Friday, August 31, 2018


It's weird how these things go. A month or so back, I was thinking about typing up a debriefing on this year's Comic-Con -- but as usual, while I enjoyed myself, I find that I have very little to put to screen regarding my time there. It was fine, but a lot of the experience for me is simply spending time with friends who I don't see as often as I used to. The con itself is almost secondary nowadays to the hanging around, the games, and the eating out around town.

But as I mulled over whether or not to bother with a recap essay, I mused that the first SDCC I attended was nineteen years ago, in 1999 (and if you think that means I'll find a way to commemorate twenty years of Comic-Con next summer, True Believer, you've got me figured out). I started thinking about what the convention was like back then and the sorts of panels I attended. Then, the kicker -- my iPad wallpaper as I entertained these thoughts was an Avengers image by George Pérez, and I noted the year he'd drawn it beside his signature: 1997 (that's it at right).

I thought some more. We're more than twenty years removed now from the start of the Busiek/Pérez AVENGERS run, the Busiek/Bagley THUNDERBOLTS run, Spider-Man's Clone Saga, "Onslaught", and so forth, and it's been almost twenty years since my first Comic-Con. That got me thinking about the concept of the "Personal Golden Age" of comics, which I've seen now and then on the internet: the idea that everyone has an era where comics captured their imagination more than any time before or after. For some, it was probably right when they got into comics. For others, like me, it came a bit later.

Though the first comic I can recall owning came into my possession when I was around four years old, and though I read plenty of comic books in elementary school, the period I'd define as my Personal Golden Age encompassed all of high school and part of college, roughly ages fourteen to twenty-one. And while it's not a perfectly clean delineation, I can even name where I would consider the "Age" to have begun and ended: X-MEN #20 (May 1993) - AVENGERS #34/THUNDERBOLTS #44 (November 2000).

The beginning is simple. I'd been reading comics books for years; lots of Disney stuff from Gladstone Comics, plus some Marvel. Gerry Conway's WEB OF SPIDER-MAN and SPECTACULAR SPIDER-MAN come to mind as early favorites, plus SECRET WARS, which I owned in full and read many, many times (it became a ritual of mine that any time I was home sick from elementary school, I would read SECRET WARS that day). Marvel's TRANSFORMERS and some other toy tie-in series would fall on this list as well. Eventually, during middle school (circa seventh grade or so), I started reading AMAZING SPIDER-MAN under David Michelinie and Mark Bagley, and I picked up the X-Men's "X-Cutioner's Song" crossover as well. But it was X-MEN #20 which marked my first issue as a regular, ongoing X-reader, and for whatever reason I consider that to be the point I was no longer a casual dabbler; with that installment I became fully invested in Marvel's universe.

The end is a bit trickier. I kept reading Marvel comics for a long time after AVENGERS 34 and THUNDERBOLTS 44. But for me, that's where my all-encompassing monthly interest in the universe ended. Issue 34 was George Pérez's final installment of AVENGERS, and Bagley would be off THUNDERBOLTS a mere six months later. Spider-Man was well into a poorly-received relaunch at this point, and the X-Men had snowballed downhill with the ill-conceived "Revolution" and "Counter-X" stunts. Both AVENGERS and THUNDERBOLTS would remain quality reads for a couple more years, but the departure of Pérez was a severe blow to AVENGERS from my perspective, and the series never quite felt the same afterward. Ditto Bagley leaving THUNDERBOLTS (and I could just as easily have called T-BOLTS 50 the end of my Golden Age, but Pérez leaving AVENGERS just feels more momentous).

So the middle, the era between those two bookends, is my own Personal Golden Age. I've talked about it before, both here (in my reviews of various X-Men collected editions, plus a few other posts) and elsewhere. As much as I generally prefer the status quos of the Silver and Bronze Ages for many characters, nineties Marvel is "my" Marvel. That includes all the X-Men events of the era, the Clone Saga, Jim Starlin's "Infinity" trilogy, "Onslaught" and "Heroes Reborn", plus THUNDERBOLTS, HEROES FOR HIRE, DEADPOOL by Joe Kelly, and AVENGERS by Busiek and Pérez. All this stuff is what held me enraptured with the Marvel Universe for the bulk of the nineties, through adolescence and into my college years. This is why I generally have complimentary things to say about Scott Lobdell, Bob Harras, and even Howard Mackie, alongside folks like Busiek, Starlin, and Fabian Nicieza -- those creators, among others, brought me more entertainment as a teen than any other human beings I could possibly name.

(I also read a few vintage runs for the very first time during this period, chiefly among them the Claremon/Cockrum/Byrne X-Men and Roger Stern's Spider-Man stuff, cementing both as definitive takes on the characters and situations in my mind.)

And of course there's another aspect of this, which probably helps to explain why I so fondly remember this period over any other in my comic book reading life. As I've mentioned (probably too many times) before, I was big into tabletop roleplaying games as a kid. My friends and I started in fifth grade, dabbling with all sorts of games throughout middle school, but around the eighth grade, we more-or-less settled on TSR's MARVEL SUPER HEROES as our go-to game for ongoing adventures. I was the game master, and in that capacity I tied various Marvel events into our scenarios. Throughout middle school, high school, and into college, the players' characters were tangentially involved in and/or affected by the fallout from "Fatal Attractions", "Onslaught", "Operation: Zero Tolerance", "Heroes Return", "The Twelve", and probably a few others I'm forgetting. Plus, in general, I patterned the "feel" of our ongoing campaign after that of Fabian Nicieza's X-MEN and later, Kurt Busiek's THUNDERBOLTS and AVENGERS -- while also borrowing heavily from the twists and turns of the Clone Saga-era Spider-Man books and Roger Stern's HOBGOBLIN LIVES.

Thus it's a combination of factors that cements 1993 - 2000 as my Golden Age. Obviously, getting heavily into Marvel comics at that time was part of it, and I think my teen years were the prime point in my life for me to really buy into the soap opera aspects of the X-books and the labyrinthine quality of the Spider-books during the Clone Saga. Plus I had friends who actually read comics at the time, so there was a shared interest there as well. Then, Kurt Busiek's THUNDERBOLTS and AVENGERS hit just as I found myself developing a taste for really heavy "continuity porn" (which I'm pretty sure had been awakened just a few months earlier by HOBGOBLIN LIVES in 1996). Add to that the interest in RPGs and the fact that the Marvel Universe was an ongoing source of new plot ideas in "real time", and it was sort of a perfect storm of circumstances.

Plus -- though in retrospect it happened at the very end of what I would now call the Golden Age -- as noted up above, my very first San Diego Comic-Con visit was in 1999 (and I skipped 2000 before returning in '01). So while the dark days of Quesada and Jemas were only about a year away at that point, in July of '99 I was able to at least enjoy one SDCC with the Marvel I'd known and loved for the past few years, which does add something very big to this era even if it occurred extremely late in the game.

Like I said, I'd read comics before and I continued to read them after -- it was nearly a decade after November of 2000 that I finally got fed up enough to stop reading new Marvels entirely (and I've never stopped reading comic books in general, of course) -- but whenever I think about the time in my life when I really, earnestly had the most fun reading comics, when I looked forward to them every month and even found a way to integrate them into my life as something other than mere consumable entertainment, there's no contest. X-MEN #20 through THUNDERBOLTS #44 is my Personal Golden Age.


  1. Interesting. I'm not sure I have a Golden Era. I do tend to have Golden Eras of various titles, however. While I do look back fondly on some of the 90s stuff, I do find some of it hasn't aged all that well. Nostalgia can be a powerful influence when looking. In fact, for me, many of my favorite runs of titles came before I started really reading comics on a regular basis in the late 80s/early 90s. Just as an example, while I had read some various issues of X-men prior to Inferno, that was about the time I really started buying Uncanny X-men on a regular basis. But my Golden Era of Uncanny? Probably from the first Claremont/Cockrum run all the way till the end of Fall of The Mutants. To each their own, I suppose.

    As I said, there was some really good stuff in the 90s, both in the X-men titles and outside of it. And Busiek/Perez's Avengers was really good.

    1. Well, what I'm talking about above is not necessarily indicative of quality, though I do like a lot of it. I would consider Claremont/Cockrum/Byrne X-Men and Roger Stern's Spider-Man superior to most all X- and Spider-output of the 90s.

      I do understand the idea of "Golden Runs", though. A few years ago I posted about my twelve favorite Marvel runs, and they spanned decades. But here specifically, I'm talking about just a period in my life, definitely fueled by nostalgia, where comics (and almost exclusively Marvel comics) were a larger and more influential part of my life than any other time before or after.

  2. I have been reading comics, in some way, shape or form-these days it's just buying the odd trade that sounds interesting, having stopped buying individual issues in 2008 and having finally walked away from Marvel in 2016-since 1975. As such, trying to pinpoint a particular golden age in forty three years is difficult to manage. It wasn't until 1983 that I found a local comics store in my hometown to be able to consistently pick up a title month after month, spending the first eight years of my comics reading relying on newstands, spinners in drug stores, and magazine sections in grocery stores. The only real constant of the early part of my comics reading career was the X-Men, which I followed from the Claremont/Cockrum days, and even that had periods where I missed out on the odd issue. So there were stories that would have holes in them, gaps of issues due to inconsistent delivery of titles to the newstands.

    I had a friend in high school-wound up being my best friend, and we stayed friends and in contact until a few years ago when we finally drifted apart-who I would walk to school with since we lived near our high school-and one day in 1983, I went to his house to meet him to walk to school, and I found him belatedly finishing breakfast and reading a comic from a stack in front of him.

    Now these days it might be hard to believe, with comics fueling monster blockbuster movie lines, but back in 1983, if you were, say, older than sixteen years old and reading comics, lots of people looked at you funny, and my friend, seeing me, became defensive about the comics.

    Me, though, I was SMILING. Because on top of his stack in front of him was an issue of Fantastic Four from around 1980 that I'd had the issue BEFORE and the issue AFTER, but I'd missed the one he had. I snatched it up, asked him if I could borrow it, and walking to school he told me about the local comics store he went to, and where it was.

    So if I had to pinpoint a golden age, I'd have to say it was from 1983 to 1987, where me and my best friend and some others would go to this one particular store and buy comics and would stretch our interests to companies other than Marvel (brand loyalty was MASSIVE then), buying all the big, groundbreaking comics that were coming out then, me usually being the first to take the biggest chance. (My friends thought me weird for reading Simonson's Thor, wondered why I was reading this Swamp Thing book by some unknown guy named Alan Moore, and why are you paying so much for those independent comics, Jack?)

    I mark 1987 as the end of my golden age not for any particular reason coming from the companies in question-Marvel had gotten a bit flat for me at the time, and I was reading more DC and independents-but because in 1987, the store I'd been going to with my friends relocated, and then got out of the comics business entirely, focusing instead on baseball cards. I was later amused by this, given the late 80s collapse of that industry. But from 1983 to 1987, I was the most I've ever been into comics I ever was, with a circle of friends that talked comics, breathed comics, and comics was the biggest thing in my life, hobbywise. I've said before that the Jim Shooter era of Marvel was my jam; this is one reason why.

    Looking back, I bought a lot of awful comics back then, especially from Marvel, but MAN, what a time I had reading them.

    1. I love stories like this, and I definitely remember that period. I'm younger than you, Jack, but I also lived through that period where you were expected to have left comics behind by the time you hit your mid-late-teens. Continuing to read them may have become a bit more socially acceptable by the late 90s, but it wasn't nearly as mainstream as today. And if you were reading comics as a late teen or adult at that point, it was expected to be more niche/mature indie stuff rather than common superhero fare.

      My experience with friends reading comics was interesting. Around late elementary school and middle school, a group of us read them. There were the Marvel guys, the DC guy, the Image guy (after they started up, anyway). Eventually, by high school, I was pretty much the only one left reading them -- though I got a new friend into X-Men around that time, and he started reading other Marvel titles as well. Eventually he and I both stopped around the same time, maybe ten years ago (it was shortly after Marvel's "Siege" event, as I recall, that I severely cut my pull list, and it wasn't too much longer that I just quit cold turkey).

      But like I said above, I really think a huge part of this involved playing the Marvel Super Heroes RPG with those friends. Even after nearly all of them had stopped reading, I still kept them up to date on a lot of the goings-on in the titles, and they remained players in the game long after they'd quit comics entirely.

      If I'd been of the right age at the time, I'm pretty sure the early Shooter era definitely would be my Golden Age; no doubt about it. There were some amazing runs around that time. I mean, there's a reason that among the full-length review series I've done, we see Stern's Spider-Man, Byrne's FF, and Miller's Daredevil.

  3. 1980-1987

    I had been reading my brother's comics in the late 70s and was getting the occasional issue myself off the spinner rack, but when he stopped collecting in 1980 I grabbed the torch and ran with it. In 1981 I walked into my first specialty comic shop, and from there it was bags, boxes, back-issues(!) and regular pick-ups of X-Men, Daredevil and other stuff that looked good (there was a lot).

    In 1986 I started sampling the post-Crisis DC and got into it big time. By 1987 the post-Shooter Marvel was leaving me a bit cold and stuff like Swamp Thing, Shadow and anything by Miller or Byrne was holding me in DC's camp.

    I kept buying beyond 1987, but was also distracted by stuff like school and falling in love and what-not. In the 90s I kept buying but rarely felt the old-time excitement (Morrison's JLA and Busiek's Avengers gave a decent jolt of that). Was buying into the 2000s, but it wasn't the same. Now I'm a pick-up-what's-at-the-library person, and that suits fine.

    But 1980-87, with Shooter's Marvel and the dawn of DC's Renaissance, was my Golden Age.

    -david p.

    1. I'm with you on post-Shooter Marvel, David. Really, I think Shooter's final couple years at Marvel were pretty crummy. As he became more power-mad and drove away talented creators in droves, the comics (with some exceptions like X-MEN and anything Walt Simonson was on) tended to all have this unexciting "house" look to the artwork. The writing could have been amazing, but you'd never know from the boring visuals!

  4. I consider the 1980s to be a personal "Golden Age" as well.
    I started reading comics (with Uncanny X-Men) in 1982, so I'd probably have to start with that year, and then around 1987 or 1988, the feeling wasn't the same anymore.
    I say '87 or '88, because DC Comics will still very good post-Crisis during 1988.
    I do still read comic books, but nothing compares to the 1980s for me.

    It's a shame that there was really only about a two-year overlap where Marvel and DC were both amazing.
    Before Crisis, DC couldn't compare with Marvel. After Crisis, it wasn't long before Shooter was gone, and the old Marvel seemed to lose its direction.

    1. Thanks, Anonymous. A lot of votes for the eighties/Shooter era, and like I said above, had I been the right age at that time, this would certainly be my period of choice as well!

  5. my personal golden age spans the wizard guide years that coincided with the Jim Lee X-Men. The trading cards were amazing too! My personal favourite story though funny enough is the post Lee era X-Cutioner’s song where the artists were basically just mimicking him. The number of hero’s involved, the free trading card in each issue were big selling points. It lasted until I’d say 2007ish when I stopped following contemporary stuff and just started buying up trades that covered the 80s. Now it’s been more than 20 years since the 90s so marvel/dc has started to reprint everything and anything from that era which is sort of nice. I get to fill in all those collections I wanted but couldn’t afford as a kid.

    1. Sounds like you quit modern comics roughly around the same time I did. I dropped the Spider-Man books during the original CIVIL WAR, I dropped X-Men around 2008, and I dropped everything else, which was mostly Avengers stuff by then, a couple years later after "Siege".

      I did check back in with Spider-Man when they started the "Brand New Day" era, but I only kept up with it in trades, and I stopped that entirely when they entered the "Big Time" period. Aside from occasional mini-series, I haven't touched a new Marvel since -- though I think the company gets more money from me nowadays than they did when I was still reading monthly comics, since I buy so many collected editions of classic material!

      (Okay, I just Googled "Brand New Day", curious to remind myself when it stared. I cannot believe it's been ten years!!)

  6. I can easily pinpoint the start of my Golden Age - 1992, when I bought X-Men (vol. 2) #8 and UNCANNY #289 and never stopped - but the end is harder. Probably shortly after "Onslaught", as "Operation: Zero Tolerance" was the first X-event that I found disappointing coming on the heels of "Onslaught" making it clear to me that, prior to what I had always thought, no, this stuff wasn't planned out very far in advance and no, all the writers weren't working off some master plan.

    Between those two was the heyday of trading cards and action figures and the animated series supplementing what I was reading, and of getting CLASSIC X-MEN to fill-in the "All New" stuff and buying back issues of Simonson's X-FACTOR and NEW MUTANTS.

    But that end date also coincides with two other changes in my life. One, I found myself spending more time on other stuff - after school activities, working part-time, etc. So whereas before I had more time than comics to read and could re-read all that stuff over and over again, now I was much more likely to read something once and then move on to the next issue.

    The second is that aforementioned job, which increased my income, thereby allowing me to buy more comics and branch out from the X-Men/Avengers stuff I was buying. Therefore, what time I did have to read comics, I spent reading more and more new comics, instead of just rehashing the old ones.

    So even though I was technically buying (and reading) more comics than ever before, that pretty much marked the end of my Golden Age.

    1. What an odd coincidence -- just yesterday I re-read this post to remind myself of what I had said in it. I mean, it's been less than a year so nothing has really changed, but I needed a refresher for something else I'm working on.

      Anyway, I believe you're a bit younger than me, yet both our "Ages" are pretty close together -- mine just lasts longer than yours. But what I find interesting is that this means you probably spent middle school-ish in your Golden Age, while mine encompassed high school and college.

      It gets me wondering if mine might have ended sooner as well, under other circumstances. Like I said above, when I was young, all my friends read comics. By high school, most had stopped -- but I got another friend into them around that time, and we both mostly read the same stuff all the way through college -- plus there was a "second generation", if you will, in my brother and his friends, with whom I could share the interest as well.

      (And on top of that, like I said above, there was the Marvel RPG, which sort of kept my friends who had formerly read comics in the loop. I do think that game played a large part in keeping my Golden Age going past what might otherwise have been its expiraction date.)

      I agree with you on the increased income, too. I didn't work in high school, but I got my first part-time job in college, which meant that I was gainfully employed when stuff like THUNDERBOLTS and all the "Heroes Return" books hit the stands, which was the perfect time to branch out beyond Spider-Man and the X-Men, the titles to which my allowance had always previously gone.

      As for after school activities... those were never my thing, so I still had plenty of time to re-read the classics as I kept reading new stuff!