Enter the Neo Age of Comic Books!
For several years now I’ve thought to myself, “When will the modern age be over?” As a collector of comics from the 1940’s to yesterday, I believe it’s a fair question. Another fair question is what exactly determines the end of one age and the beginning of another. Depending on who you ask, the modern age of comic books began around 1991 and is still going on today, or is it? You can read Wikipedia all you want, and it will give you all of these fantastic proclamations as to why the ages have changed, but as an avid reader, collector, and student of the game, I feel it’s much easier to simplify. We’ll take a quick dive into the ages of comics, where I’ll explain that the Neo Age of comics is already here, and it revolves around one book, and millennial culture.
In June of 1938 the golden age of comic books began. It of course began with Action Comics #1, the first appearance of Superman, but equally important, Action Comics #1 was the dawn of the modern superhero. This one singular issue was so influential, it has shaped and controlled the flow of comic books for over 80 years. There is no dispute, that this was the start of a golden age of comic books.
Cut to the silver age of comics. Showcase #4 dropped in September of 1956, and is widely credited as the beginning of the silver age. It’s the first appearance of Barry Allen as the Flash, and is a top tier key certainly. Although the silver age has now given us parody. Yes, Showcase may be the “first” silver age comic book, but it is not the face.
Most of you all know the company formerly known as Timely, then Atlas, and now Marvel. And you may also know that this was the dawn of the relatable superhero. It wasn’t until Marvel began shelling out books where the characters were almost real (sans the obvious). The Fantastic Four were a family with personal relationships and problems, the X-Men were the poster child for civil rights, and of course the face of the silver age; Spider-Man. Amazing Fantasy #15 owns the silver age crown. Finally we had a character that could be one of us. Peter Parker was an insecure teenager with acne, and homework, and real world issues. Not to mention saving the day web-slinging around New York City. These new wave Marvel characters paved the way for what comic books are today.
Sometime in the early 1970’s the silver age ended and the bronze age began. Many will disagree with me and that’s fine, but I personally credit the beginning of the bronze age on March 29th, 1973; the day that President Nixon concluded that America was leaving Vietnam. The world was different now. It was the end of flower power. Gang violence became more prevalent. People lost trust in what they believed, and with that comic books changed a bit. Batman became darker, Gwen Stacy was shockingly killed, Jean Grey is overcome with darkness, and in 1974, Spider-Man and Superman had a new rival; Wolverine. Hulk #181 is undoubtedly the face of the bronze age. Wolverine has been so popular that even Wizard Magazine chose him as the top comic book character of all-time.
This next age may be controversial, as some people don't recognized it as such, but I do. The copper age of comic books is as significant a time period as any. How could you possibly ignore the 80s? MTV was taking over and gen-x kids were well, what gen-x kids were. I always felt I should have been born a little bit earlier, sigh…but I digress. 1984 is where I begin this period and it is flooded with crossover events, independent publisher, graphic violence in comics, and much more. The copper age really embodies the 1980s, which was a cultural revolution of sorts. Mainstream characters had much more edge and more thorough stories. Comic books also became a bit trendier. People began treating them as a collectibles and people looking to make a buck were beginning to keep an eye on the market. This period in comics was the birth of characters like Gambit, Venom, and Cable. Independent properties like the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, the Crow, Usagi Yojimbo, and many more started developing traction. I feel like I’m not alone when I say that the face of the copper age is Secret Wars #8. The cover that may have more homages than any (no factual evidence supporting that statement) shrieks to what the copper age was all about.
Along came 1991, when Jim Lee’s X-Men #1 sold over 7 million issues. We have now officially entered the modern age of comic books. Comics were being looked at in a 50/50 split. Readers read, and flippers hoped to flip. The beginning of the modern age was also almost the death of comic books. As over-printing and market saturation killed the secondary market, buyers lost confidence in the product. The modern age was the birth of the publishing juggernaut Image comics, which is still the #3 publisher today by the widest of margins. In the modern age costumes were drawn cooler, and characters got more defined. Female characters began being drawn much more…appealing. New writers and artists full of youth and ideas were taking over and making the game of comics their own. Of course, I must say, the modern age has brought us a plethora of new characters, highlighted by Deadpool and Harley Quinn. In the modern age we also saw that readers, as few of them as we have left, didn’t just want superheroes anymore. Independent publishers began thinking outside of the box, and rivaled Marvel and DC by putting out material that they wouldn’t. The Walking Dead, Chew, and Saga were more based on horror, crime, and fantasy than just spandex.
That trend still continues today…rewind. In November of 2014, almost 5 full years ago, Edge of the Spider-Verse #2 drops, and the modern age ends, and the Neo Age begins. All thanks to one Spider-Gwen. Thus making Captain Marvel #14, the last “key” modern age comic.
My neo age is the industry as it is, and not how we wish it was. It’s an industry driven by the secondary market and popular culture. What’s hot and what’s not. What’s hot today, might not be tomorrow. This is also the age of ratio variants galore, incentive covers, and “B” variants. In an industry with so few readers and driven by speculation, Spider-Gwen was the first of the new wave of characters to stick. She started HOTT, and may have only become HOTTER. She was the trailblazer in diversification of comics today and a primary reason why tertiary characters like America Chavez and Miles Morales came to the forefront.
Gwen caters to the look and feel of today. She is our present culture in comic book form. Her haircut, her clothes, her charisma, her attitude; she is a millennial, and she is female. Gwen is the big reason that Marvel went “woke”. They caught lightning in a bottle with her. She gave them confidence that every new character would be as well received. Numbers and sales say otherwise, but it doesn't stop noobs without a clue from running and buying the first appearance of every new character.
The neo age is also the age where apps, social media, and info leaks totally distort the market. Any Joe blow on a YouTube channel can make a ridiculous claim, and people will skip the research and instead get into a bidding war. Never before has information been so available and easily accessible. A book can go from $0.10 cent filth to a $30 buy on eBay quicker than a Thanos snap. Movie and TV options and new first appearances have people scrambling, and most typically missing the point of speculation. Once you hear about something or read about something…it’s likely already too late.
A Few Neo Age “Keys”-
Clearly these are just a few books off the top of my head that I believe will keep smoke for years to come. I truly can't give you an independent published book that I really feel has legs. I thought Seven to Eternity had potential, but that's dropped significantly. It seems all to often people are buying indy #1s in hopes to hear news of a movie/TV option, rather than reading the story. These small print publishers end up cancelling their books after ten issues, and the books fall into obscurity. Hot today, ice tomorrow. This isn't to say their wont be another “Walking Dead”, but if it's my reputation, I just don't see one currently that I would bet heavy on.
Understand that it isn't my goal in discourage you, but it's my moral obligation to educate you. Buy smarter, buy what you like, and you might get lucky and get a hold of something that's hot. Or you can buy every new independent published comic and every new first appearance character, and feel deflated after two years, because after all of that spending, you've either broke even or lost money. You never lose if you buy what you like.
Take this warning however you’d like; a crash is coming. I’ve talked to many shop owners, and they all tell me the same thing, and that is that there are no young comic book readers. Soon enough, people are going to be fed up with the poor quality of story and personal/political agendas that publishers are putting out and abandon ship. When that happens, the speculators will panic and the market will flood. When that does happen, I’ll be ready, I’ll survive the flood, and I’ll buy up all of the books that people should have been in the first place. The best part…I’ll buy them cheap. So much so that when the comic book renaissance does take place, I’ll be in the driver seat, and the rest of the pack will have to catch up.
As always I'll leave you with some books to hunt. It's four one-shot issues that came out in 2007. The Legion of Monsters featuring stories that focus on Morbius, Satana, Werewolf by Night, and Man-Thing. The covers are absolutely spectacular and they're actually quite a fun read. Who knows, with all of this Marvel monster mania, and the Doctor Strange horror flick, ya could get lucky. Buy them now. Or don't. You decide.