Saturday, January 23, 2010

Zenith Comics Universe: The Ages

The Ages

Introduction

The purpose of this document is to provide a very quick overview of the period of super-humanity in the 20th century. This time is divided into 3 “ages” based on the classical Greek Ages of mythology. While those ages in legend refer to better times, we make no claims that the previous ages of heroes were better or worse than the next, it is used simply as a handy way of measuring the distinct times.

The Golden Age

The Golden Age started in 1928 when the Masked Avenger first made headlines in his one man war on organized crime. He may have been the first, but he was far from the last. His actions seemed to herald a tide of mystery-men and women who would first spread across America and then the world.

Colorful circus strongman and wrestler costumes were the order of the day and most wore masks to hide their identities and to avoid prosecution by some over zealous District Attorneys on charges of vigilantism. In time though the Police and most cities came to accept the costumed crusaders in their midst and even work with them.

The first costumed criminal was also the first super-powered being of the Golden Age and also the leader of the first super-team, though it was a villain group called the Super Gang. The Black Eagle had tremendous large black wings and carried a raygun that could melt steel. He would clash with almost every hero of the time, but his primary enemy was Golden Gloves, a non-powered mystery man who used boxing to thwart crime.

When Hitler unveiled the first Nazi super in 1938 the world held its collective breath. Die Ubermann changed the face of international politics and as he would prove in North Africa, modern warfare. The mad dash to match the super human arms race started by the Germans would lead to many a great hero and some truly tragic accidents.

By the time America joined the war in 1941, there were dozens of heroes on all sides, villains to match and the catch term for the day went from “Mystery Man” to “Super Hero”. For reasons never revealed, after one brief excursion into German controlled territory, the most powerful super heroes were sent to protect their home lands, leaving essentially the non-powered mystery men and women to man the Allied strike force, the Victory Squad. At home the remaining heroes were unified under the flag of the United Sentinels of America by order of President Roosevelt.

By the end of the war, though many supers had died on all sides, a significantly large number survived and returned to their prewar crime-fighting activities. While some were able to make the transition to civilian crime-fighting again and some were not, the American government wasn't either. When the United Sentinels of America refused to deploy to the Korean theatre, some within the government soon where asking “Why masks?” and “Could the Scarlet Streak really be a Red?” When the orders came down they were direct and simple, unmask and sign loyalty statements or be considered vigilantes and be hunted. Scores of super heroes vanished over night, refusing to unmask for the safety of their loved ones. Some fought on, but when Dr. Dynamite was shot to death by Police in a botched arrest attempt in 1952, the Golden Age came to an end.

The Silver Age

There is some debate as to when exactly the Silver Age began, but for most the starting point is 1958 when the flying luxury liner SS Titan was saved from crashing by Captain Comet and his Rocket Rangers. Their daring rescue of the first and only flying liner got world wide coverage and rekindled the heroic ideals of Americans.

The Silver Age was also about something else that may have always been present, but really came into its own, the notion of space. Science and space played such a large part of this time that some think it should be renamed the Space Age. Certainly the Golden Age saw plenty of space and science related heroes and villains, but this age was swamped with them.

Not long after Captain Comet's appearance, like the Masked Avenger before him, a new wave of heroes and villains began. Space men, super spies and the ever present mystics, made up the lion's share of these men and women. Hope for tomorrow and a brighter future drove these colorful costumed folk on and the public was happy to have them, but then the 60's came and the world began to change again.

When JFK was killed, Lady America was reported as having been assigned to guard the Vice-President that day. When she later questioned why she had those orders, stories say LBJ gave her a dressing down in the Oval Office. She was later deployed to Vietnam, seemingly as a punishment.

The Vietnam war and the Civil Rights movement were not to be spared the touch of the super hero or even the super villain, but in the end these events were their own and certainly not overly affected by the actions of the costumed set.

As the 70s came in things began to change, the heroes were growing darker and more ruthless. Soon many were openly carrying guns and other lethal weapons. There was a shift coming but first a shorter age would have to be passed through. The Silver Age slid into the Bronze Age in 1975 with the arrest of Captain Thunderbird for the murder of two Chicago mobsters.

The Bronze Age

The world had changed, the OPEC Crisis, the Watergate Scandal and rampant inflation was changing America and slowly it was changing her heroes as well. More and more stories were surfacing about heroes being more aggressive, not accepting surrender of criminals without a “finishing blow” and even killing their enemies.

For 10 years the media ignored this and slowly the public began to become suspicious of the heroes and their behaviors. The premiere hero group of the day, the Guardians did their best to uphold more noble ideals, but theirs was a battle to be lost. The self indulgence of the 70s and the greed of the 80s were just not instep with upright, moralistic, old school thinking.

The Bronze Age can therefore been seen as one last gasp of a previous generation to hold onto something that was a bit nobler than their times, but the times were calling for a new type of hero.

In 1979 Dr. Walter Van Jove, the foremost expert on superhumans in the world wrote a book entitled “The Shape of Things to Come: The Super Future”. In it he predicted an explosion in the population of superhumans globally within the coming decade as well as major leaps forward in technology, pioneered by what he termed “Super Geniuses” whose only powers would be to invent, improve or develop new technologies.

In late 1983 something happened that shook the world. The Guardians were attacked in their base by a team of anti-democratic and despotic themed villains called the Axis of Evil, lead by none other than die Ubermann. They destroyed the satellite base of the heroes and when all was said and done the leader of the Guardians, considered to be the World’s greatest hero, Guardsman was dead.

On a cold January 3rd 1984, Guardsman was put to rest at the Heroes Hill cemetery in Capitol City. The crowds lined the streets as his funeral procession went by, thousands deep. The funeral itself attended by heroes from all corners of the world, 3 former Presidents and the current one as well. It was televised globally to millions of viewers and it sent a powerfully dark message to all. The world they had known was forever changed.

Afterword

Some say that the death of Guardsman marks the end of the Bronze Age and the beginning of an inevitable Iron Age. Still others say that it is just the midway point and the Bronze Age may yet not be over. Whether or not this is the case, many wonder if Dr. Van Jove’s promised wave of supers and technological advances will come to be or is simply a pipe dream.

According to EAGLE files there are over 500 known superheroes and villains globally and an estimated 200 more who have powers but do not “suit up” to coin a phrase. There has also been an increase in the number of governments that are employing superhumans in their militaries and other agencies. Some have speculated that this many superhumans will either lead to a new dominant form of humanity or a culling of the herd in some sort of crisis.

While the future remains unclear, for now superhumans are here to stay, for good or bad.

6 comments:

  1. 1). You have managed to execute a personal vision of the classic ages of the Superhuman while sufficiently avoiding the most detailed version (Moore's), yet retaining the same wonderful sense of depth. That was tricky, and I think you have succeeded exceptionally well.

    2). You have managed to get me really stoked for the Latter Autumn era of Urutsk (my setting), where the setting started and in which the first dozen(s) of PCs were all Powered individuals. I will be eagerly awaiting more of your unfolding world.

    A request: More of this sort of text to balance the coverage of your characters. I realise that each has a history of their own, but this concise overview left me wanting more, even more so than any of your well-crafted character backgrounds.

    Best to you,

    ReplyDelete
  2. 1] Well thank you very kindly for the words, sir? madame? You use pic confuses me ;)

    Certainly this comes from years of having done extensive timelines that were "oh so" detailed. This time I have decided to go another way.

    2] Urutsk? Fantasy? Sci-Fi? I am curious and glad I could be of inspiration. :)

    As Per Your request, I have another document written out that I need to edit which will add more to the backstory, specifically the Golden Age IIRC.

    Beyond that though, what is it you are looking for? Normally I just fill it in as I go, this is a boiling down of 25 years worth of campaigns and retcons, etc... so if you could be a bit more specific I would appreciate it. :)

    Thanks again for the kind words and taking the time to read this.

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  3. I am female. :)

    Urutsk started out as a slightly futuristic (+80 years, let's say) setting with the encroachment of cybernetic forces, two generations of Eugenics-created Powered individuals, and veterans of a decade-long unpopular war returning to their economically-shattered nation in defeat. Then a bio-chemical attack struck those Western nations who had participated in said war, mutating and driving mad hundreds of millions while the rest of the world largely ignored the horror, until...

    I'd love to read more of anything you have to offer, but specifically, on the tail-end of the Silver through the end of the Bronze (to the Aluminium?).

    Thank you,
    It is a pleasure to read, AslanC.

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  4. Well then, thank you ma'am.

    Sounds like an interesting setting. What system are you using?

    I have one more essay on the Golden Age to post (maybe later today) and then I will get to work on the Silver Age one. To be honest that is the age I am weakest on since it holds the least interest for me, actually the Iron Age holds the absolute least interest for me, but I digress.

    Might be able to post something by the end of the week if all goes well.

    Cheers.

    ReplyDelete
  5. Thanks. :)

    My blog to which you are subscribed-
    http://thegrandtapestry.blogspot.com/

    The extant (and 'soon' to be updated) Players' Manual and Referee's Manual .pdfs-
    http://stores.lulu.com/kynkrea

    Your current dislike will no doubt act as a form o self-challenge to make it a stronger pair of Ages than if you had no strong feelings about them either way. :D

    Best,

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  6. Heh! Your confidence in that last statement is encouraging. Only time will tell though if it is misplaced.

    The problem I have always had with the Silver Age is the hokeyness (is that a word?), the silliness of it all. Never something I enjoyed, though I know for many it is their favorite aspect of comics.

    That said I loved the New Frontier (comic and animated movie) which is decidedly Silver Age but was able to approach it from a very serious angle.

    There's a lot of serious stuff going on in the Silver Age. Korea, Vietnam, Eisenhower's America, the Cold War and the Space Race. Certainly in creating an rpg universe (oh someday to write and publish comics) is that I am not bound by the comics code authority, so there's something.

    As for the Bronze Age, while it may not appeal to me the way the Golden Age always has, I must confess for me the period of Marvel Comics from about 1975 to 1985 is hands down the best for me. The Avengers, Spider-Man, Alpha Flight, the Defenders, the Champions of Los Angeles, the classic Byrne/Claremont X-Men. All of it pure gold to me.

    Across the street at the Distinguished Competition there was only the Wolfman/Perez New Teen Titans for me, other than all the Earth-2 stuff (All-Star Squadron and appearances by the JSA) which was decidedly Golden Age.

    Now writing a Bronze Age setting piece is going to be tricky, since I have to look at the Modern Age as created by Mssrs Busiek and Johns, both of whom I feel despite a predilection for continuity porn understand what makes superheroes great. The tropes as well as a more modern eye on their adventures.

    As for your pdfs, I will happily give them a read and if you like my honest opinions back about them.

    Well I just went on didn't I? Le sigh... seems I am a bit of a writer after all.

    ReplyDelete