Friday, February 11, 2005

The DC Universe In Cycles: A Brief Snippet

Last semester, I took a half-course on James Joyce's Ulysses that also included his three other books briefly. At the end, we talked about Finnegans Wake a little and one thing that the prof mentioned caught my eye. It was in reference to the structure of the novel and here's a quote from his hand-out (available online here):

Giambattista Vico's Scienza Nuova, or New Science (1725, 1744). Vico argues that history is cyclical and that each cycle consists of three different ages-—an age of gods, an age of heroes, and an age of humans—-followed by a short transitional age, a ricorso, that also initiates the next cycle.

I thought this fit in rather well with the DCU and its transitory nature. I've long thought that the overarching idea of "ages" was off just because it would always lump Marvel and DC together when their universes are two very different things.

The way I see it, the period of the late thirties until the late fifties/early sixties would be the "Golden Age of Gods" where the heroes started out as almost god-like in nature. They were big, powerful and total assholes. We tend to think of gods differently now, but I think they would fit in well with the Greek pantheon. Eventually, they descended into this strange goofiness that sort of killed that age.

That is, until the "Silver Age of Heroes" where they were more noble and moral. I'd argue that a hero is better than a god just because a hero strives for good, while a god may not. This lasted from the late fifties/early sixties until the late seventies/early eighties.

That's when they entered the "Bronze Age of Men" and the characters were made more human. They were darker, more like they were in the "Golden Age of Gods" but not as powerful or god-like. They were kind of scummy and had real world problems.

Now, you might be thinking that Crisis On An Infinite Number Of Earths is the ricorso, but I don't think it is. I think that was just a bump in the middle of the "Bronze Age of Men" rather than the end.

The end, I think probably came around 1993 when Superman died, Batman's back was broken, Hal Jordan went insane and basically it all went to shit. The ricorso lasted, I would say, until Grant Morrison's JLA run (yes, another Morrison reference--a sure sign of pretention--along with the James Joyce invocation, of course--moving on . . .), which most would argue was a rebirth of the "Silver Age", but I think harkened back to the "Golden Age Of Gods" more because of their iconic portrayals and the fact that Morrison set them up as a pantheon complete with Greek god references.

Of course, that would mean that the DCU is currently in another "Golden Age of Heroes". The so-called "humanising" of the heroes recently, I think might support that, because it seems so anti-"Silver Age" and more akin to either the "Golden Age of Gods" or the "Bronze Age of Men" (which I admit we COULD still be in), but because they are portrayed as both god-like AND vulnerable, I'd say it's another "Golden Age of Gods".

Just a random musing. I'd appreciate any thoughts or feedback.