be a strong-an-argument as any others here. I know his name's been brought up multiple times for being regarded the 'true force of change' in the Bronze Age, so this isn't anything new.

Anonymous said...

Kirby's departure was the first domino that set in motion, at Marvel, what we now recognize as the ending of Silver Age. Though many of the people shaping comics during the earlier period were still involved in the industry, the next generation, already in place, began to shape and change the industry. A shift from those who fought in WW2 to those who were born during WW2. The impact of culture and society of the 50s & 60s (heck TV in the home) in shaping the way the new guard approached their craft naturally emerged as the reins were loosened as these people began to assert themselves. Kirby's departure created openings and opportunities. Nature abhors a vacuum. The end of 1970 was a closing of the door on an era as a window opened onto a new dawn. Roy Thomas had already been writing The Avengers for four years, but his Magnum Opus was still a year away. I think back to I Love Lucy/ The Brady Bunch. On Lucy, she had a baby, big whoop, but something unheard of in that time. On the Bradys, the parents slept in the SAME BED. What was happening to our world? Good Lord, close the shop and draw the shades.

I also agree with Rip, it was a Thursday. I had Malt-O-Meal for breakfast. It was hot, but a good hot. No so hot that you had to but a dish towel in your lap as you eat but hot enough that you had to blow on the spoon. The sun was peeking through the window at just that angle we all know so well.....

The Prowler (from the old Spider-Man Crawlspace).

Anonymous said...

DAGGNABITT!!!! I really need to write down what I want to write down before I write it down so I don't forget what I want to write down.

To mr. oyola: There is a simple three step plan to posting a topic. 1) Get a night job. 2) Have a light night where you skip taking a lunch. 3) Hit all the lights coming home, walking in the door at 6:15 am.

Or you could pass your topic to someone in the situation and let them post it for you. You know, whatevs. It's all good. Alright alright alright.

The Prowler (f.t.o.S-M.C.)

Redartz said...

Here's another vote for 1970, although Mr. Oyola makes a good point with the "long" eras.
Another change in Marvel created by Kirby's departure was the new look artistically on Amazing Spider-Man. Once Kirby left the FF, John Romita did some work on the title. Thus we saw Gil Kane's artwork illustrating the wallcrawler. Kane and Ross Andru together exemplify the Bronze Age for ASM (although Romita remained my personal favorite).

Fred W. Hill said...

Personally, I think the wasn't really a distinct split between the Silver & Bronze ages, but a bit of a muddy interlude between 1969, maybe starting with the cancellation of the Dr. Strange & SHIELD mags, through Gwen Stacy's death in 1973 by which time many distinct aspects of Marvel's Silver Age had been irrevocably changed and the overall mood of the MU seemed much darker than it had been at the height of the Silver Age, circa 1967. I really don't know if there are any key events that really mark the transition over at DC, although perhaps The Joker's Five Way Revenge story in Batman also from 1973, marking the Joker's return to his homicidal roots, may be regarded as the key marking DC's final transition to the Bronze Age.

Comicsfan said...

At the risk of detouring off topic for a sec--if I ever see an instance of Doctor Doom being at a loss for a stinging exclamation and instead see him yell out "Dangnabbit!" in the heat of the moment, I'm going to topple out of my chair and drag my entire desk set crashing down with me.

Hoosie X said...

My favorite comic book for confusing categorization with regard to the Silver Age or Bronze Age question is Wonder Woman. She goes mod (very 1960s) for four years from 1968 (when comics were still 12 cents) up to #203 in 1972 (and comics are now 20 cents), almost exactly straddling the switchover from Silver to Bronze.

So is Emma Peel Wonder Woman a Silver Age thing or a Bronze Age thing? It is senselessly goofy enough to be Silver Age, yet it takes itself kind of seriously at times, making it more of a Bronze Age thing. Yet do we really want to designate Wonder Woman #178 as some kind of herald for the Bronze Age?

I'll stick with Detective #395, thank you!

Hoosier X said...

I love mod Wonder Woman, by the way. I have a copy of #188 and my local library has a couple of the trades, the first one and the last one. (So, yeah, I have read those insane issues with Catwoman and Fahferd and the Gray Mouser.)

Hoosier X said...

I came to my conclusion about 1970 by thinking about the Silver-to-Bronze transition when reading comics - Marvel and DC both - in the 1968 to 1973 range. There were a few months earlier this year when I might be reading some old Thor or Detective Comics or World's Finest, and I might see an ad that might make me think "That's so Bronze Age!" and I'd check the date of the comic.

I'm very dubious about something like late 1960s Avengers really having a Bronze Age "tone." I'm thinking #57, #60, #69 to #72, I just don't see what makes them Bronze Age. High-quality late Silver Age, sure.

It's very subjective, I know.

William said...

I'd say False.

I don't think the different comic eras (Golden Age, Silver Age, Bronze Age) can be defined by any one creator. It's more of what was happening in the comics themselves, not who was responsible for creating them. Kirby leaving Marvel was something that happened in the "real world" not in the comics world, so it didn't really have as noticeable an impact to the readers as say the introduction of Superman in Action Comics #1, which ushered in the Golden Age of Comics. Or the first appearance of Barry Allen as the new Flash in Showcase #4, which began the Silver Age. These are both very definable (and positive) moments in comics that people can point to as a major turning point in the history of the medium.

Someone like Jack Kirby leaving Marvel wasn't really a major turning point in the comics themselves. The Fantastic Four (and all the other Marvel books) still came out monthly. The only difference was that Kirby wasn't drawing any of them. Creators come and go. It happens all the time.

I personally think the beginning of the Bronze Age occurred when the Comics Code was relaxed to allow a little more creative freedom in the storytelling. This paved the way for Marvel (and other companies) to start experimenting with more mature themes. It was now OK to use classic monsters like vampires, werewolves, and zombies in comics once again. It also allowed previously forbidden subjects like drug use to be portrayed. So I would say when Marvel started publishing monster comics, and stuff like Howard The Duck, and DC put out Green Lantern & Green Arrow, that was really the start of the Bronze Age. That was when the floodgates opened up, and comics started to become hipper and edgier, and began being targeted to a somewhat older audience.

This was further illustrated by the introduction of characters like the Punisher in ASM #129, and Wolverine in Hulk #181. They were (and are) the quintessential anti-heros, who weren't adverse to killing in order to make sure that justice was served. One used guns, and the other had knives pop out of his hands. Characters like these were a reflection of the changing times. So, I would definitely say that the relaxing of the comics code was much more of a definitive turning point to mark the transition from the Silver to the Bronze Age than Jack Kirby moving from Marvel to DC. At least IMO.

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