Silver Age of Comic Books

Silver Age of Comic Books

The Silver Age of Comic Books was a period of artistic advancement and commercial success in mainstream American comic books, predominantly those featuring the superhero archetype, that lasted roughly from 1956 to the late 1960s/early 1970s. [cite web |url= |title='Overstreet World of Comic Books' is an enjoyable look at collecting |accessdate=2008-06-27 |date=March 21, 1995 |publisher=Knight Ridder/Tribune News Service] It was preceded by the Golden Age of Comic Books and a brief interregnum, and was one of the major commercial peaks of the comics industry.

During the Silver Age, the character makeup of superheroes evolved. Science fiction and aliens replaced gods and magic. [cite web |url= |title=In Defense of Superhero Comics |accessdate=2008-09-05 |last=Callahan |first=Timothy |date=2008-8-6 |publisher=Comic Book Resources] DC Comics sparked the superhero's revival with its publications from 1955-1960. Marvel Comics then capitalized on the revived interest in superhero storytelling with an innovative and successful naturalism. [cite web |url= |title=Is DC Comics Spearheading a New Age in Super Hero Comics? |accessdate=2008-07-15 |last=St.Louis |first=Hervé |date=Oct 9, 2005 |publisher=Comic Book Bin] The legacy of these innovations is a literary form in which character development and personal conflict have been as important as plot mechanics and epic escapism.


Events leading to the Silver Age

The Golden Age of Comic Books occured around the time of World War II. Comics provided a cheap and disposable escapist interntainment. Soldiers for instance, could read and then leave behind their comics. The Golden Age lasted from the late 1930's to the late 1940's. Major characters created during this period were Superman, Batman, Wonder Woman and Captain America.

Later, comics were blamed for a rise in juvenile crime statistics, although these were rising in direct proportion to population growth. When juvenile offenders "confessed" to reading comics, critics claimed it was a common denominator. One notable critic was Frederic Wertham, author of "Seduction of the Innocent" (1954). He attempted to shift the blame for the delinquency from the parents of the children to comic books. The result was a decline in the comics industry.cite web |url= |title=It's No Joke:Comic Books May Help Kids Learn to Read |accessdate=2008-09-23 |last=Mooney |first=Joe |date=April 19, 1987 |publisher=Seattle Post-Intelligencer] The Silver Age began as a result of the 1954 creation of the Comics Code Authority, whose purpose was to regulate and curb violence in comics. [cite web |url= |title=In graphic terms... |accessdate=2008-09-23 |date=July 17, 2006 |publisher=The San Diego Union-Tribune]


The Silver Age began with DC Comics' "Showcase" #4 (Oct. 1956), which introduced the modern version of the Flash. [cite web |url= |title=DC Flashback: The Flash |accessdate=2008-06-27 |last=CBR News Team |first= |date= July 2, 2007 |publisher=Comic Book Resources] [cite web |url= |title=Breaking the Border - Rants and Ramblings |accessdate=2008-06-27 |last=Zicari |first=Anthony |date=August 3, 2007 |publisher=Comics Bulletin] According to Will Jacobs, three super heroes still had their own titles in 1956: Superman, Batman, and Wonder Woman. Superman was available in "great quantity, but little quality." Batman was doing better, but his comics were "lackluster" in comparison to his "atmospheric adventures" of the 1940s. Wonder Woman, having lost her original writer and artist, was no longer "idiosyncratic" or "interesting." Then "Showcase" #4 arrived on the newsstands, "begging to be bought." The cover featured an undulating strip of film and the Flash running so fast he came out of the film and at the reader.Jacobs, pp. 3-4ref|Jacobs|Jacobs 1985]

The Flash was revitalized by editor Julius Schwartz, writer Gardner Fox and artist Carmine Infantino. The new Flash was a success, and Schwartz went on to modernize other characters such as Green Lantern, the Justice League of America, Hawkman and the Atom. Some of the DC artists who participated in this were Murphy Anderson, Gil Kane and Joe Kubert. [cite web
url= |title=Julius Schwartz, 88, Editor Who Revived Superhero Genre in Comic Books |accessdate=2008-09-23 |last=Nash |first=Eric |date=February 12, 2004 |publisher=New York Times

Following the success of the Flash's revamp, several other superheroes from the 1940s were reimagined during Schwartz's tenure, including Green Lantern, The Atom, and Hawkman. Only their names remained the same; their costumes, locales, and identities were changed. Imaginative science explanations for powers generally took the place of magic as a modus oparandi in the stories. [cite web |url= |title=Flash Facts |accessdate=2008-06-27 |last=Pethokoukis |first=James |date=February 26, 2004 |publisher=U.S. News and World Report] For instance, the original Green Lantern, railroad engineer Alan Scott, possessed a ring powered by a magical lantern. His replacement, test pilot Hal Jordan, possessed a ring which was instead powered by an alien battery, created by an intergalactic police force. The inspiration for this change came from Schwartz's lifelong science fiction fandom. [cite web |url= |title=Gil Kane, Space-Age Comic Book Artist, Dies |accessdate=2008-06-27 |last=Janulewicz |first=Tom |date=1 February 2000 |]

Prior to the Silver Age, DC's characters lived on a number of earths. Characters from the Golden Age through the mid-1950s lived on Earth-Two. The Silver Age stars lived on Earth-One. [cite web |url= |title=Superfan Returns |accessdate=2008-09-23 |last=Singer |first=Matt |date=June 27th 2006 |publisher=Village Voice]

Although the Flash is generally viewed to be the first superhero of the Silver Age, the introduction of the Martian Manhunter in "Detective Comics" #225 predates "Showcase" #4 by almost a year, and some historians consider this character the first Silver Age superhero. [cite web |archiveurl= |archivedate=2003-10-20 |url= |title=Oddball Comics |accessdate=2008-09-04 |last=Shaw |first=Scott |date=September 22, 2003 |publisher=Comic Book Resources] However, historian Craig Shutt, author of the "Comics Buyer's Guide" column "Ask Mister Silver Age", writes in his book "Baby Boomer Comics":

Marvel and DC

DC added to the momentum by introducing the Justice League of America, an all-star group consisting of its most popular characters, the success of which prompted rival Marvel Comics to introduce its own superhero team, the Fantastic Four. Apocryphal legend has it that in 1961, Timely and Atlas publisher Martin Goodman was playing golf with either Jack Liebowitz or Irwin Donenfeld of rival DC Comics, then known as National Periodical Publications, who bragged about DC's success with the Justice League (which had debuted in "The Brave and the Bold" #28 [Feb. 1960] before going on to its own title). Film producer and comics historian Michael Uslan later debunked some specifics, while supporting the story's framework: cquote|Irwin said he never played golf with Goodman, so the story is untrue. I heard this story more than a couple of times while sitting in the lunchroom at DC's 909 Third Avenue and 75 Rockefeller Plaza office as Sol Harrison and [production chief] Jack Adler were schmoozing with some of us ... who worked for DC during our college summers.... [T] he way I heard the story from Sol was that Goodman was playing with one of the heads of Independent News, not DC Comics (though DC "owned" Independent News). ... As the distributor of DC Comics, this man certainly knew all the sales figures and was in the best position to tell this tidbit to Goodman. ... Of course, Goodman would want to be playing golf with this fellow and be in his good graces. ... Sol worked closely with Independent News' top management over the decades and would have gotten this story straight from the horse's mouth. [Michael Uslan letter published in "Alter Ego" #43 (Dec. 2004), pp. 43-44]

Whatever the specifics, Goodman, a publishing trend-follower aware of the JLA's strong sales, confirmably directed his comics editor, Stan Lee, to create a comic-book series about a team of superheroes. Lee recalled in 1974 that, "Martin mentioned that he had noticed one of the titles published by National Comics seemed to be selling better than most. It was a book called "The" [sic] "Justice League of America" and it was composed of a team of superheroes. ... ' If the Justice League is selling ', spoke he, ' why don't we put out a comic book that features a team of superheroes?'" [Stan Lee, "Origins of Marvel Comics" (Simon and Schuster/Fireside Books, 1974), p. 16]

This led to the era's rise of Marvel under the guidance of writer-editor Stan Lee and such artists/co-writers as Jack Kirby and Steve Ditko. Marvel introduced more sophisticated characterization and dynamic plotting into superhero comics, and began aiming at teen and college-age readers in addition to the children's market. Based on the success of "The Fantastic Four", Lee and his artists created 11 new series in the next two-and-a-half years,Jacobs, p. 87ref|Jacobs|Jacobs 1985] with Spider-Man and, after a slow start with a canceled series, the Hulk among the most popular new characters. [Mark, Norman. "The New Super-Hero Is a Pretty Kinky Guy". "Eye Magazine", Hearst Corporation, vol. 2, #2 (Feb. 1969). Reprinted in "Alter Ego" #74 (Dec. 2007), pp. 16-25] Other significant and enduring Marvel heroes introduced during the Silver Age include Iron Man, Thor, Daredevil, the X-Men, and Marvel's own all-star group, the Avengers. After an initial period of hesitance, DC began to adopt some of Marvel's creative approaches.

Comics historian Peter Sanderson wrote that in the 1960s,

For example, as comics historian Craig Schutt observed, DC heroes were straightforward in their support of each other, and quickly banded together to defeat an enemy. Marvel's heroes, in contrast, trusted each other less, and would frequently fight each other before a misunderstanding was resolved and they joined together against a common foe. DC's approach detailed the differences between heroes without violence, Marvel's, said Schutt, "addressed the age-old, little-kid question of which hero would win in a fight". [cite web |url= |title=Fun with Mr. Silver Age: Craig Shutt |accessdate=2008-06-30 |last=O'Shea |first=Tim |date= |publisher=Comics Bulletin]

Other publishers

The resurgence of superheroes proved so influential that publishing houses not known for such characters — including Archie Comics, Charlton Comics and Dell Comics — attempted their own superheroes, but met with limited critical and popular success. Tower Comics was an exception with the well-received if short-lived T.H.U.N.D.E.R. Agents series by Wally Wood.

The period hit its commercial peak from 1966 to 1968 with the popularity of the ABC network's campy Batman TV series, which both heightened interest in comics and damaged their public image as a legitimate artistic medium — this despite the "Batman" comic books themselves having taken a more serious tone in 1964 with the introduction of the "New Look Batman".

Underground comics got their start during the 1960s portion of the Silver Age. However, because the artistic content, goals and marketing of these comic books were so different from the mainstream companies, it is generally considered a separate movement in the medium.

Origin of the term

Comics historian and movie producer Michael Uslan traced the origin of the term to the letters column of "Justice League of America" #42 (Feb. 1966), which went on sale December 9, 1965. Letter-writer Scott Taylor of Westport, Connecticut wrote, "If you guys keep bringing back the heroes from the [1930s-1940s] Golden Age, people 20 years from now will be calling this decade the Silver Sixties!""Alter Ego" vol. 3, #54 (Nov. 2005), p. 79] The natural hierarchy of gold-silver-bronze, as in Olympic medals, also took hold, and as Uslan writes, "Fans immediately glommed onto this, refining it more directly into a "Silver" Age version of the Golden Age. Very soon, it was in our vernacular, replacing such expressions as ... 'Second Heroic Age of Comics' or 'The Modern Age' of comics. It wasn't long before dealers were ... specifying it was a Golden Age comic for sale or a Silver Age comic for sale".

End of the Silver Age

Multiple endpoints have been suggested for the Silver Age. According to Will Jacobs, the Silver Age ended when the man who had started it, Julius Schwartz, handed over "Green Lantern" to Denny O'Neil and Neal Adams in response to reduced sales.Jacobes, p. 154ref|Jacobs|Jacobs 1985] Another possible endpoint is the publication of the last 12 cent comics in 1969. [cite web |url= |title=May to see return to Silver Age of comics |accessdate=2008-06-27 |last=Radfored |first=Bill |date=April 26, 2000 |publisher=The Gazette]

John Strausbaugh of the New York Times describes the end of the Silver Age in terms of Green Lantern. In 1960, he embodied the can-do optimism of the era. "No one in the world suspects that at a moment's notice I can become mighty Green Lantern -- with my amazing power ring and invincible green beam! Golly, what a feeling it is!" By 1972 he had become world weary. "Those days are gone -- gone forever -- the days I was confident, certain ... I was so young ... so sure I couldn't make a mistake! Young and cocky, that was Green Lantern. Well, I've changed. I'm older now ... maybe wiser, too ... and a lot less happy." According to Strausbaugh, the "Silver Age went out with that whimper."

ubsequent eras

The Silver Age was followed by the Bronze Age of Comic Books. What caused the shift from the Silver to the Bronze age is not clearly defined, but there are a number of candidates. Scott of Comic Book Resources mentions a number of commonly cited reasons. They involve the release of certain comments, events in the industry, and changes in subject matter. The publication of "Conan" #1 (1970) and "Green Lantern/Green Arrow" #76 (April 1970) "are often cited as the first books of the Bronze Age." He says events frequently cited for the change are Jack Kirby’s move from Marvel to DC (1970) and Mort Weisinger’s retirement" (1970). [cite web |url= |title=Scott’s Classic Comics Corner: A New End to the Silver Age Pt. 1 |accessdate=2008-09-23 |author=Scott |date=September 16th, 2008 |publisher=Comic Book Resources] Other candidates were the return of horror comics and making stories socially relevant. [cite web |url= |accessdate=2008-09-23 |title= Scott’s Classic Comics Corner: A New End to the Silver Age Pt. 3 |author=Scott |publisher=Comic Book Resources |date=September 18th, 2008]

After the Bronze Age came the Modern Age of Comic Books. According to Shawn O'Rourke of PopMatters, the shift from the previous ages involved a "deconstructive and dystopian re-envisioning of iconic characters and the worlds that they live in", as typified by Frank Miller's "" (1986) and Alan Moore and Dave Gibbons' "Watchmen" (1986-1987). Other features that define the era are an increase in adult oriented content, the rise of the X-Men to become the "dominant intellectual property", and a reorganization in the industries distribution system.cite web |url= |title=A New Era: Infinite Crisis, Civil War, and the End of the Modern Age of Comics |accessdate=2008-09-23 |last=O'Rourke |first=Shawn |date=22 February 2008 |publisher=PopMatters]

IGN columnist Peter Sanderson describes a trend that started in 1986 the "neo-silver movement." It began with by Alan Moore and Curt Swan. Sanderson feels that each comics generation rebels against the previous, and this was a response to "Crisis on Infinite Earths" which was an attack on the Silver Age. Comics creators in this movement made comics that recognized and assimilated the more sophisticated aspects of the Silver Age of Comics. [cite web |url= |title=Comics in Context #33: A Boatload of Monsters and Miracles |accessdate=2008-07-15 |last=Sanderson |first=Peter |date=2004 |publisher=IGN]

ilver Age comics creators

Notable artists of the Silver Age include Gene Colan, Steve Ditko, Carmine Infantino, Gil Kane, Jack Kirby, Joe Kubert, and Curt Swan. [cite web |url= |title=Superb record of the superheroes' silver age |accessdate=2008-06-28 |date=January 17, 2004 |publisher=Canberra Times] Arlen Schumer, author of "The Silver Age of Comic Book Art" described Carmine Infantino's Flash as the embodiment of the design of the era, "as sleek and streamlined as the fins Detroit was sporting on all its models."

Two artists that changed the comics industry dramatically in the late 1960s were Neal Adams and Jim Steranko. Adam's breakthrough was based on layout and rendering. Steranko's breakthrough involved storytelling: he used a cinematic style, and was one of the few writer-artists at the time. [cite web |url= |title=Master of the Obvious 4-5-2000 |accessdate=2008-09-23 |last=Grant |first=Steven |date=April 5th, 2000 |publisher=Comic Book Resources] According to R.C. Baker of the Village Voice, Neal Adams is one of the country's greatest draftsmen, and is best know for returning Batman to his somber roots after the campy success of the Batman television show. [cite web |url=,baker,48773,1.html |title=America Gods |accessdate=2008-06-28 |last=Baker |first=R.C. |date= November 18, 2003 |publisher=Village Voice] His realistic depictions of anatomy, faces, and gestures changed comics' style in a way that is still seen in modern graphic novels.

One of Marvel's strongest creative forces in the late 1960s was Jim Steranko; his art owing a large debt to Salvador Dalí.cite web |url= |title=ART; 60's Comics: Gloomy, Seedy, and Superior |accessdate=2008-06-28 |last=Strausbaugh |first=John |date=December 14, 2003 |publisher=New York Times] He started by inking and penciling the details of Kirby's artwork on "Nick Fury, Agent of S.H.I.E.L.D." published in "Strange Tales" #135 but by "Strange Tales" #155, Stan Lee put him in charge of both writing and drawing Fury's adventures. He exaggerated the James Bond-style spy stories, introducing the Vortex Beam (which lifts objects), the aphonic bomb (which explodes silently), a miniature Electronic Absorber (which protected Fury from electricity), and the Q-Ray machine (a molecular disintegrator) all in his first 11 page story.Jacobs, p. 144ref|Jacobs|Jacobs 1985]

Top 20 Silver Age comics

According to "The Official Overstreet Comic Book Price Guide #38" by Robert Oversteet, the following twenty comics were the most sought after by collectors. [cite book |title=The Official Overstreet Comic Book Price Guide #38 |last=Overstreet |first=Robert |year=2008 |publisher=Random House |location=New York |isbn=0375722394 |pages=154 ]

ee also

*Golden Age of Comic Books
*Bronze Age of Comic Books
*Modern Age of Comic Books



*cite book |title=The Comic Book Heroes: From the Silver Age to the Present |last=Jacobs |first=Will |coauthor=Gerard Jones |year=1985 |publisher=Crown Publishing Group |location=New York, New York |isbn=0517554402

External links

* [ History of comics by period]
* [ Forbes interview of Silver Age collector John Berk]

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