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When did the Golden Age of Comics end?

This year’s Advent Calendar is about spotlight Golden Age Christmas stories. My “problem” is that I don’t know what I should be using, years-wise, for “Golden Age.” I know I am safe if I just use 1950 as my cut-off, but obviously there would be more material available to me to use if I put the cut-off later, such as the introduction of Barry Allen in 1956.

What do you folks think?

Whatever you vote for will be my guidline in choosing stories for the Golden Age Christmas!

26 Comments

I would’ve put the year the Comic Code was adapted and the industry was forced to self censor in the pole. I think that was the event that ended the Golden age. All the classic, edgier, pulp publishers that specialized in genre fiction were forced out of business, and the super hero comics that were left forced themselves to be campy to avoid problems with the code. I think the importance of that event and effect on the industry for the next few decades makes that the best point to go with.

Peter Coogan in his book Superhero: The Secret Origin of a Genre suggested that the last Jack Cole Plastic Man story can be seen as the end of the Golden Age.

Philosophically I say the Golden Age never really ended, or we’re in a new one, or something.

But that doesn’t do jack in answering your question.

I’m picking the latest choice, although as I said, who’s going to get so upset if you use a ’55 Christmas story for “Golden Age Christmas”? Only a real Scrooge!

Mint City Comics

December 10, 2012 at 3:57 am

I am going with a very different viewpoint in that the massive change in the “focus” and content of comic books thoroughly brought the Golden Age to an end. I would argue 1948 is the end, when the majority of super hero title made the shift to other genres as interest and readership waned. In my opinion the years 1948-1956 constitute a completely different era of comics bridging the Golden Age and the Silver Age. Of course these arbitrary “Ages” focus on the publishing of the dominant genre in comics, the super heroic fantasy.

It would certainly be after 1951 because that’s when the JSA ended their run in All-Star Comics. My best guess would be 1955 when the Martian Manhunter first appeared.

I always think that the Golden Age ended with the end of All-Star Comics in 1951 and the Silver Age began in 1956 with the introduction of Barry Allen. In between, I have thought of as the “Wertham proves himself an ass and a bad psychologist” era.

I’d go with 1950 but honestly there’s only a dozen of us out here that would know if you fudged it. But Daz and Erik are right to point out that these are SUPERHERO terms; you have to acknowledge the lull in between the two superhero boom times if you are being strictly accurate.

My personal pick is whenever Green Lantern first got booted off the cover of his own book by a dog.

“My personal pick is whenever Green Lantern first got booted off the cover of his own book by a dog.”

That would be Sep-Oct 1948. Also an understandable point.

You could also go with February 1949, when Flash Comics ended its initial run.

I agree with Mint City and several other commenters – the Golden Age kind of died a slow death 1948-1951 or so, then you have a lull of a period for a few years (Atlas revival of Timely’s Golden Age Heroes, Martian Manhunter, Captain Comet, Captain Marvel finally kicking the bucket, Comics Code instituted, etc.) and then the Silver Age really taking off with Showcase #4 and Barry Allen.

To me the Silver Age definitely starts with Barry Allen, so that’s my answer to the question posed, but the real question is whether the Golden Age runs all the way to that point, or whether there’s an intermediate age between the bursts of spandex activity.

^ Yep. Even if there’s some doubt about the best moment at which to date the end of the Golden Age, I think the way the phrase is normally used is entirely incompatible with letting it run all the way up to the beginning of the Silver Age. The lull between them is part of the meaning of the two.

I would say that 1954 and the adoption of the Comic Code was the end of the Golden Age.

The shift of comics to an “all G-Rated” medium for the better part of two decades was enormous. You could make a decent argument that the Silver Age would have never happened without the Comic Code.

I happen to look at it more from a collector’s perspective. Say I go to an auction containing various “Silver/Golden Age” books I tend (again, as a collector) to place any Golden Age books into the pre-Barry Allen in Showcase years automatically. It’s an easy date to remember and is a pretty clear defining moment. Not sure how many of you on here actually collect the old books, but I’m pretty sure that’s how the collecting industry maps it out. Lots of other ideas make sense to me too, for instance the advent of the Comic Code.

I’d go with 1950 but honestly there’s only a dozen of us out here that would know if you fudged it.

True, but half of that dozen would complain about whichever date in the 1950s I went with. ;)

Somewhat off topic, but could someone explain to me (or link a reference) how the various eras of super hero comics came to be named after decreasingly precious metals? Calling one age Golden and another Bronze certainly suggests a value judgment, but who made this judgment and on what criteria?

I’m pretty sure the Metal Men were behind it somehow, but that may just be my Platinum Age mentality talking.

Can you explain the significance of the year 1950 as a marker for the end of the Golden Age? What exactly happened in 1950? I won’t vote in this poll because I don’t consider myself knowledgeable enough to participate, but I’d love the history lesson if anyone can spare it.

Can you explain the significance of the year 1950 as a marker for the end of the Golden Age? What exactly happened in 1950? I won’t vote in this poll because I don’t consider myself knowledgeable enough to participate, but I’d love the history lesson if anyone can spare it.

Nothing specific about that date precisely, more the fact that almost EVERYone can agree that if a comic came out in the 1940s, it qualifies for “The Golden Age” (and even there, there is some dispute over whether 1948 or 1949 should be the end of the Golden Age) while once you get into the 1950s, whichever year you pick there will be notable dissenters.

But generally speaking, 1950 is a rough cut-off date for the end of the superhero boom, a boom that returned in 1956 with Barry Allen’s debut. And as Greg rightly points out, the terms “Golden Age” and “Silver Age” are based on superhero comics. So with that in mind, it is always a bit difficult to place non-superhero comics into either age, which is the problem I’m having with the Golden Age Christmas non-superhero stories.

The JSA issues of ALL-STAR COMICS are all unquestionably Golden Age, which ran into 1951. Fawcett folded in 1954, and Quality sold to DC in 1955. I always consider those books as Golden Age.

On the other hand, Julius Schwartz started STRANGE ADVENTURES in 1950 or 1951, complete with Captain Comet, which screams Silver Age to me.

For those reasons, I consider the period between 1950 and 1956 as the simultaneous death of the Golden Age and the birth of the Silver Age. Two separate tracks running concurrently.

Not sure how useful that is…

Bill Gaines revamped EC Comics in 1949 and 1950.

The Senate Hearing was in 1954.

Showcase #4 is 1956.

Captain America ends in 1949, with Weird Tales.

I’d go with 1954. The Comics Code Authority is probably the biggest historical event in American comics.
From that, you get MAD magazine, which influenced the underground cartoonists, National Lampoon, Saturday Night Live, and the counter-culture movement, altering American culture significantly.

The period starts slowly with the end of World War II and the twilight of the American superhero. Crime Does Not Pay started in 1942. Bill Gaines takes over EC in 1948.

The Bronze Age begins… 1964 with God Nose. 1968 it is going full steam with Zap Comix. That, along with the college crowd reading Marvel comics, creates a market for more adult fare, both from independent publishers as well as from Marvel and DC. Around this time, Marvel finds a new distributor, allowing for a larger number of titles. Heavy Metal, MAD, Howard the Duck push new boundaries in storytelling.

The Copper Age (ugh) begins around 1985. Direct-only comics are being printed. Comics shops allow for greater experimentation. Book publishers, seeing the success of Dark Knight and Maus, test the market. DC and Marvel grow fat on the Direct Market, which ends with the return of Superman in Adventures of Superman #500 in 1993. (Stores speculate heavily, hoping for a repeat of “the death of Superman”, nobody shows up, hundreds of stores disappear.)

This ushers in the Dark Age, which really gets going when Marvel buys Heroes World in December 1994, setting off the exclusivity war.

It ends in 1999, when Viz acquires the print license for Pokemon, the first successful Japanese manga/anime import. (Sailor Moon was a dismal failure for many reasons.) Viz has bookstore distribution, and sets off the manga boom when the toys, cartoon, cards, video games, and movies become an overnight sensation. At about the same time, Hollywood is rediscovering comicbooks, with Spawn and Blade becoming hits. Marvel, after a disastrous bankruptcy in 1997, reinvents itself, and starts the Ultimate universe in 2000, aimed mostly at bookstores and new readers.

This current period is the Renaissance. Comics from the Golden Age are being rediscovered, comics from other cultures are influencing the American idiom, and new possibilities and technologies are encouraging innovation, just like the one in the 1500s.

I would say that the Golden Age of Superhero Comics was definitely over by 1950. While “Seduction of the Innocent” and the Comics Code Authority came along later, they merely nailed the coffin shut on that era.

Ah interesting. I always assumed Seduction of the Innocent and the Comics Code killed the superhero industry, but they actually were dead for years beforehand? So what actually killed them around 1949/1950? Overexposure and fatigue with the genre?

Ah interesting. I always assumed Seduction of the Innocent and the Comics Code killed the superhero industry, but they actually were dead for years beforehand? So what actually killed them around 1949/1950? Overexposure and fatigue with the genre?

Pretty much. Plus a boom for other popular genres, namely Disney comics (Barks and his ilk were KILLING it on Disney comics), romance comics, crime comics and horror comics. Crime and horror took a hit with the Code, but western comics and sci-fi/monster comics would rise as crime and horror fell. Disney comics had a long, gradual decrease in popularity from the 1950s to the 1970s (by the 1970s, they were basically a dead genre in the States – by the 1980s they were REALLY dead and have been a niche genre in the U.S. ever since).

Torsten’s comment is pretty interesting. I don’t necessarily agree with some of the things put out in it, but as a general guide it’s cool.

Yeah, one of the things that I’ve realized as I’ve read more stuff more recently about comics is that SOTI wasn’t really as focused on superheroes as some of us were led to believe in the past. The crime comics were really where the scary stuff was (and EC).

Actually, I’m curious if anyone’s ever read a good argument for how/why Superman/Wonder Woman/Batman all survived the Golden Age “death” of superheroes. Was it just that they were the biggest in the genre and survived, and “lesser” heroes like Green Lantern, Flash, etc just weren’t as popular? I wonder too how much a role the Superman TV show played in keeping Superman comics alive. (or if they were in danger at all.)

Man, I’m a nerd.

And I love it!

I was going to go on a long diatribe about how the Golden Age should end with the Comics Code. I was bummed out that anyone would discount a booming comics industry just because it wasn’t superhero-centric. I love 40′s and 50′s crime comics. I love Dr. Strange and Superman from the 60′s. I wanted to think of them as part of a common comic book history. Then I realized that there IS the term “Pre-Code”, which no one uses to describe superhero comics, but which can be used to describe all other genres. So, I’m now cool with using Golden and SIlver just to describe superhero comics and suggest that everyone else do likewise.

@Travis P.
Yeah, those heroes were the most popular, but partly that’s because National sued Capt. Marvel out of business. Perhaps THAT event should mark the end of the Golden Age!

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