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Doug McCrae

The Iron Age

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I’m working on a campaign backstory based on the Ages of Comics, using analogues and amalgams rather than actual comic book characters. I’m pretty pleased with my Golden and Silver Ages but my Iron Age, defined as 1985 to the present, is giving me a bit more trouble.

 

Have a look at my analysis and ideas so far, suggest changes and additions and tell me how you handle the Iron Age.

 

Overview

The central theme of the Iron Age is the conflict between deconstruction, as represented by Dark Knight Returns, Watchmen and The Punisher and reconstruction as represented by Supreme and DC’s new All Star line. On the one hand is grim n’ gritty realism and cynicism, on the other a yearning for a return to the iconic heroes of the past and the fairytales of the Golden and Silver Age. The conflict takes physical form in Kingdom Come and has a more peaceful resolution in Astro City where silver age heroes have psychological depth.

 

It’s interesting to note that this approach takes a much more ‘black and white’ view of the Iron Age, which is supposedly painted in shades of grey.

 

Important features

The X-Men line – mutants, internationalism, ripoff teams such as Youngblood

The Wolverine line – ultraviolence

The Secret Wars line – yearly crossovers

The Dark Knight Returns line – deconstruction, grim n’ gritty, politics

The Supreme line – reconstruction, retro

New Universes – Crisis, Ultimates, Indie publishers, MC2, All Star

The Authority

 

Minor features

Changing the world – Squadron Supreme, Miracleman, Warren Ellis

Line between heroes and villains blurred

Vertigo

Proactive crimefighters – Force Works

Superheroes as celebrities – Booster Gold, Zenith, X-Statix, Authority

Superheroes as businessmen – Byrne’s Namor, Power Company

Detectives and secret archaeologists – Alias, Planetary

Legacy heroes – JSA, Alan Moore’s Youngblood

Environmentalism – Terrarists, Ultimate Thor

HR Giger aliens – The Brood, Bloodlines, StormWatch killers

Down-to-earth – In contrast with the space adventures of the Silver Age, superheroes are no longer explorers. Alien worlds are places threats come from, not places to go.

 

How to handle it

Compared to previous eras characters are cooler, more modern, darker, sexier and in black leather. There are two major kinds of hero, deconstructed and reconstructed with some synthesis. These are almost all different people from the Golden and Silver Age heroes though some have the same names and similar costumes. The deconstructed heroes predominate, especially in the ’85 to ’95 era. A horde of mutant cyborgs and killer vigilantes barely distinguishable from those they fight. Reconstructed heroes are modernised icons.

 

Since the mid-80s there have been exposes on the Golden and Silver Age heroes, revealing them to have feet of clay. In the mid-90s there was a reaction in the media against this.

 

Since the mid-80s, superheroes have become involved in politics, standing for office or attempting to influence things less directly. At one point they even took over the world though the old order as been restored.

 

Metahuman rights have been a major issue. There are several pressure groups. Registration has recently been introduced after several attempts and is highly controversial.

 

There are numerous parallel worlds with their own superheroes. In some all are members of a particular minority group. In many, superheroes only appeared a few years ago rather than having a lengthy history as this world does.

 

Reality has been majorly warped and fractured almost to breaking point on several occasions. Most inhabitants of Earth know nothing of this, experiencing the changes as recurring dreams or a feeling of wrongness. Who or what is responsible for this is open to question. Struggles between metahumans? Alien lifeforms? The CIA?

 

The major question is – can superheroes change the world? In previous eras they were too busy fighting nazis and supervillains or exploring the cosmos to do so. Now they try, but powerful forces invested in the status quo are ranged against them.

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Re: The Iron Age

 

Yours looks like a very good analysis of Iron Age to this rabid fan of the subgenre. You really deserve the rep. I would only point out to an significant feature you apparently missed to mention as a separate element:

 

Superheroes as military (Watchmen's Dr. Manhattan, Ultimates, both incarnations of Squadron Supreme, Stormwatch, Authority): the emergence of superhumans as the decisive weapon in international conflicts, wars, and "police actions" against rogue states ("living WMDs", "walking nuclear bombs", "genetic arms race"), and the race to recruit them in government or mercenary superteams as a superior substitute or add-on to ordinary armies, and some of these supers going rogue, clashing with more traditionally-minded supers, and trying to establish themselves as independent powers (Authority) or taking over nations or the world (Squadron Supreme), often without a clear demarcation between heroes and villains.

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Re: The Iron Age

 

A thought about Zenith: the older generation of supers in Zenith were intended to serve in the military, but refused. Later on, most of them tried to take over the world, but failed, or rather, succeeded in a microcosmic universe which they were trapped in by their opponents. Subsequently, the main actor in their defeat became British PM, possibly through some questionable means... So both factions were involved in changing the world, but one used a more "human" approach, while the others turned themselves into monsters.

 

Space travel: L.E.G.I.O.N 89-9x had an Iron Age space thing going. Most of its members were aliens, however.

 

Ultimate Fantastic Four still do the exploring thing, eg the Negative Zone.

 

I presume the bwa-ha-ha Justice League isn't part of your source material. This is both reconstruction and deconstruction, I suppose.

 

Unfortunately, the mid-late 80s Australian series Southern Squadron probably isn't available to you. It has government employed supers with a distinctly irreverent attitude, and a fondness for using language that prevents me from scanning and posting some panels for you. The action is essentially Bronze Age, complete with a touch of satire. The characters are fairly low-powered.

http://www.internationalhero.co.uk/c/chaloner.htm

 

Other Australian material varies. Some of it, at least, seems to fit into your general Iron Age description.

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Re: The Iron Age

 

Good point. I believe superheroes were also WMDs in The One which came out in 1985.

 

Greatest comic book ever.

 

Lucius Alexander

 

The palindromedary wryly observes that Lucius is seldom short of opinions

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Re: The Iron Age

 

I've decided that in my timeline the inciting incident for the Iron Age was when Mr. Incredible prevented the suicide of Oliver Sansweet. This lead to heros being challenged in their largest area of vulnerability, the courtroom. As a result almost all governments stopped sponsoring metahumans, and those who continued to be active in crimefighting were vigilanties, operating without government support or oversight.

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Re: The Iron Age

 

I really have a hard time buying that one in a serious story context. While I can entirely see lawsuits being launched, I can't see the government standing by while the biggest thing standing between the world and destruction gets sued out of existence.

 

A variant that would work: lawsuits drive out the *independent* hero, resulting in two kinds- fully sanctioned government agents ( who are mostly immune to the lawsuits ), and vigilantes.

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Re: The Iron Age

 

I really have a hard time buying that one in a serious story context. While I can entirely see lawsuits being launched, I can't see the government standing by while the biggest thing standing between the world and destruction gets sued out of existence.

 

A variant that would work: lawsuits drive out the *independent* hero, resulting in two kinds- fully sanctioned government agents ( who are mostly immune to the lawsuits ), and vigilantes.

And Black Ops, government sponsored programs with plausible deniability.

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Re: The Iron Age

 

A variant that would work: lawsuits drive out the *independent* hero, resulting in two kinds- fully sanctioned government agents ( who are mostly immune to the lawsuits ), and vigilantes.

 

And Black Ops' date=' government sponsored programs with plausible deniability.[/quote']

 

This is pretty much the path in my campaign, though I don't follow the ages of comics (my campaign is Science Fantasy with Supers). The carrot behind registering is that it allows you to make a legal living with your powers without having to reveal your identity to anyone but the OSI, protects you from law suits, gets you police and government support, and has additional benefits if you actually choose to work for the police or military. The stick is that an unregistered Super who engages in vigilantism is as legally accountable for his actions as any citizen. Considering the property damage and other legal complications that even fairly benign Super activity can cause, most Supers past their teens who aren't violently anti-government will either register or retire from costumed adventuring.

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The Iron Age

 

I thought the Iron Age was triggerred by the discovery of how to make charcoal, which allowed smiths to more easily acheive higher forge temperatures, enabling them to finally smelt iron out of ore?

 

Lucius Alexander

 

Hey! Why is the palindromedary trying to kick me in the HEAD?!

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Re: The Iron Age

 

I thought the Iron Age was triggerred by the discovery of how to make charcoal, which allowed smiths to more easily acheive higher forge temperatures, enabling them to finally smelt iron out of ore?

 

Lucius Alexander

 

Iron which was promptly used to make kewl retractable claws!

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Re: The Iron Age

 

A variant that would work: lawsuits drive out the *independent* hero, resulting in two kinds- fully sanctioned government agents ( who are mostly immune to the lawsuits ), and vigilantes.

 

Don't forget corporate sponsorship's role on metahumans. Corporations have the lawyers and financing to withstand an onslaught of lawsuits, the know how to initiate counter suits, and stand to gain from the publicity generated by their metahumans. Acting in the interests of the corporation first and the citizens second influences the way genre is played.

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Re: The Iron Age

 

assault, I'd forgotten about LEGION . They were sort of space cops weren't they? A bit like a modernised Green Lantern Corps. I remember the few issues I got of it being pretty grim n'gritty, despite the superpowers and the space setting.

 

I enjoyed the JM DeMatteis Justice League. There have been humour titles in every era afaics such as Red Tornado in the GA, the Inferior Five in the SA, Captain Carrot in the BA, Byrne's She-Hulk and many more in the Iron Age. So I don't regard humour titles as being distinctive of any age.

 

For me the most interesting feature of that Justice League was the first appearance of Batgod, which I'm guessing was inspired by Dark Knight Returns. Strangely, I actually consider this version of Batman to be the most important for a history. Silver Age Batman is not representative of his era. Golden Age Batman is but you don't need him as there were so many other costumed vigilantes with no powers around. But there is no one else like the Iron Age Batgod.

 

I think my version of Batgod would have a number of superpowers to represent his omniscience and invincibility. He's clearly not human. In fact it might be funny to make him a genuine god.

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Re: The Iron Age

 

I think my version of Batgod would have a number of superpowers to represent his omniscience and invincibility. He's clearly not human. In fact it might be funny to make him a genuine god.

 

Or an avatar of Bat, anyway. I seem to recall reading a TPB with this theme...

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Re: The Iron Age

 

Didn't that wait until the Adamantium Age? Which was triggered by the the discovery of large veins of Madeupium?

 

Wolverine has the healing factor and all that -- he's old. The adamantium is a later innovation.

 

Originally, his claws were made of flint. He's been upgrading ever since.

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