THE COPPER AGE (1985 – ?)
— “I know pain. Sometimes, I share it… with someone like you!” – Batman (Batman: Year One)
Also referred to as the ‘Modern Age’ of Comics, and is seen as a continuation of the ‘Dark Age’ of Comics. I like to say we’re in the Post-Modern Age, since the current comics barely resemble the comics of the 90’s and it’s been long enough to establish a New Age. This ‘Modern’ Age is often classified with works like Alan Moore’s Watchmen, and Frank Miller’s the Dark Knight Returns.
During this time leading up to today comics evolved into graphic novels. Comic issues were intended as single episodes in a greater story, and usually collected into larger volumes to be sold at book store chains. Many acclaimed, award winning graphic novels came about around this time including: V For Vendetta, the Sandman, Hell-blazer (Constantine), 100 Bullets, ‘Maus’, Fables, American Splendor, Kick-Ass, the League of Extraordinary Gentlemen, Wanted, Red, the Losers, Road to Perdition, A History of Violence, Y: the Last Man, and Grimm Fairy Tales, among others, most of which have been turned into blockbuster films along with a majority of super hero comics.
The Copper Age also covers the mixed bag of comics that was the 90’s when the X-titles reigned supreme, and cross-overs galore flooded comic shops with overprinting and variant cover marketing gimmicks. Comics of this decade were marked by unnecessary (and meaningless, non-permanent) deaths, constantly confusing title cross-overs, ridiculously out of proportion body-types (either steroid muscles, or DDD size boobs), and pointless violence coupled with raging CAPS and EXCLAMATION POINTS!!!!!!!!! Now regardless of all the negatives, there were some pure gold tales that came out of this mess like: The Death of Superman, the Knightfall Saga, etc… This was also the rise of other comic company giants, like Image and Wild-storm, but that’s for another article.
During the 80’s and 90’s the status quo was significantly changed. DC took a page from Marvel when they revamped their entire line of heroes. Some were altered more drastically than others, like Superman. In John Byrne’s ‘THE MAN OF STEEL’ miniseries (1985), Superman’s origin was completely revamped from the start. Superman himself was significantly depowered compared to the god-like Silver Age version and he was made more relatable and down to Earth. His entire cast of supporting characters were also given updates. Most notably, LEX, the original criminal-mastermind was no longer a crazy-ass mad-scientist with desires for world domination, instead he was a ruthless business man who had already conquered the world and had practically built the city of Metropolis! Lex became insanely jealous when this new hero of tomorrow overtook his own spotlight, and vowed to destroy him.
Elsewhere in the DC Multi-verse: METALLO, the classic Superman villain (who’d been through numerous versions throughout the years) was revamped in issue 2 of the new series as John Corben, a Kryptonite-powered cyborg. Tim Drake first appeared in Batman 436 (1989) and in 442 became the newest prodigy to take up the mantle of Robin (Damien Wayne is the current holder of the title). Kyle Rayner replaced Hal Jordan as Green Lantern in 1994’s GL 48, following Hal’s possession by the entity PARALLAX which caused him to nearly wipe out the entire army of Green Lanterns prior to his own (temporary) demise.
A whole legion of X-Men villains and heroes came out of this period, not surprising considering just how many X-related titles were being pumped out of Marvel by the dozens. The ancient mutant tyrant APOCALYPSE first showed up in X-FACTOR #6 (1986), best known for conquering Earth in the future, and was revealed to be the original mutant. Speaking of the future, CABLE first appeared in ‘NEW MUTANTS’ 87, 1990. Cable was revealed to be the son of Scott Summers (Cyclops), whom first appeared in Uncanny 201 (1986), and came back in time to stop Mr. Sinister’s rather sinister plot which led to the ‘AGE OF APOCALYPSE!’ (subtlety was not relevant in the 90’s). The ‘ragin Cajun’ GAMBIT was a card-shark with an explosive ability. Remy Lebeau first gambled his way into Uncanny X-Men Annual #14 (1990) and later hooked up with Rogue. One of Wolverine’s numerous infamous love affairs throughout the centuries was with SILVER FOX, the native American mutant was killed by Sabretooth in ‘Wolverine’ # 10 (1989) and later reappeared working for Team-X and then HYDRA. DEAD-POOL, the ‘Merc with a Mouth’ started his legendary career as a wise-cracking contract killer in New Mutants 98 (1991), and was originally intended as a parody of DC’s Deathstroke.
While we’re on the subject of ruthless characters, CARNAGE, the vicious symbiotic Spider-man villain came about in Amazing #344 that same year. Meanwhile, DC’s lovable ‘HARLEY QUINN’ (also known as the Joker’s girlfriend) first appeared in Batman: the Animated Series (1992), but was so popular that she was later worked into the comics (along with quite a few other side-characters) with Paul Dini’s ‘Mad Love’ (1994). The Superman villainess LIVE-WIRE also started out in animation. ‘STATIC SHOCK’ initially premiered in the comic series ‘Static’ (1993), but gained a fan-base with his own animated series a few years later.
The infamous BANE started cracking his knuckles in 1993’s ‘Vengeance of Bane’ while he was gearing up to go toe to toe with Gotham’s protector. Bane would go on to become the first villain to truly defeat Batman during the famous KNIGHTFALL Trilogy (1993-1994) in which the Venom-junkie (Bane) broke Batman’s back (and will). This of course led to someone else putting on the cowl. That someone was AZRAEL, an ex-supervillain / assassin who (obviously) would go mad with power as Batman after defeating Bane. The warning signs began with him modifying the costume, drastically, and then he started offing common criminals, eventually giving Bruce a good reason to become the Bat again and take down the corrupted Dark Knight.
However, the most defining story from this period of time would have to be ‘THE DEATH OF SUPERMAN’ (1992). It all started with the introduction of the indestructible, ultimate destroyer: DOOMSDAY! Doomsday was a brainless, hulking rock-monster made out of rage and spikes, lots of them! Doomsday would prove to be the only force in the universe capable of beating Superman to a bloody pulp. Superman of course didn’t go down without a fight, in fact they practically leveled all of Metropolis while they brawled across the country. With his ‘last’ breath Clark defeated Doomsday… problem was that he was later revealed to be not actually dead, because he ‘got better’ (because of his Kryptonian physiology, he appeared dead, but was actually in a coma / hibernation / regeneration phase). But before the Man of Steel could rise from the grave FOUR new replacements started popping up in various Superman titles of the time: STEEL (an African American weapons-designer who built himself a suit and decided to live up to his example), SUPER-BOY (a teenager with a leather jacket and shades, later revealed to be an altered-clone with DNA from both Lex and Clark), THE ERADICATOR (it’s a long story…), and CYBORG-SUPERMAN?! (Yeah, he’s not evil-looking at all, he just looks like a Terminator robot with half his face missing…) Of course the real Superman did return about a year after his apparent demise, sporting a black suit and a rock-star mullet!
This was the start of a series of cross-over ‘Events’ that became the norm for comics henceforth. Not much else has significantly happened in the way of new characters since the 90’s, except of course that one time: Gotham was destroyed by an earthquake (CATACLYSM! / NO MAN’S LAND), Lex became the President of the United States, Hulk was exiled from Earth, became a galactic gladiator (PLANET HULK), and broke some planets before declaring war on the Avengers (WORLD WAR HULK), the prophesized ‘Blackest Night’, ‘Brightest Day’ and ‘War of Light’ came to pass (Geoff John’s ‘Green Lantern’ saga), Captain America died (Marvel’s ‘CIVIL WAR’), Captain America came back, Elektra was a Skrull! (so was Jarvis! See ‘Secret Invasion’ for details), Batman had a son, Batman ‘died’ killing Darkseid (FINAL CRISIS), Batman got lost in time, Nightwing became Batman (Battle for the Cowl), Thor got an ‘Ultimate’ make-over in which everyone thought he was a crazy homeless drunk guy with a hammer (Ultimate Marvel), Daredevil lost his shit, Green Arrow married Black Canary, The Fantastic Four gained a new member and then lost one, again, Magneto redeemed himself, Norman Osborn took over the Avengers (DARK REIGN), General Ross became the RED-HULK, the X-Men split-up, Wonder Woman wore pants, etc…
Comic creators mainly spent the next decade or so fixing all the mistakes and continuity errors of the last century before they just said ‘Fuck it!’ and decided to reboot everything, again, and start from scratch! I guess you could say we’re now in the Post-Modern Age of Comic Books!
Hope you enjoyed the article! If you fan-boys and geek-girls feel that I missed anyone significant during this history lesson, feel free to argue your points in the comments below, I look forward to proving you wrong! J
Now get to your homework assignment and read some damn COMIX!
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