For Truth and Justice: A History of Superheroes – Part 2

HAVEN - Stela Superhero Saga

Our look back at the history of the superhero concludes.

The Silver Age

The 1950’s, thanks to the crusade of Dr. Fredric Wertham and the eventual Senate Subcommittee on Juvenile Delinquency almost saw the demise of superheroes. However, there were some bright spots in this dark time.

Showcase #4
Showcase #4

DC reimagined Flash and Green Lantern, creating whole new characters sharing the same name as their Golden Age counterparts. Showcase #4 (Oct. 1956), which reintroduced The Flash, is often seen as the start of the Silver Age. DC also introduced Supergirl and Kid Flash. There were a few original characters created during this time, Legion of Superheroes, Phantom Stranger, and Marvel Man (from the UK) being the most memorable.

The 1960’s saw an explosion of new superheroes. With the success of Justice League of America in 1960 publishers felt more confident launching new characters or reviving old ones. DC Comics introduced such superhero teams as Doom Patrol and Teen Titans; reinvented older characters like Hawkman and The Atom; and expanded the Bat Family with Batgirl; the 1960’s was Marvel’s decade.

Fantastic Four #1
Fantastic Four #1

Meanwhile, the struggling Marvel Comics late in 1961 began its reinvention with The Fantastic Four. Then from 1962 until the late 60’s the world saw The Hulk, Spider-Man, X-Men, Thor, Iron Man, Dr. Strange, The Avengers, Daredevil, Silver Surfer, and Black Panther. To name just a few.

Other companies jumped on the bandwagon but few had the success that Marvel and DC had. Charlton Comics had some like Captain Atom and Blue Beetle (that eventually became bought by DC).

The Bronze Age

The Bronze Age is usually determined to fall between 1970 and 1985. It marked a change from the more light-hearted stories of the Silver Age to darker and more socially conscious themes. Titles tackled such issues as racism and drug abuse. Batman returned to the gritty style of the Golden Age. Jack Kirby introduced the New Gods, in particular the villain Darkseid.  Meanwhile over in Marvel Spider-Man saw the death of his girlfriend Gwen Stacy.

Wonder Woman #178
Wonder Woman #178

In the early 70’s superhero sales were on the wane once again. Except for Superman and Batman DC cancelled most of their superhero titles (Wonder Woman continued being published but she renounced her mystical super powers, opened a boutique, and used martial arts as a super spy.) Marvel also cancelled such early best sellers like X-Men. Both companies experimented with other genres like horror (with the newly relaxed Comics Code Authority’s rules), war, and Westerns. They also explored adaptations like Conan and Tarzan. By the mid-Seventies, though, superheroes were on the rise again. The X-Men became a smash once more and DC answered it with The New Teen Titans.

Modern Age

The beginnings are murky but a few titles can define the Modern Age of comics. DC’s Crisis on Infinite Earths (the first of company-wide events), Alan Moore’s run on Swamp Thing, and Frank Miller’s Batman: The Dark Knight.

Batman - The Dark Knight Returns
Batman – The Dark Knight Returns

The 80’s was a time of experimentation in both art and writing styles. Alan Moore and Dave Gibbons created the postmodern superhero story Watchmen. Frank Miller and Bill Sienkiewicz’s, Elektra: Assassin satirized ultra-violence, comic book clichés, and the portrayal of women in comics. Antiheroes became popular during this time. Wolverine, Punisher, John Constantine, Lobo, to name a few.

New companies sprouted up. Pacific Comics, First Comics, Comico, all with superheroes of their own. Marvel launched its mature audiences magazine, Epic, with a mix of stories including superheroes.

Superhero titles from many publishers proliferated in the 90’s. Unfortunately, this was due to a speculator’s market that grew up around the comic industry. Quantity and gimmickry overshadowed quality. The anti-hero Spawn, from Image Comics, was the most notable addition to the superhero world during that time.

The last twenty years has been almost a new golden age of superheroes. The success of Marvel’s various movies, X-Men, Spider-Man, all the movies since Iron Man, and the problematic DC movies starting with Man of Steel have put superheroes in the forefront of general audiences in a way they haven’t been in a long time.

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