I’m a big fan of TwoMorrows’ history books. For anyone with a long and abiding love of comics history, their books are a real treat, as they treat the genre with a respect and passion that is evident on every page. If there is one theme to their line, it’s to celebrate the past and provide insights that become more interesting over time. For instance, their biographies of Gene Colan, Wally Wood and George Tuska are wonderful, and their ongoing Jack Kirby Collector is a treasure trove of wonderful material.
It was with that in mind that I picked up “The Dark Age.” The period roughly between 1985 and 1995 was a tumultuous roller-coaster of an era for comics. it was a time of a spectacular boom and subsequent bust in sales, when comics were briefly part of society’s collective zeitgeist, finally seeming relevant to long-time fans and the general public at the same time, before collapsing of its own hype and self-defeating short-term attempts to boost sales. That era, so full of drama and excitement and complexity, presents an interesting story in its own right, even separated from the comics themselves. Unfortunately, while “The Dark Age” is entertaining and interesting, it doesn’t explore that era with quite as much thoroughness as the era deserves.
First of all, though, the book is very good at the high points it does address. There’s no way Voger could avoid talking about some of the most influential books of the era. Crisis on Infinite Earths is generally thought of as the beginning of that era, and Voger provides a six-page look at that series. The galvanizing forces of the era were Batman: the Dark Knight Returns and Watchmen, and each receive substantial space in the book. There’s also lots of attention paid to Todd McFarlane and Jim Lee’s work both with their mega-selling books at Marvel and with the transition to Image. Readers can find out about the death of Superman, the rise and fall of Valiant Comics, even the transition of David Lapham from a Wizard “top ten” artist into an indy comics icon.
One of the flaws of the book, though, is that it devotes too much space to a few topics and none at all to others. Mike Allred gets four pages, which is probably too many based on his influence in that era. The African American-owned Milestone line gets only one page of coverage, surely too little based on its historical importance. There’s also little or nothing about the amazing rise and fall of Tundra Press, or the super-hero universes from Ultraverse or Dark Horse that were the fad for a while. Such notable work as Grant Morrison’s influential work on Animal Man and Doom Patrol is also left out. Instead, readers get eight pages about the work of Alex Ross, an important figure but one who’s been discussed a lot, and eight more about Kevin Smith, who was really not a central figure for the period.
The inclusion of Smith and Allred shows an odd lack of focus for the book. By any estimation of the era, we’re out of “The Dark Age” and into a new era. So why feature work like Michael Uslan’s Detective #27, from 2004, or Smith’s work on Daredevil in 2000 and 2001?
But on the whole this is a fun book. I really enjoyed Voger’s explorations into Dark Age clichés, and his “10 Most Important” and “10 Most Ludicrous” lists are fun and sure to be controversial. “The Dark Age” might not be quite as good as many TwoMorrows books, but it is still wonderfully entertaining.