Hi there, chums! For some time now, but the past year specifically, I have found myself drawn more and more to the Silver Age of Comics, that preposterously creative period during roughly ‘56 through ‘70 (depending on who you ask - it can be a bone of contention!). It was characterized by comics being loudly declared as being For Kids! by the big publishers who wanted to survive the McCarthy Hearings-era purity purge that resulted in the Comics Code Authority. Needing to reassure a generation of parents alarmed by Wertham-popularized fears for their children’s moral development, publishers pushed hard on All-American wholesomeness in comics to where it has become recognizable in most art and storytelling of the time.
In my growing appreciation for the Silver Age (and to a different degree her older sister, the Golden Age) I find myself having amassed a number of bookshelves of DC Archives, Marvel Masterworks and various other forms of Silver Age content. I have been digging into the four-color wonders of an era I had previously understood but had left largely unexplored and very under-appreciated. Sitting next to my other comics interests I now have Silver Age Goodness and it’s been a real pleasure to keep returning to those expressive and fun-forward treasures.
There are fandoms for most areas of comics interest, and Silver Age enthusiasts are the ones that I find most represent the positivity and (forgive the patriarchal term) _gentlemanly charm_ that characterizes the sub-genre they appreciate. As I have expanded my horizons on the subject of Silver Age Goodness, I have found that I must in some way include in my definition somehow the ongoing spirit of the Silver Age (SA) that has continued to exist to today. In addition to reading reprints of comics from the era, I’ve begun reading some contemporary books modeled in classic SA styles. There’s a surprising amount of them and I realize that like myself, a solidly Bronze Age/Gen X dude, there are a lot of folks out there who have learned an affection for this simpler time that we never knew.
I reviewed THE HEROES UNION #1 and BIG BANG ADVENTURES #8 recently and wrote a little about my thoughts on the subject. Since then I have of course been doing more reading about, thinking about, and talking to people about comics, be they Silver Age, SA-style or otherwise. From those conversations has come an opportunity that I would be a fool not to take advantage of, so you’re just in time to take part in a personal first and join me as I conduct an experimental interview format I like to call Totally Wingin’ It.
Oh, did you come here for a comic review? Today we’re doing it a little differently and if no one says anything, I doubt I’ll get in much trouble. The Wednesday Pull List guys are cool, but I can’t vouch for you-all if you start feelin’ yourselves so keep those noses clean, capisce?
Okay, I’ll level with you - as far as interviewers go, I make a hell of a casual comic book reviewer! Mainly because I’ve never tried it before, so I dunno, I might be Barbara Walters over here, let me know. Point is - you, me and the other five/six cool kids out there who read this column have reached a point in our relationship where we can try some new things, baby, keep it fresh. In the time-honored tradition of doing exactly that, I’m bringing someone into the relationship.
Woah, that metaphor is creeping me out! Let’s knock off that nonsense when Company gets here, huh? Ya weirdos.
I recently read my first Big Bang comic and since my review of KNIGHTS OF JUSTICE, Big Bang has been on my mind, friends. I’ve poked around the site a bunch of times, checking out the blog and community-oriented content. I found and won an eBay copy of the first issue of the original 1994 Caliber Comics run (score!). Pedro Angosto, writer of KNIGHTS OF JUSTICE, has been patient enough to keep responding to my emails and Twitter DMs, and despite having literally a thousand better things to do, has agreed to be my first ever interview subject! In fact, I somehow conned him into getting some of his creative comrades on Team Big Bang roped in! Pedro is just a super nice guy and I am grateful for the time he and his supporting interview subjects are donating to my foolishness.
So, a recap, kinda. Back in the dark days before the Internet was useful for pretty much anything, comics were booming and busting sort of simultaneously and I was a dashing young pup slingin’ plates of the ol’ four-color blue-plate special for fun-hungry souls at a literal Mom n’ Pop local comics shop. Classic comics material was still tough to access in a time when the reprint market was in its infancy. Forget new readers becoming exposed - the industry was going through this very weird time, with a focus on the modern and the new, the flashy and the now. The Golden and Silver Ages of Comics and the specific spirit of storytelling that is so much a part of them was in danger of becoming a lost tradition, especially ironic during this age of creator ownership and independent publishing.
As noted, the definition of the Golden and Silver Ages will vary depending on all sorts of factors, so for the purposes of this read let’s super-roughly call it pre-1955 and ‘55-‘70, respectively. For our purposes it’s more about the styles and traditions of these comics Ages and they feelings they evoke. Golden Age is early days for the art form and things are crude by today’s standards, the narrative very different from what we’re used to now. The storytelling was messy and erratic and charming.
The Silver Age was the return of superhero comics to dominance after they had lost their shine in the late ‘40s. The Comics Code Authority really birthed the Silver Age by putting hyper-puritanical limits on the sex ‘n violence content comics could contain and still carry Code approval. Publishers’ new mandate was to be kosher, meet the ridiculous new rules - and then the best ones used those guidelines as a challenge to have as much completely bonkers fun as possible, full stop. SUPERMAN’S GIRL FRIEND, LOIS LANE not only could be a comic book all its own, but it sold huge, employed top-tier talent and was REALLY GOOD! This is Silver Age Goodness! It is by now a thriving art form and also just as much, it’s a craft or a trade. DC comfortably dominates until Marvel changes the game, quality of work is super high and healthy competition drives creative innovation. Again, bonkers and fun are key words.
After that comes the Bronze Age, which many will argue is the very best of them all, roughly ‘70 to ‘86-ish. Again, all depending on what your context and focus is. This time is characterized by former fans as creators, storytelling shifting to much more complex and layered, with long-running plot lines, soap opera style. Creative and artistic highs everywhere, the rise of the independent comics, comiX and ‘zines. This is when I came of age and started to define myself as an individual human person, so I traditionally identify most with this period in comics.
After that it gets into that weird damn time that was the 90s in comics, that time of meteoric creative highs (and some depthless lows), speculator frenzy and customer-gouging inspired by retailer-gouging driven by the early days of the corporatization of comics. It was an exhilarating, exhausting time. I kid you not, some folks refer to this as the Dark Age.
Wow, this is becoming an essay on something slightly larger than intended! Pedro, I promise, I’m getting there!
Which brings me back to this ill-advised “interview” with the remarkably kind and patient folks at Big Bang Comics! Love for the brightness and fun-first approach of the Silver Age inspired Gary Carlson and Chris Ecker to create their own vintage-inspired universe of characters, publishing Big Bang through small publisher Caliber Comics in ‘94, then through arguable one of the largest publishers, Image Comics for ten plus years. New adventures are still being put out, now self-published, the stable of creators growing even as the characters themselves have developed their own decades of real history. Big Bang was born a loving homage, imitation as absolutely the finest form of flattery... and then it evolved. Let’s talk about Big Bang in 2021.
Hi Pedro! I’ll skip the thank-yous since I did that earlier and besides, I know you’re the stoic type and I don’t want to embarrass you! You somehow mistook me for a comics reviewer with a readership, and agreed to give me a free copy for review. That was cool as hell and I am so happy that I liked it, because otherwise yikes, right? Uncomfortable. So first tell me a little about reviews; do you read them? How can you not, right? Any anecdotes about worst review, best review, most head-scratching?
Of course I read them all! Even if I've been writing comic-books for 20 years now, both in Spain and U.S.A., they are only a dozen, so I am humble enough to know I am an inexperienced writer and still have lots to learn, and readers are always going to catch stuff you can't be conscious of.
When I published my first book in Spain, Circulo Justiciero -Justice Circle- which happened to also be a Justice Society pastiche like Knights of Justice, only with characters I “created” loosely based on Public Domain ones, I got a single review from a fellow Spanish creator -who shall remain nameless- that now we would call a trolling one, but we didn't have that word back then! It wasn't the comic for him, he didn't get it at all.
Then, when my first BBC book came out - Round Table of America: Personality Crisis one- shot, a Silver Age JLA pastiche, we were playing with the then “hot” Identity Crisis event - there were two critics: One, done by Keith Howell, Doc Challenger, was deep, long and even compared my work positively to that of then current JLA writer Geoff Johns - we used to have very similar take and ideas on superheroes.
The other one, and here comes the anecdote, was a one-liner that said something like: “This book is crap”. Well, you can't win them all, can you? Needless to say, I didn't take that one too deeply.
Before being a writer, I have been a loud-mouthed critic myself, so it's natural that now I get my due! And reviews are very necessary to make people aware of indy books. Even if BBC was published by Image Comics and had a notable fan-following, many of them wouldn't know that the series is still going and producing some of the best work on the imprint now. So thanks again for your efforts and help.
Following on the idea of criticism, I am curious to hear your thoughts about paying homage and where, if any, there’s a line **not** to cross. How close is too close for comfort, I think I am asking... the terms homage and pastiche, how far does that take you before it’s stealing? Have you ever had to pull a character because you felt it came too close?
Well, the lines not to cross doing pastiche are the ones that will get you the lawyers of the company of the original character suing you!