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.


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First appearance of Superman


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.


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First appearance of Barry Allen as The Flash


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.


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First appearance of Spider-Man


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.


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First Appearance of Wolverine


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.


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First black suit Spidey. Or tied with like 3 other books. Something ridiculous like that. Origin of the costume


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.


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Best selling comic book of all time. 7 million+ sold


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.


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First Appearance of Gwen Stacy as Spider-Woman


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”-


Spawn: THNX

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One per store variant. For all of the Spawn purists out there


All-New Wolverine #2

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First Appearance of Honey Badger


Immortal Hulk #2

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First Appearance of Doctor Frye. Literally have no idea why this book is expensive


Invincible Iron Man #7

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First appearance of Riri Williams (Ironheart). There is also a “Women of Power” variant. Unfortunately MJ is drawn poorly on both.


Teen Titans #12

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First Appearance of The Batman Who Laughs


Venom #3

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First Appearance of Knull


Howard the Duck #1 (1:25 variant)

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First Appearance of Gwenpool (albeit on the cover)


Naomi #1

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First Appearance of Naomi


Batgirl #23

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Absolutely Jaw-Dropping Joshua Middleton “B' Variant


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.


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Satana, you are so fine

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  • Conan the Librarian

    Thanks for a very interesting read A.J. And I like your long term thinking.

    I totally agree with you on Immortal Hulk 2 as well. Nice cover, but… Doctor Frye? Huh??

    I still don’t get why anybody would want Invincible Iron Man 7 over 9 though.

    • Conan the Librarian

      Some food for thought on readership levels that you mention. It does seem that far fewer people are reading comics at the moment. However, if you look at youtube channels like Comics Explained or Comicstorian, I think the “readership” (or “viewership”) levels tell a different story. These are just two channels doing story recaps of major storylines, mostly recent.

      The former has about fifty videos with over a million views, and the latter has around a hundred videos with over a million views. Both channels have lots of other videos in the multiple hundreds of thousands. Hard to know exactly what this means, but it shows there is a lot of interest not just in the characters as they appear in the movies, but also in the comics themselves.

      Take for example Comicstorian’s video on The Godspeed arc of the Flash from just a couple of years ago. The comichron figures for those issues were more or less 80,000-100,000 per issue. However, the Comicstorian youtube video recapping the story has over 5 millions views! How this translates into interest in the comics over time is not clear, but it might indicate that if DC, Marvel etc found a way to sell their comics for something other than $3.99 or even $4.99 a pop, maybe sales figures would indeed be far far higher.

      We also don’t know who is viewing these. It could easily be that while older readers are still attached to the physical format, and are either more willing or just more able to pay for overpriced physical copies, maybe the younger generation are actually keeping up to date with the comics, but just not bothering to pay crazy money for each individual issue, and instead preferring to do so by watching very well made youtube recaps. These two channels are really meticulously researched and brilliantly presented.

      On that subject, but with a somewhat different angle, I’d highly recommend checking out Matt Draper’s youtube video essays, focussing on both comics and movies, ranging from The Fantastic Four Galactus, Batman ‘The Black Mirror’, Fraction and Aja’s Hawkeye, Simonson’s Thor, Planetary, Hellboy, to Blacksad, Moon Knight and Cowboy Bebop. Great stuff that deserves more viewers.

      We don’t know what the readership figures are on Marvel Unlimited or DC Universe either. The younger readers might be much more likely to read comics on their tablets, smartphones etc

      • Avatar

        That’s a good point you make about the youtube ‘readers’. It’s difficult to know how exactly we should interpret those numbers in terms of supply, demand and interest levels. But they are definitely significant.

        Thanks for recommending the Matt Draper channel also. Such an eclectic and interesting mix. Impressive indeed

    • A. J. Diesel

      Great opinions on the matter! Appreciate it! Thanks!!!

  • Peter Renna

    Love those Legion of Monster books. I could see them popping with Adventures Into Fear or whatever they are doing on the streaming side.

  • Avatar

    Love the article and the debate. I would argue to go back to 2011. A few big things were happening in this year
    1. Flashpoint ended
    2. August saw the death of Ultimate Spiderman and creation of Miles Morales. (the beginning of repackaging classic characters.)
    3. August and September saw DC kick off the New 52 (love it or hate it)
    4. We saw Batman (188, 000 first print) have a 5th print which has become more common today, but not as common then.
    5. Over the next year you would see the Superior Spiderman, Saga (5 Prints), and the Avengers movie all change how we view collecting and a hot book.

    The book would be Ultimate Fallout 4.
    Last Key would be Detective 880

    See how debatable the topic of next comic era can become and the passion it brings up. Thanks for starting a discussion.

    • Avatar

      You make a strong argument there. 2011 makes alot of sense

      Would Spider-Gwen in 2014 have appeared were it not for the success of Miles Morales in 2011?

      Thanks for the article AJ, great topic to discuss

    • Avatar

      Another argument for 2011 is the MCU, which has fundamentally changed the comics and speculation landscape. The first Thor and Captain America films came out that year and The Avengers was in production, so although it all officially started in 2008 with Iron Man, you could argue that it was 2011/2012 that is really became the Marvel Cinematic Universe.

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    Your article is great! I’ve been clamoring for a new age of comics for years. The Modern Age just seems neverending and too many changes and milestones have occurred for the current age to remain unchanged. I do find your article very Marvel-centric so I’m going to throw in some DC love.

    The Golden and Silver Ages are pretty much universally agreed upon, but after those two ages, the lines of delineation get blurred. When it comes to the Bronze Age, let me offer up a few things.

    First up, some context. The innocence of the 1950s and early to mid 1960s had significantly eroded with the assassinations of Martin Luther King and Bobby Kennedy in 1968. That was also the swing year with regards to Vietnam with the Tet Offensive changing the tide of majority sentiment where it was now determined that the US could not win the war. In December of 1969, inspired by the peace and love of an incident free Woodstock, the infamous Altamont Free Concert happens which resulted in rioting and the stabbing death of Meredith Hunter. By 1970, the nation had fallen into recession and inner cities were really suffering. Events like the shootings at Kent State didn’t help matters. This brings us to a few comics:

    Detective Comics #395 – First Denny O’Neil and Neal Adams Batman story bringing Batman out of the camp of the 1960s TV Show and back to his dark roots.

    Green Lantern #76 – Again, Denny O’Neil and Neal Adams, this time bringing Green Lantern and Green Arrow into the real world as hard travelin’ heroes road tripping across the USA where they encounter racial issues, drug addiction and a whole crop full of social issues and injustices that can’t simply be solved with a power ring of a boxing glove trick arrow.

    As for the Copper Age, hard to pinpoint when it exactly began. Social issues have less to do with defining this Age and instead, determining factors stem from the stories and characters and even the comics industry itself. In my opinion, there were two determining factors that ushered in the Copper Age. 1978 brings with it the DC Implosion where 40% of DC Titles are cancelled and mass layoffs occur. On the Marvel side, the whole line is suffering from declining sales, missed deadlines and a general drop in quality in both art and writing. From there, we also see the beginning of the Direct Market challenging the Newsstand model of comics distribution, catering to specialty shops and eliminating the possibility of returns on unsold inventory. As well, publishers are starting to license properties to try and inject new life in the comics industry. Now, determining which single issue heralded the start of the Copper Age is difficult as there are so many candidates (DC & Marvel) and they span several years. I’m not sure where to begin but the end seems almost universally agreed upon as stated in the article with X-Men #1 in 1991. What I can offer are a few more DC candidates (and one Marvel) that represent faces of the Copper Age.

    Batman: The Dark Knight Returns #1
    Batman: The Killing Joke
    Crisis On Infinite Earths #7
    Spider-Man #300

    Now for the Neo Age, I would have to agree with gcnelms and his assessments concerning 2011 with DCs Flashpoint and the New52 , and Marvel beginning to repackage classic characters. This was also the beginnings of comics being made widely available in digital format with the inclusion of special codes in combo pack editions of many titles. Superhero movies were taking over the mainstream and everything was being optioned and spec’d.

    Again, these are just my opinions and like you said, your selections were just off the top of your head as we mine. Everyone has their own candidates for keys and “faces of” and I offered up some of my own. Great discussion and one that I hope has legs to define a new era. It’s been strange for me to see books that I purchased new from the newsstand and comic shops go from quarter bins, to dollar bins and now end up in $5.00 bins or even on the wall simply by virtue of their age. Let’s all grow old gracefully!

  • Avatar

    Great post. Value wise, no argument with Hulk #181 as the quintessential book of the bronze age… although as far as content and storylines, Green Lantern #76 was a game changer that’s often cited as the start of the bronze age and for good reason. This is definitely my favorite and most coveted era, especially what Marvel was doing.

    One thing for certain tho… 90’s comics are complete trash, Jeezus. 20 years from now they will still be mostly worthless garbage. Hideous art and outrageous print runs, no thanks

  • Avatar

    There’s been downsizing at DC and some talk about their parent companies losing enthusiasm with continuing to publish…I mean look at the magazine market, almost gone or going digital. I’ve been thinking alot about the consequences should DC just exit entirely. Could be a good thing as far as values. The only thing I’d really miss is Batman.

    None of this seems to bother Marvel however with their 100 books per week, variants for everything and new titles popping up constantly LOL

  • Avatar

    I think The Dark Knight Returns feels of a different age to Secret Wars. Yes big events and mini series were new but Secret Wars feels like a last hurrah for the Bronze Age where as Dark Knight felt like a line in the sand. Comics were aimed at an older market from that moment on.
    I suddenly felt like it was ok to admit to liking comic. Also it brought us the graphic novel and not long after Watchmen. People had played around with giant sized books but Dark Knight sealed the deal. Also the idea of a self contained story, yes Secret Wars was a ltd series but it had all sorts of impact on the MCU.
    I could be more controversial and point to 2000AD in the UK which gave birth to many writers that would go on to influence comics, mainly Alan Moore. Also Warrior 1 in the UK gave us the first V for Vendetta and modern Marvelman / Miracleman. Comics were changing in the UK and DC simply bought out all the talent.

  • Avatar

    I did an assessment of this ‘post modern’ age years ago on my blog. I called this new age the ‘digital age’ of comics. Most comics are being consumed electronically today so the title was apt. I don’t personally agree calling this the neo age. It’s not a new age at all. The same characters are around, and still dominate the sales: Batman, Spider-Man etc. sure there are new characters, and new series but they come low on the list of best selling titles. So unless these characters take over and drive the market, this neo title is premature.

    • Avatar

      Also I would like to add- this age is NOT defined by variants, limited editions etc. people who weren’t around comics in the 90s don’t understand that these gimmicks were in full swing then and were introduced then. Sure there is heavy exposure to these variants now because there has been a niche market developed by where variants are exclusively collected, but that does not mean they weren’t around in the 90s and no one collected them.

      • A. J. Diesel

        Appreciate the feedback my friend! I’d still stick with Neo Age. It’s been 80 years for Supes and Batman, and 60 for Spider-Man, so I don’t think there ever will be a character that takes them over. I def like your thoughts and opinions on the matter! Thanks!

  • Davecraig

    Finally registered…been a lurker for a while now. What do we do to get this movement going? I love the idea of 2011 being a new age!

  • Slanthook

    AJ, another excellent article and great topic! I don’t know that comic periods are that necessary other than to break down the history of comics into smaller bites with each period sharing specific/certain characteristics. However, I do feel that we’re in a new period that is different from the “modern” period with more speculation, cover and digital buys, and less readers. I know there was a comment about YouTube channels, which makes me wonder if people are interested in the stories, but not interested in buying comics regularly to read them, and would rather have someone break down the story for them. Also, some may feel too overwhelmed to jump into reading. Jus a few random thoughts.

  • ninesquareinches.com

    Hey AJ! What happened to your MARKET MANIPULATION article? Ruffle too many feathers? 😆

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