The Trouble With the Modern Age

by Matt Tuck

ASM-252-201x300 The Trouble With the Modern AgeShould a comic from the mid-1980s still be considered “modern?” It is past time to rethink the Modern Age.

FOUR DECADES OF MODERN

Comic ages are expansive, no question. While the Silver and Bronze ages cover the 1960s and ’70s, the Golden Age stretches close to 20 years, expanding from the late-1930s nearly into the 1960s.

Then we have the Modern Age. And when I say “modern,” I mean four decades old. In the comics world, modern is a label that covers almost anything since disco died. The thing is, it’s still going. That Marvel Super-Heroes Secret Wars #8 falls under the Modern Era banner. So does that Spawn #309 you just bought.

It is time we rethought what we call modern comics.

Comic-Eras-235x300 The Trouble With the Modern AgeTHE COMIC AGES

Most collectors agree that comics originated with the Platinum Age, then Superman kicked off the Golden Age and costumed superheroes. Then came the Marvel era, introducing the Silver and Bronze Ages.

That leads us to the Modern Age, which is thought to have begun in 1984 (sometimes 1980, depending on whom you ask). While the other comic ages span about a decade each, the Modern Era has been going for nearly 40 years (over, if the start is 1980). 

GETTING COLLECTORS TO AGREE

The fact that I used the verbiage “most collectors agree” is part of the problem with comic ages, and it is what can be confusing for rookie collectors. There is no ruling authority on any issue in comic collecting. When it comes to different eras, specifically when they start and when they stop, there can be debate among enthusiasts. That creates an issue because there is no one universally-accepted authority to defer for an answer. We see the same issues with firsts – first cameo appearance, first full appearance, first cover art, first usage of the sound effect “thwip,” etc. It leaves more questions than answers, and it can overwhelm someone new to the game.

overstreet-201x300 The Trouble With the Modern AgeThe closest we have are tried-and-true resources like the old Overstreet Comic Price Guide, and the two major grading companies, CGC and CBCS. Even then, there can be a disparity in the answers.

BREAKING UP THE MODERN ERA

Everything can’t be filed under the Modern Age umbrella. What we now consider the Modern Age needs to be broken into at least three different subgroups: 1985-2000, 2001-2020, and 2021-2030. The time frame is too expansive. We should not label anything from the mid-1980s and beyond as modern. In any other hobby, the 1980s would be looked as part of the distant past, but in comic collecting, it gets lumped together with titles from 2020. When you really think about it, that is ridiculous.

At what point do we stop calling everything from the last 40 years modern? At some point, as a comic community, we need to recognize new designations for comic eras. Either that or a modern book will be anything printed in the last 75 years.

What should we name the new comic eras? I am curious on your suggestions, so post a comment below with your updated era titles.

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32 comments

Tiny Supernova September 15, 2020 - 12:44 pm

To avoid this being an issue every 30 years, the Modern title needs to be retired. The current Modern group should be broken into the early years – perhaps the Paper age due to mass publishing at the time? – and Digital age for more current titles.

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Dave Stevens September 15, 2020 - 1:42 pm

Only GoCollect thinks Secret Wars 8 is a Modern Comic. Literally no one else views it that way and it hasn’t been viewed that way in 25 years.

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John September 15, 2020 - 2:37 pm

I am just getting back into collecting after being out of it for 30 years. It seems to me in the mid nineties the drawings turned “darker”. Sort of like the Michael Keaton Batman as compared to the Christian Bale Batman. I guess that is the best way to put it. To me they became harder to read. Maybe after ’95 call it the Dark Ages.

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CleanSleeveComics September 15, 2020 - 3:09 pm

Couldnt agree more! We have been saying this for a long time ourselves. Hope more people think this way.

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JayPele September 15, 2020 - 3:51 pm

I thought the 80s-90s was the Copper Age?

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Steven kudo September 15, 2020 - 6:49 pm

Suggestions: Indy age (1990-2000 start of image and other Indy comics) , variant age (2001-present )

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Josh September 15, 2020 - 6:57 pm

Lets get out of this metal based system and move to a precious gem/stone based system!! Diamond really took over everything in the late 90’s – lets use the lawsuit as the starting point in 1997 or even the end of the lawsuit in 2000! That gives you a manageable 1992 to 2000 as Tin or Nickel to finish off the metals then start with 2001 to??? as the Diamond era heck after Diamond we can do Ruby, Opal whatever – almost forever as there are a ton of gemstones!!! I don’t know how we make this happen but if we do I want a disclaimer that I had input to this revolutionary system- lol!!!

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Antonio Ramos September 15, 2020 - 7:44 pm

I believe the Modern Age should be define as comics no older than 15 years, thereby shifting the modern tier and creating a new tier age for example;

Bronze Age 1970 – 1988
Copper Age 1989 – 1999

Millennial Age or 1st-1/4 mil 2000 – 2015 capping at 2020 or even 2024. Followed by;
2nd-1/4 mil 2025 – 2049 and so on

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Tony C September 15, 2020 - 9:00 pm

I’m thinking:

1970-1979 Bronze
1980-1989 Copper
1990-1999–Just call it the ’90s. Or maybe the Surplus Age? Cubic Zirconia age?
2000-Now–Plastic age (since CGC started up in 2000).

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Joesph Overaitis September 15, 2020 - 10:17 pm

Matt

I was going to write about this topic but saw you had already taken it. I loved the column but you answered the very reason the Modern Era is so large. The Modern Age has no influential event that defines it as unique. The other eras are not defined by time but by specific events or characters. What events would you use break up the four decades of the Modern Age besides time? If we use classifications based upon events or a genre we cannot use a different variable for classification such as time for the Modern Age.

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Roger Haight September 15, 2020 - 11:28 pm

Joseph…

I think there are indeed ways to distinguish the different eras within the so-called modern age. 1992 – the arrival of Image Comics – it’s impact on the industry has been a lasting one. The story seems to fall to the wayside and the decade that followed was fueled by the artist. Moving forward, 2001 has always stuck out to me as particularly distinct because Marvel made the choice to drop the Comics Code Authority. The artist driven comics of the 90’s took a back seat to the writers who came on the scene within that first decade – people like Brian K. Vaughan, Bendis and Kirkman. 2011 – we start to see the heroes we grew up on getting modernized with an effort made to attract more female readers. My 2 cents…

Cheers – Roger

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Nosh Hedgeman September 16, 2020 - 6:02 pm

“Rise and Fall of Comics era” 1980-2000 bcuz a lot of of good and bad for comics during these 20 yrs. Computer and Digital era. Bcuz in 2000 not everyone was familiar w/ computer’s, the comic industry had to change, the way people bought Comics changed, and we also now have digital Comics that people can read online. So I’m thinking rather than a big events in comics, how about just basically what actually happened in two 20-year Spans.

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Matt Tuck September 25, 2020 - 7:28 pm

If we go by specific events, which one begins the Bronze Age? Still, you make a good point, and you given me food for thought.

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Jason Sergio Foelsing September 15, 2020 - 10:24 pm

Even though the paper comic is still available, I think the Digital age should be used once digital comics came to be. It was the signal of a new era.

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Michael Burleigh September 15, 2020 - 10:24 pm

This has been an issue for awhile now. The generally accepted Modern Age has been going on for nearly 30 years. Maybe an older publication such as Overstreet or perhaps CGC could make that call. Would some type of meeting/discussion among industry leaders where a generally accepted standard (such as a new age every 25 years) be agreed upon? It’s got to happen sooner or later.

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rhinos comics aka chester rinaudo September 15, 2020 - 11:36 pm

i think the era from 84′-95′ should be the nickle age. 95% of that time period comics are only worth a nickle, plus it keeps up with metal / mineral theme of eras !

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Shawn September 16, 2020 - 12:21 am

Why does there seem to be some resistance towards designating a Copper Age ? 1985 -2000 should be The Copper Age, and 2000-present should be the modern age.

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Tim Champion September 16, 2020 - 9:16 am

I think from the start of the modern era, as it stands, to a few years after the launch of Image would be a good delineation for a new age, since it would encompass the launch of creator-owned publishing as a major milestone, as well as the 90’s speculation bubble bust. Finding another good milestone to break up the next chunk might be tough.

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Lundon Clark September 16, 2020 - 10:57 am

I’ve been discussing this exact topic with others for a while as well. The fact that we need to start finding a way to break up the “modern area” as it’s covering way too many years of books. Based on the current ages that already exist, my suggestion is we take books from 1993 to 2010 and label something like the “Nickel Age”. But I feel that Miles Morales would be the ideal character to kick off a new age of comics fittingly for his first appearance in 2011. So for comics 2011 to present, I would label this age as either the “Millennial age” since this era sets the stage for a new, younger, hip cast of characters that our kids will grow up to love. Or even call it the “Tin Foil age”. Since tin foil can also be associated with the rapid growth of speculators on current books.

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Kyle Jackson September 16, 2020 - 12:36 pm

Modern Era 1980-1990, Millennium Era 1991-2000, New Millenium Era 2001-2020, Future Era 2021>

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Luis September 16, 2020 - 1:27 pm

Great thought.
Maybe we can call it the ‘Variants Era’, if this crazy number of variants continue to be launched in the market just to to make profit to the brands.
Or, if we are in an optimistic mood, we can call it the ‘Independent Era’, if we do believe that in a short period we’ll see those independents as Image, AWA, etc, gaining some traction int he business.

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Greg September 16, 2020 - 7:13 pm

100% The Variant Era.

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Miguel September 16, 2020 - 10:41 pm

Great article Matt. I look forward to your article on the High, Mid and Low grade debate (mixing this up with the Comic Ages).

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Steven Johnston September 17, 2020 - 3:47 am

Ummm Doesn’t Overstreet have the Bronze Age through 83/84 and the Cooper age which ends around 91? So the modern age really starts at 1992 not 1980 which is still ridiculous. Overstreet finally added the Copper age some years ago which some Overstreet Advisors pined on for some time. Not quite 40 years closer to 28. What I also find confusing is the term the Atomic age. Is it part of the Golden age or not? Those in the know understand what the Atomic Age of comics are. Beautiful Sci-Fi and Horror pre-code comic books we can call that the other genres but those are the most famous. Wasn’t the Golden age all pre-code books? Maybe the period from 92 to 01 we call the Speculation Era because that’s what is was. (Make sure I get credit for this as that was the only thing going on in comics during this time) A major defining moment in modern Comic books was the Walking Dead. What an amazing run especially in the early part of the book run. It has its place in comic history like no other comic book. That book was out in 2003 which is close enough to the era ending I coined “Speculation Era”. The book also ended last year which ends that time period. We can call it the “The New Age of Comics” and everything forward we call the Modern age. The Modern age should range no longer than 3 to 5 years.

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Steven Johnston September 17, 2020 - 3:48 am

Copper Age not Cooper age. Ugghhhh . I hate that I can’t type.

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Hani Blake Dabbas September 17, 2020 - 6:16 am

Matt, you ignore the copper age, the gilded age of the 1990s and the current post modern age. Joseph, there are actually defining characteristics that can be used to define the copper age. Beginning with the rise of the direct market which lead to the rise of the independents and more creators rights. It is the age of epic for Marvel, and vertigo for Dc later on. Key events that define the age: Cerebus, back in 1977 is the Herald but then you have marvel entering the direct market in 1979 and Dc soon after. Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles may be the most defining book of this era while some point to crisis on infinite earth’s and secret wars. The next part is more of a rethinking of what the ages should be and is my opinion, but the 1990s definitely has its own characteristics that define it as a separate age… The gilded age. Defined by flashy crosshatching and gimmicky glow in the dark foil covers. The age of Valiant and Image. I believe it starts with Magnus robot fighter 1. And ends with Marvel’s restructuring. In fact, the “modern” age really starts with Marvel Knights line of comics and it was the beginning of the rollback of a lot of things at Dc. I propose that Dc’s first modern book was JLA 1 from Grant Morrison, which was a return of the big seven back to basics Justice League. I also propose that the modern age is already over. It ended in 2011 with new 52 at Dc and the premiere of Miles Morales at Marvel. This post modern era is characterized by younger, more diverse heroes and the effects of movie culture from comic book movies on already established characters. I realize that this might be off the beaten 0ath, but as Matt mentioned, Secret Wars does not fit with the current age. The 1990’s are even more different than now. And the comics of today have a distinctive flavor that is very different from 2010. It should also be noted that other ages are mentioned in overstreet by dealers in the market reports and even in their top ten lists(Atom age is also mentioned there) Although the gilded age of the 1990s has yet to be separated out with modern and post modern, it’s only a matter of time before these ages are recognized.

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Matt Tuck September 17, 2020 - 6:41 pm

I appreciate your passion for the illegitimate love child of the comic eras, the Copper Age. You make a good case, and I am on board with recognizing Copper. As far as it being a universally accepted age, we’re not there yet.

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Hani B Dabbas September 17, 2020 - 11:17 pm

The most recent issue of the Overstreet Price guide page 193 gives us the “Top 25 copper age books”. That’s pretty definitive proof of the acceptance of the copper age. Atom Age sales are mentioned on page 183 and 189 Both the copper age and the Atom age are mentioned throughout the market reports. (Mentioned Atom age because you have another article where you say no one recognizes the Atom age.) Still, I’m glad you are questioning the “modern age”. I’m not a fan of the term. And too many people have tried to stretch it out too far.

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James September 20, 2020 - 3:46 am

I agree with
Bronze Age 1970 – 1988
Copper Age 1989 – 1999
Every 2000 and newer should be modern age as we shift towards the variant age

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Doug Bratton September 20, 2020 - 7:34 am

Hey Matt, love where you’re going with this. I actually wrote 2 blogs on this topic last month “Is it Time to Re-Think the Eras of Comics?” Part 1 and 2 on the regie collects blog, you should definitely check it out. Here is the link to part 2 (link to part 1 is in the post):
https://regiecollects.com/f/it%E2%80%99s-time-to-re-think-the-%E2%80%9Ceras%E2%80%9D-of-comics-part-ii

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Matt Tuck September 21, 2020 - 4:43 pm

Thanks for the links, Doug.

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Rick Sand April 15, 2021 - 4:50 pm

2011 is the logical end of the “Modern Age” with the New 52 reboot and Marvel Now the next year. At Marvel it is also the time when the events started in Avengers Disassembled/House of M meet their conclusion in AvX. 2011/2012 takes a major turn, especially at Marvel, to bring back humor and just a sense of fun to comics. As much as I dislike the New 52, DC did a lot more experimentation than they had done in a while with titles like I Vampire, Sword of Sorcery, GI Combat, Blackhawks, etc. as short lived as many of them were. Even the DC You rebranding about a year before Rebirth was their attempt at emulating changes Marvel initiated in tone and audience.

I would say we’re still in whatever “Age” since then, because the types of initiatives, content, target audience, etc. haven’t changed since then. Rebirth didn’t rewrite New 52 really, other than the return of the original Superman.

There could be another break between 1980 and 2011, but I don’t feel strongly about that. While the 90s flash make those years stand out visually, the types of stories and consistency of writers of the era still make it feel cohesively one era. I would agree with others who noted 2000/2001 as a shift from artist-focused to writer-focused comics, but the overall content seems to be the same tonally and in terms of continuity.

Even the start of the current broad “Modern Age” is tough to pin down. Is it Claremont X-Men, which obviously sets the tone in super-hero books in spite of that stretching back to 1975? Or maybe it’s the simultaneous retitle of Legion of Super-Heroes and launch of New Teen Titans in 1980 as a symbol that comics as a whole caught up to the outlier X-Men? Is it Miller’s Daredevil (particularly starting with 168) because its dark and gritty tone that dominated the Modern Age? Is it Swamp Thing #21 in 1984 for its upgrade in storytelling quality and bold character revamp that led to new directions for Shade, Animal Man, and Doom Patrol that led to the formation of Vertigo? Ninja Turtles #1 for the runaway indie success that would cause the independent/self-published market to expand exponentially? Crisis on Infinite Earths, which is often cited but really only impacted DC? Watchmen for being Watchmen?

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