Ahhh….the Silver Age. Whenever I hear those two words alongside one other, I start to giggle. Not a small giggle as one would emit watching a kitten ride a tortoise on YouTube, but an uncontrollable giggle that leads to an uproar of laughter.
The Golden Age was the birth of our heroes. The writing may not be what we modern folk are used to, but we make an excuse for it. Many comic-book readers would mutter under their breath: “Naw…you know what it was like back then.” But by the time the Silver Age rolled around, it wasn’t the writing that boggled us; it was the outrageous and fantastic adventures the heroes found themselves in. Not to mention the hilarious phrases used to describe particular scenes and characters.
I am both a panelologist and a pannapictagraphist. Comics are not just a passion for me, they’re a way of life. Therefore, it can be no doubt that I love all eras in comic history. Let’s face it though, favoritism runs in our blood. My DNA, which has wired me to love all incarnations of Batman, currently fights a daily battle against my brain as it screams obscenities for liking 1960s Batman. I can never live down my non-comic book-loving friends as they jest “SHARK REPELLENT? REALLY?” Or them quoting “Some days, you just can’t get rid of a bomb!”
So for that, Ms. Brain (and my cruel comrades), I would retort with the following point: comics were meant for not only being a medium to tackle our current issues, but also a source of entertainment.
There is a good reason why the recent Batman: The Brave and The Bold animated series was such a hit: It reminded us that sometimes WE SHOULDN’T TAKE THINGS TOO SERIOUSLY.
We become so used to reading how Batman (or any other character) deals with pedophilia, a psychotic killer (graphically shown to us by the way), a death of a lover or even Killer Croc killing and eating a cute dachshund puppy (I will never get over that. It haunts me to this day.), we lose ourselves in the seriousness of what we are holding in our very hands and we quickly forget the past.
So let’s take a DeLorean (preferably with a flux-capacitor) and revisit one of my favorite Silver Age comics:
JUSTICE LEAGUE OF AMERICA #4, May 1961
Now, there are two things I dislike more than anything on a cover of a comic. The first is when that the cover has nothing to do with the story. But like the sucker that I admit to be, I am duped into buying it because I just can’t peel my eyes away from the art or tagline. The second is much more frustrating: when the cover gives away the ending of the story. In this case, although it doesn’t show us the ending of the story, the cover art sure as hell gave us a huge clue.
For whatever reason, comics of the Silver Age are particularly great at putting these two factors together. I am now officially sucked into the story that will tell me how our world’s greatest team can’t get out of a gem.
Now as we turn the page, our eyes settle upon the roll call that hails the Justice League.
At first glance we are cool with it, but then we do a double take. Or in my case, a spit take. SNAPPER CARR? Although he’s technically an honorary member (although his annoying presence feels full-time), I still furrowed my brow into a “Huh?” I totally forgot about the guy, having chosen to block him out of my mind for the Silver Age. I didn’t mind him as a mentor during Peter David’s run on Young Justice, but to put him with the big guns never fails to frustrate and make me laugh.
Logic is something that seems to be missing during the Silver Age. After regaling any tale from that precious time in comics history, someone never fails to interrupt my laughter and ask “Wait, wait, wait. Why did that happen?”. I’m always caught me off guard, no matter how many times I hear it. I can only manage to utter, “I have no idea.”
A good example of logic failing is shown below:
Why in God’s name is Carthan just okay with Xandor imprisoning him and sending him to Earth? (Personally, I take offense that the ruler regards our planet as a great place for punishment/exile.)
So in order to contact the Justice League, he pretends to be evil? How is this a clever ruse? No good can come of this. I also enjoy that Carthan convinces himself that his plan (which might hurt many people) will help him leave Earth with a clear conscience.
I can buy into whatever reason his special aura may not allow him to communicate with the Justice League. On the other hand, he can always send them a smoke signal. Or write them a letter and drop it off at their headquarters. Chances are pretty high that the Justice League will be holding a meeting at the same time. Oh, wait, this is the same Carthan who is “all right” with being imprisoned and sent to Earth. No wonder he didn’t think of sending snail mail.
It’s all downhill from here.
Madame Chairlady? Our modern Wonder Woman wouldn’t accept being spoken to like that. Not because it is disrespectful, but because it sounds moronic. And Batman is no moron.
So Batman just leans in and grabs it? Oh hell no. DC did not just do this to my man. Out of all of them, Batman would be the farthest from the arrow. He would observe from a safe distance what threat it might hold and look for its weaknesses. It’s much more likely that the Flash or Superman is the wanker that would be first to touch it.
Of all the heroes that then exist in the DC/National Comics database, Carthan chooses Green Arrow? Why not someone more powerful and could be of a greater use to the Justice League? Is it because it’s a coincidence he’s also voted to be a League member? Or perhaps Ollie’s potential death won’t be missed that much. This may be yet another unsolved mystery of the Silver Age.
There goes our favorite useless Leaguer, off to help in any way his non-existing abilities will allow.
Gardner Fox is known to be one of the most prolific comic-book writers in history. Comic book historians estimated that he wrote over 4,000 comics in his lifetime. Known to many as a polymath, he often inserted real-world historical, scientific, and mythological references. I have mad respect for that man and his vast knowledge in various subjects, but every once in a while, his choice of words makes me chuckle. I wonder what was going through his mind at the moment.
Martian Manhunter is described as having “jet flying power.” Only the most articulate children would describe wanting Flash’s “cheetah speed abilities.” And it’s called the power of flight, Mr. Fox.
For those who doubt that cold light is a real thing, there is no need to, it is. Fireflies emit bioluminescence (to attract mates or prey) that produces “cold light” with no infrared or ultraviolet frequencies. See? Who says comics aren’t educational?
Fox catches me off-guard by calling Wonder Woman’s Invisible Jet a Robot Plane. Hell, even she calls it Robot Plane. I don’t know about you, but I will never accept “Robot Plane” as an accurate nickname.
We won’t even discuss Martian Manhunter’s super breath!
Now we come to the part that makes me fall off my couch, clutching my stomach as I howl with laughter.
Everything that is wrong (or horribly hilarious) with the Silver Age can be summed up with this panel.
(For the record, there is such a clamshell that large. The large mollusk is often referred by its common name: The Giant Clam. Its scientific name is Tridacna gigas. I am a mini Gardner Fox!)
I plan on getting a large poster printout of this panel to hang over my bed. It will be the first and last thing I see each day to remind me of life’s little joys.
I would pay to see Aquaman hold up a sign as the Flash attempts to read it while running at lightning speed.
Now, deep confusion sets in for me for the next five panels.
Giants of Ganymede was a science-fiction book written by British author James P. Hogan and published in 1978. Known as the Giants Series, Hogan wrote and published the first book, Inherit the Stars, in 1977, with Giants of Ganymede being the second novel in the series. From the illustration alone, Fox seemed to have derived the movie name from combining the Greek mythology and a fictitious alien race from one of Jupiter’s moon, Ganymede. I can only conclude that either James Hogan stole his idea from this issue or Fox himself was no stranger to travelling by DeLorean.
What is that white goo?
Why does seeing Batman wave out of the Batplane amuse me?
With all of his wisdom, why did Superman choose to make it egg-shaped? Something much cooler (and socially acceptable) like a robot suit would do the same job and not embarrass the hell out of a grown man in front of his peers.
I find it so convenient Green Arrow just happens to have a diamond-tipped arrow.
I guess it’s also convenient that the pretend-villain is an amateur gemologist!
How is it his fight now? He needed the Justice League’s help in the first place. That’s how this whole craziness started! Perhaps when Batman knocked Carthan into his ship, it gave him temporary amnesia. Our modern Batman wouldn’t accept his pretend-villain story with such ease. And you’d think, neither would Green Arrow, who was kidnapped by Carthan.
Where did you pop up from, Snapper Carr? Oh, I get it now. You are part of the League because of your impressive shorthand ability.
I like how Flash gives Snapper a taste of his own medicine.
What I can take away from this story is: It must be pretty easy to join the Justice League.
Now, please excuse me as I go wipe the tears from my eyes. I can still hear the ringing of Aquaman’s squeals of joy.
Jessica Tseang was sucked into comics at the tender age of three, and turned it into a degree. She is currently the host for ComiCast!, contributes to GirlGamer, and is founder of Girl on Geek and www.thecomicbookgirl.com.