Jan 28 2008

Comic Book Glossary

This is a glossary of terms related to comic books. (See the Superhero Nation-specific glossary here).

Arc: a plotline that spans across more than one comic and possibly more than one series.

CCA: Comic Codes Authority. The CCA was the comic book equivalent of the MPAA rating. The CCA is dead now– according to Stan Lee, Marvel wanted to run an anti-drugs comic book but the CCA wouldn’t offer its seal of approval to any comic books with any reference to drugs. Marvel published it anyway.

Captain Anti-America: used to negatively describe a series that has (allegedly) betrayed its original spirit. Stems from (mostly conservative) complaints about Captain America’s increasingly rocky relations with the American government.

Civil War: a Marvel arc that revolved around the US government trying to register superheroes. Most notable for (spoiler) killing Captain America and outing Spiderman.

Continuity: what has already happened in a character’s story. For example, in the standard Spiderman continuity, Norm Osborn is dead.

Retcon: When writers decide to change what has already happened or interpret what has already been portrayed in a different way. For example, at one point Peter Parker was a clone of Ben Riley. They retconned that out; Ben Riley is no longer a part of the Spiderman universe.

Crossover: A story where characters from one series meet with characters from another. “Crossover” is sometimes written as Xover or X-Over, but mercifully not on this website.

DC Comics: the second-largest comic book company. Best-known for Superman, Batman and the Justice League.

DC Implosion: the 1978 mass-cancellation of poorly performing DC comics.

Eight-Armed Spiderman: When comic book writers make a story that is seriously inconsistent with the spirit of a series. This refers to a bizarre plot-strand where Peter Parker grew eight arms, which doesn’t exactly fit with that whole guy-next-door thing.

Eras of Comic Books

Golden Age: Comics from June 1938 (Action #1) to the end of World War II. Superman iconized this era. The stories were usually morally simple and drew heavily on fascist enemies.

Pre-Silver Age: The period of comics between 1950 and 1956 (Showcase #4).

Silver Age: The period of comic books between 1956 (Showcase #4) to the early 1970s. Superhero origin stories became more scientific and the characters became more troubled and human. Spiderman exemplified this era.

Iron (Modern) Age: the period of comic books between 1986 (The Watchmen) to the present. The heroes are generally darker and more psychologically messed-up. The Watchmen symbolize this era.

Fifth-Week Events: comic books are usually released in four-week cycles. In months that have five weeks, comic book companies will sometimes sell unusual one-shots.

(Breaking the) Fourth Wall”: when a character acts like he knows the audience is watching. For example, in Austin Powers 2, Basil tells Austin Power not to worry about the details of time-travel. Then he turns to the camera and says “and that goes for you, too.” Characters can break the fourth wall without speaking at the audience, too. For example, characters in Superhero Nation are aware of the cliche that blacks are far more likely to get killed early.

Grease: Grease is the word. It’s got groove; it’s got meaning. Grease is the way we are feeling.

Jungle Girl: a female superhero usually from Africa or rain forests or (go figure!) a jungle. She usually wears an animal’s skin and little else.

Marvel Comics: the largest comic book company, best known for titles like Spiderman and the X-Men. Its style is somewhat more realistic than its competitors– its heroes generally have scientific origins (like a genetically modified spiderbite or a mutation). Its heroes also live and work in real-world cities, usually New York.

Origin (story): how the character got his superpowers, like a lab accident or mutation.

Out (or outing): when a superhero’s secret-identity is revealed. Someone can be outed to a close friend or family member, but usually “outing” refers to a public revelation.

Pod (person): a character whose persona jerks around after getting new writers. He acts very inconsistently with past portrayals of himself. (Comic book laymen should know that comic book fans are extremely concerned about continuity).

Posture: how the body is visually orientated on a page.

Retcon: when the writers of a comic book story change the history of their work.

Shared universe: when writers write stories that take place within the same universe. For example, if a Marvel character does something like destroy half of New York, that will affect every Marvel character.

Demanding story: when a particularly aspect of a shared universe tends to intrude on the other parts more than the other way around. In the Marvel universe, the X-Men are demanding.

Women in Refrigerators Syndrome: the death or injury of a female in a story about a male character. The name refers to a website that noticed that comic book writers disproportionately injure, kill or depower female characters.


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