Comic Book Decades

Every once in a while, I'm at a loss for what to read.  It's not that I don't have options; I have too many.  Between literary fiction, non-fiction, YA, and a full range of comics, sometimes it's hard to know exactly what I want to invest my precious reading time in.

One thing I'm always in the mood for are Marvel comics from the 70's.  I could go on and on about my love of these comics, but I'll save that for another day.

Anyway, this got me thinking about how, pop culturally speaking, we like to define things in terms of decades.  It's most prominent with music, but we do it with television, fashion, etc.  We do it a lot with comics, too, the most notorious of which being the 90's, which we often blame for the comics' fall from the top.

It made me think about the past few decades and which comics I most associate with each.

A few caveats: I'm using publishers as my guide.  I know I could break it down further into titles or genres or what have you, but a lot of these decades are before my time and I simply don't know them well enough to dig that deep.

Along those lines, I'm skipping the 30's.  I know, I know, it's the decade that gave us Superman and Batman, but that's more or less all I know of comics published in the 30's.  While I'm no expert regarding other decades, I have at least some knowledge of, at the very least, what other publishers were putting out.

So, without further ado:

The 40's

Yes, I unceremoniously stole thunder from Batman and Superman by skipping the 30's, but they're a big part of the reason why I'm giving this decade to DC.

Here's the thing: I will always associate WWII with DC.  I realize that the patriotic icon of that era is Captain America, but the Justice Society, the All-Star Squadron -- these are the guys I link to that time.  I think it's because DC stuck with them decades later, often still telling stories of that time period, while Marvel never really went back with Captain America to such an extent.

I eat this shit up, which is why I was so disappointed when the new "Earth 2" book from DC has nothing to do with the superheroes of the '40's that I enjoyed so much.

The 50's

Oh, I love me some comics from the 50's, or, specifically, I love me some EC Comics.  They far and away
produced the best comics of that decade.  It was groundbreaking stuff featuring artwork that was above and beyond anything else that was seeing print.  The fact that they inadvertently led to the creation of the Comics Code just underscores their importance.

Honorable mention here should go to DC, given that they started what would become known as the Silver Age in the 50's.  Kind of a big deal.

The 60's

Kind of goes without even mentioning, doesn't it?  You just don't get any bigger than the start of the Marvel Age of Comics.

The 70's

Oh, yeah.  I realize, that as a business, Marvel shot itself in the foot in the 70's, to the point where it required an extremely firm hand to bring it back to life.  The lunatics really were running the asylum.  But that's why it was so awesome.

It's no wonder that Marvel became a symbol of counter culture given how obvious the drug use (and metaphors) was in these comics.  Crazy shit happened in Marvel Comics of the 70's, crazy shit that was completely unpredictable.  You want aliens?  Demons?  Monsters?  Maybe even superheroes?  It was a insane mishmash of genres that we just don't really see anymore.

The 80's

This was a tough one, actually.  This is the decade I started reading comics, and I read mostly Marvel books, so my sense of nostalgia wants to give these years to them.  At the same time, I know how important the burgeoning direct market was, particularly the growing independent comics scene.

In the end, though, I went with the company that not only dabbled in the aforementioned direct market, but also produced two of the seminal comics of all time: Watchmen and the Dark Knight Returns.  DC also did a nice job of diversifying their line in the 80's, including a line of licensed books TSR books that I really enjoyed.

The 90's

You'd think I'd go with Image here, wouldn't you?  After all, they changed the face of comics.  But they're not getting the nod from me for this decade.

No way I can pick Marvel or DC here, obviously, given what happened in the 90's.  Well, not their main
lines, at least, because my pick for this decade is Vertigo.

Look at the books Vertigo published in the 90's.  Seriously, go Google it, because it would take up a lot of space for me to list them all here.  This was the heyday of that line and it was probably the one, specific location where comics were doing the most good for the medium.  People who never read comics were sticking their toes in with books like Sandman and Preacher.  Imagine if the rest of the industry hadn't gone batshit insane; Vertigo might have actually been able to expand our audience.

Not that Vertigo was exempt from the insanity of the 90's; you can find a ton of Vertigo mini-series from the 90's in quarter boxes.  But at least those books were trying something different.

The 00's

Like a phoenix from the ashes, Marvel came back to life.  And they did it the way they'd done it back in the 60's, by appealing to teenagers and having a little bit of an attitude while they did.  This time around, though, they also took a few pages from the 70's play book, and decided that maybe letting creators have room to create could actually pay off.

It's amazing to look at the books Marvel published at the beginning of the century in comparison to what they publish now.  Today's books seem so safe when compared to what they were producing ten years ago.  And look at the lines they created to try things: Marvel Knights, Ultimate Comics, Marvel Adventures, and MAX.  Sure, each line had varying degrees of success, but they weren't afraid to try new things.

If nothing else, Marvel gets huge credit for finally doing away with the ridiculous comics code authority.

The Teens

Even with DC's reboot, the Big Two are playing it pretty safe these days.  Their lines are dwindling down to just a few big brands under which all other books must live.  Make Batman an Avenger and I think we're pretty much covered.

The place for experimentation on a large scale is Image, who are currently owning this decade.  Creators' rights have never been as paramount and it's thanks to Image.  They're publishing books the Big Two would never touch by creators the Big Two would never touch in genres the Big Two would never touch.  It's hyperbolic, sure, but Image are doing more good for the medium right now than any other company, and I'm tempted to add an "ever" on to the end of that.

So those are the comic book lines I think of when I think of each decade.  Because that's how my brain works.