Do Comic Book Characters Ever Age?


Comic book characters are iconic and have stayed relevant through movies and T.V. show adaptations. Because they are often depicted around the same age, they have been immortalized. But, do they grow old just like we do?

Do comic book characters ever age? Most comic book characters don’t age. Many comic book companies like Marvel or DC use something called a Floating Timeline. This allows for characters to be used over and over again to stay relevant without the worry of dying or aging. The characters can be mass marketed to veteran fans as well as younger ones.

The age of comic book characters also varies based on what the company is using the characters. Multiple comic book artists and authors also add new stories and rules to the comic book universe. They can add or take away aging depending on the story. Let’s explore these ideas in more depth.

Floating Timeline 

A floating timeline is used when an author wants to reference characters, and not worry about aging or deaths from previous timelines. It is vital to keep up with character and plot references to comic book fans. They want their stories to have meaning, and not be a bunch of random characters and stories each time.

Marvel started referencing a floating timeline with their Spider-man comics. They started in the ‘silver age’ of comics. Spider-man remains a high schooler who goes to college. This timeline can’t go on forever – Spider-man would finish college, get married, have kids, etc. So, a floating timeline allows Marvel to use various story plots within a 10-year span.  

The 10-year span is important because it can be applied to any point in time. Referencing Spider-man again, the issue where he was bitten by the Spider was in 1962. However, Marvel never mentions an exact date. This allows for the 10-year gap to be used in any decade. This allows for Spider-man comics to update depending on what decade it is in.

Check out this link from Wikipedia for more information on floating timelines.

Ten Year Window

The 10-year gap allows some freedoms to all comic stories. It allows for important events to happen in the past, however not too far in the past that it would make the character too young or old. We can use Captain America as an example. He was frozen in ice as a young man and then thawed out 10 years later. It wouldn’t work if he was a child or an older man.

While this 10-year gap can be convenient for single characters, it can be harder when significant others and children are involved. Characters such as Franklin Richards, who was originally created in 1968, are known only as a child in their series. So his life can only be told within that span and cannot use adult plot lines. 

While characters like children cannot show growth within the 10-year span, it can be done for some characters. Robin from the DC Universe is the perfect example of character growth within the time gap. We saw Dick Grayson, one of Batman’s many Robins, go from his sidekick as a child to Nightwing as a young adult.

Characters Tied Into Historical Events

Things get complicated when the character’s backstories or main plotlines deal with historical events. Here are some examples:

  • DC’s Justice Society was formed and active during World War II. 
    • This connection is critical to their story. 
    • So DC has needed to use various ideas (such as time travel) to explain how they could operate in modern times. 
  • Captain America is firmly attached to WWII as well, but since Marvel put him in ice that helps change what time he’s melted out of it. 
  • Iron Man’s timeline is a bit more convoluted. 
    • His origin has him injured, captured and building his suit during a war. 
    • In the original comics, it was the Korean war. 
    • The authors simply need to omit the name of the war and it can fit into any timeline that had a war in it.
  • Reboots are another way to bring a character into modern times. 
    • Marvel are all over this at the moment!
    • DC comics ran pretty much in a straight line from 1938 to 1985. 
    • But then in 1985, DC did a massive event that restarted everything, essentially negating their own history. 
    • They did the same thing just recently, in 2011. 
      • This time they did it in a way that the current status of the characters is about 5 years after they first became heroes. 
      • That gives some past time for favorite stories to have occurred but gives a 5-year forward window for characters to change and grow.

Comic Book Ages

There are four major ages for comic books. Here they are in chronological order:

The Golden Age (1938 – 1956) of comic books started with the publication of Action Comics #1 and the introduction of Superman. It was also the start of superheroes in general. There was also the introduction of Batman, Robin, Wonder Woman, Flash, Green Lantern, Aquaman, Captain America, and many more iconic superheroes.

Companies such as Detective Comics (DC Comics) and Timely Comics (Marvel Comics) came around during this age. Their writing style and plot points match what was happening historically during that time period. Many of these superheroes can be seen fighting America’s real-life enemies such as Hitler, providing the nation and the troops with a much-needed morale boost along with cheap entertainment.

The Silver Age (1956 – 1970) of comics is when comic books became mainstream sources of entertainment in America. Comic books covering superheroes lost popularity towards the end of the Golden Age. The creators had to find another way to appeal to the masses.

The beginning of the Silver Age brought back the popularity of comic books. However, it was met with stricter regulations since they portrayed behaviors that might promote delinquent actions. There was a fear that readers of the comics may try to copy it.

Bronze Age (1970 – 1985) saw a continuation of the popular characters but with a return to darker plots regarding real-life issues such as drug use, poverty, and pollution.

Unlike the Golden or Silver ages, there was no one event that kicked off the Bronze Age. Instead, there was a shift in what was popular to be told in stories and comics. There was a desire for different takes on the reused storylines from the past. Authors who did make these changes had more success than the ones who stuck to the same plot lines.

The Modern Age, which began in the mid-1980s and continues to this day. Similar to the Bronze Age, the masses were looking for a change to their beloved characters and storylines. Instead of simple twists to the same story, darker takes were celebrated. As well as more complex details and backstories added to the characters.

Check out this link by T.V. Tropes with more information about the various comic book ages.

Appeal To New Generations

For young readers today, comics can be difficult to get into. Many comics rely on returning fans who know their heroes and backstories with little reference to them. This can alienate many new readers who don’t want to go back and read old comics. This fact can make comics simultaneously both fun to look at and read, but not always easy to relate to.

However, that doesn’t mean there aren’t comics that relate to young readers. Comic book companies use the 10-year window for this reason – so that newer and younger generations can continue to support and love these characters. It also allows comics to reference modern trends to help younger readers relate to the characters.

All the hardships of youth and superheroes are there as we watch these young heroes grow and develop. DC Comics has always been filled with examples of these next-generation characters:

  • Robin
  • Batgirl
  • Kid Flash
  • Wonder Girl
  • Superboy
  • Aqualad
  • Plus newer characters such as Blue Beetle and Miss Martian.

These characters can inspire young readers to feel that they can be taken seriously in the real world. These characters aren’t simply given mini-series that don’t change the storylines around them; their actions affect their Universe as a whole. These ideas are what the newer generations like to see and continue to produce comic book sales and relevance.

Check out this link by Magazine Subscriptions PTP about how and which comic books have made a comeback for people of all ages!

 To Summarize

Comic book characters typically don’t age. They remain the same age within a 5-10 year timeline. This allows for story arcs and character development, as well as reboots and multiple storylines with the same superheroes.

Comic book companies can reuse their characters to entice younger generations. Their recreated stories can also be used as a form of nostalgia for older fans of the superheroes, too.

I found a good review of why the characters don’t age int he Marvel universe on you tube:

Their stories, characters, and backstories change depending on what comic book age they were written in. This allows for varying types of stories and themes that are relevant for the period of time they were written. It also shows how comic book companies, authors and artists reuse the characters who have not aged. Even when the fans of those characters have grown older. All in all, it is more beneficial for comic book characters to not age, so that they can remain relevant to fans of all ages.

Ali R.

I'm Ali, and I'm very much a geek of the 80's. I love all things involving comics, weird dice, low-resolution pixels, badly lipped synced action films with plasticine monsters, loud bright clothes that nobody should have worn, pop songs that nobody should have sung, and TV cartoon shows that ...well everyone should watch.

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