As such, I've put together a little post where I try and pin a date on what I believe is the end of the old Modern Age, which I will be calling the Dark Age, and the beginning of the New Modern Age, whereby the "New" is an homage to Marvel's useage of the prefix on titles such as New Avengers, New X-Men, New Thunderbolts and so on.
Enjoy my bit of fanboy speculation and feel free to chime in on possible naming conventions for the ages or what you think of the new terminology.
Since time immemorial (okay, since sometime in the 50's), comic fans have been marking the distinction between specific time periods as Ages, beginning with the Golden Age and following it with the typical historical naming scheme with the Silver Age, Bronze Age and the current, and long standing, Modern Age.
Typically, fans have narrowed the beginning and end of each Age to a specific event, such as the Golden Age beginning with the first appearance of Superman in Action Comics #1 or the Silver Age ending and the subsequent Bronze Age beginning with the Death of Gwen Stacy.
There are, of course, debates about when, exactly, each began and ended, but, for the most part, everyone agrees that these ages began and ended at roughly the same time and due to very specific events.
The Modern Age Is Not So Modern
However, it seems the current Modern Age of comics refuses to end. Currently, it is the longest running age, dating back to the early 1980's, and any attempts at classifying a new age has failed to take hold. How can anyone honestly believe the "Modern" Age has lasted nearly 30 years when the next longest age is the Golden Age, that being roughly 15-20 years. For reference, the Silver and Bronze Ages lasted approximately 15 and 10 years respectively.
The Dark Age (formerly the Modern Age)
Anyway you look at it, there have been far too many changes over the past several decades and drastic shifts in writing and artistic styles as well as the near collapse of the industry and subsequent rebirth in the new millenium that there is no way this could possibly be the same "modern" age that heralded works such as Watchmen, Dark Knight Returns and other works from the grim and gritty era of comics.
As such, I think the Dark Age, which has even been the subject of some books, is an apt name for the 80's and early 90's. The question then becomes, "when did the Dark Age end and the current one begin?"
The New Modern Age
Marvel Files Chapter 11 Bankruptcy
While there are several defining moments that could signal the start of the current era of comics, I believe that the end of the speculator boom and the near crash of the industry, as highlighted by Marvel Comics' filing of chapter 11 bankruptcy, is the definitive starting point of the New Modern Age of comics.
Along with Marvel's restructuring came drastic changes in the way the industry did business, the rise of the comic book movie and an influx of new blood and ideas to the stagnant talent pool that had floundered throughout the 90's.
The Ultimate Universe
Another key moment that brought about this New Modern Age would be the launching of the Ultimate Universe from Marvel Comics. With the industry, and Marvel, in particular, at its lowest point, the Ultimate Universe seemed like another cheap cash-in attempt from the 90's, similar to Spider-Man: Chapter One or Heroes Reborn, and fans and media predicted its failure almost immediately. It would go on to reinvigorate comic book and trade sales and the industry, itself, and became a beacon of hope that lured back thousands of readers that had become disenfranchised over the years.
Why Do We Need A New "Age"?
Anyone that has read comics throughout the 80's, 90's and present day should be able to see that there's been a drastic shift in the way comics are written and that there was a clear and definitive change at or around the time the industry crashed back around 1994-1996.
Whether it was the wanton killing or replacing of older heroes with younger, darker and "cooler" versions, as seen with Kyle Rayner, Azrael, Scarlet Spider and a myriad of others, or the weekly attempts at "growing up" comics with random killings and resurrections followed by even more killings, comics during this Dark Age were clearly becoming a mere characiture of the ground breaking work of the 80's that they were trying to imitate.
In contrast, the New Modern Age of comics features a much more mature, if grown men running around in their underwear can be called mature, method of storytelling that, for better or worse, is dominated by the "writing for trade" and decompression methods. Futhermore, crutches from the past, such as thought bubbles and pointless exposition and explanations has become a thing of the past, allowing writers to flex their writing muscles with tighter character pieces.
It's still just a bunch of super heroes running around beating each other up, but I challenge anyone to tell me Captain America, Nova, Green Lantern, Immortal Iron Fist or dozens of other titles are not more mature books than their 80's and 90's counterparts.
Also note, the maturation of both the writing and art does not make them better comics. It just means these comics have grown up with the aging reading population and have adapted newer and more complicated writing techniques that mark a clear difference between this New Modern Age and the Dark Age.
Considering how serious comic fans take this sort of thing, I find it hard to believe that we've let the whole "Age" categorization model slip for so long. Does anyone else think that there is a need to distinguish between the, as I'm calling them, Dark Age and New Modern Age? It seems comic fans relied on things like pre- and post-Crisis conventions for distinguishing comics in the past, but is there really any need to distinguish between the late 80's and 90's? Should we be using conventions like pre- and post-Crash, in reference to the speculator boom and subsequent crash of the industry? Let me know what you think in the comments.