Thursday, December 30, 2010

Recommended Reading and Food for Thought on Silver Age Nostalgia

David's got a post up today on race and comics that's damned good reading.

Lately, I've been trying to put to words my problem with the assumption that "Silver Age Nostalgia" is what's wrong with comics (and I'll probably continue to), and a few paragraphs from that post really resonated there:
I don’t think that DC is working of nostalgia at all, especially not for the Silver Age. The Silver Age, running from the ’50s up to the early ’70s at the latest, was a time when superhero comics turned soft and transient. Characters changed shape, gimmick, and styles issue to issue. The Silver Age is generally viewed online as being wacky and out-there, super weird and goofy. It isn’t known for Hal Jordan, Barry Allen, and Ray Palmer so much as for that time Superman had an ant head and Jimmy Olsen married a gorilla. Jordan, Allen, and Palmer date from those times, yes, but they aren’t emblematic of those times.

If you skip across the street to Marvel, there’s an interesting parallel. Over the past ten years, several characters from the ’70s have made a return. They haven’t replaced anyone, but Luke Cage, Misty Knight, Werewolf by Night, Moon Knight, Spider-Woman, Nova, Iron Fist, Ghost Rider, Shang-Chi, and even Howard the Duck have made returns, no matter how completely unmarketable they may be. Does that count as nostalgia for the ’70s?

I don’t think that either situation counts as nostalgia. There is certainly someone’s fond memories of a character involved in the process, but nostalgia is a yearning for, and sometimes emulation of, the past. Quentin Tarantino’s Jackie Brown is a love letter to blaxploitation films. The casting of Pam Grier, the soundtrack, and all the overt references to blaxploitation is proof positive.

If you look at Bendis’s Cage or Geoff Johns’s Hal Jordan, and I mean really look at them, you’d see how they aren’t really fueled by nostalgia at all. The stories aren’t even remotely the same. They star the same characters, sure, but casting Pam Grier alone does not a blaxploitation movie make. Johns’s Green Lantern is deadly serious and never boring. The goofy ring structures, the giant boxing gloves and baseball bats, have largely given way to airplanes and detailed rifles. It’s realistic, rather than whimsical. His Flash comes a little closer to emulating the Silver Age style, but even then, he’s taking one part of the past (the Flash Facts/science) and applying it to something new (giving us stories that let Francis Manapul show us how cool superspeed is). The characters are old. The stories aren’t.
I've been all about that when I'm complaining. The "Silver Age Nostalgia" is all cosmetic, and some of the best stuff out has been a revival of the spirit of the Silver Age, while some of the worst shit is just the Silver Age characters written in a modern age story.

I know I have more to say about that when it percolates a bit, but that's a tangent that doesn't even touch on a fraction of David's post.


  1. He's making excellent points. I must go and read the original immediately.

    Gosh, you learn something new every day! And Happy New Year, Ragnell!

  2. I basically agree with all of that.

    It's less the writers being nostalgic for the Silver Age, as that they like the characters from that age and want to "redeem" them or validate them by putting them in serious, modern situations. In fairness it's not ALWAYS a bad idea, but sometimes it just goes wrong.