Wednesday, April 29, 2009

Five Things to Understand about Silver Age Comics

I want to go into each of these points in more detail at some time, but I did want to mention what I consider to be the five most important things to keep in mind when reading Silver Age Comics (both the blog and the actual books):

1. These comics were designed to be largely throwaway entertainment for youngsters, an impulse purchase. Due to the Comics Code Authority, comic books had to be both entertaining to kids and unlikely to raise the hackles of any mother. The result was a product that while hugely entertaining to young readers would generally be (and was) seen as childish by a large majority of adults and teens.

2. Quality entertainment did make it through despite (or as a result of?) the "G" rated nature of the product. But still it must be judged on that level and for its time. Things that I look for today in the comics of the past are things like positive characterization of the hero, and inspiring stories. Remember, when I praise something that I'm not comparing it to how things would be done today; I'm comparing it to Saturday morning cartoons of the 1960s and the Hardy Boys, because that's what the Silver Age comics were competing against.

3. Many of the developments of the Silver Age were fan-based. This is something that I have not talked about sufficiently, but Mort Weisinger started the practice of publishing letters to the editor in some of his Superman family of magazines, which reinforced the continuity that Weisinger was already imposing on the Superman legend. Although letters columns had appeared in other comics before then (notably the American Comics Group line), this was a first at DC as far as I can determine. At the same time, fans like Dr Jerry Bails and Roy Thomas were petitioning Julius Schwartz for a renewal of the old Justice Society of America. I have a longish post coming up on Bails and Thomas.

4. The successful superhero revivals almost all had one thing in common; they were new versions of the old hero, with different names and occupations and origins (Flash, Green Lantern, Atom, Hawkman, Human Torch). Where the returns fizzled (mostly) were where they involved simple returns of the old characters. DC tried returning several of the Golden Age heroes as they were, including Dr Fate, Hourman, Black Canary and Starman, and all failed (although BC came back a few years later). Even at Marvel, the new Human Torch sizzled while the Sub-Mariner fizzled for years. Captain America? The exception that proves the rule; it was really when they stopped talking about him being around in WWII that he started making sense as a modern character.

5. Changing demographics at least partially caused by the ready availability of the birth control pill resulted in the dramatic changes that occurred in comic books in the early 1970s, as the publishers chased after the baby boomers.