The Blue Age of Comic Books

A History of Superheroes

At the start of the Golden Age, the first of a series of eras determined retroactively by collectors, with the publication of Action Comics #1, the comic that introduced Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster’s Superman, the uniquely American genre of the superhero was born. Originally pitched as a character for a newspaper series, Siegel and Shuster were asked to format their sample strips for a new comic book. As Bradford W. Wright, in Comic Book Nation: The Transformation of Youth Culture in America, writes,

Superman won a large audience very quickly. At a time when most comic book titles sold between 200,000 and 400,000 copies per issue, each issue of Action Comics (featuring one Superman story each) regularly sold about 900,000 copies per month. Each bimonthly issue of the Superman title, devoted entirely to the character, sold an average of 1,300,000 copies. The Superman phenomenon transcended comic books. (13)

Superman would eventually appear in newspapers, as originally intended, and become a transmedia icon over radio, on television, and in film. Chris Gavaler, in Superhero Comics, argues that the Golden Age of comic books begins not with Superman but, instead, with his first imitation. Within a year, copycat superheroes (and rival publishing companies) would begin to appear.

The Golden Age may be understood as having ranged from the 1930s to the 1950s. The Silver Age that followed was dominated not by Superman but by supermen. The publisher that would come to be known as Marvel would introduce characters like Spider-Man, Iron Man, and the Hulk alongside teams like the Avengers and the X-Men in the range of years constituting the Silver Age: the 1950s to the 1970s. The age that follows, Bronze, is tonally different from the two that precede it. If the Golden Age was about Superman and the Silver Age about supermen, then the Bronze Age, 1970s to 1990s, was about the fall of supermen. The Modern Age, 1990s to 2010s, is not so much defined by what it is as by what it is not: the ages that precede it.

The Blue Age, I argue, begins in the 2010s and continues into the present. It starts not long after the debut of digital comics retailer comiXology in 2007 and is set apart from earlier ages by digital readers, guided reading technology, and social media. 

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