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.
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.
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
Changing the world – Squadron Supreme, Miracleman, Warren Ellis
Line between heroes and villains blurred
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.