->'''Cyclops:''' Ten years ago? That was between "Phalanx Covenant" and "The Twelve". Nothing important happened then!\\
'''Wolverine:''' What about Comicbook/{{Onslaught}}? \\
'''Beast:''' We just pretend that never happened... for the Professor's sake.
-->-- ''Comicbook/XMen: [[http://www.newgrounds.com/portal/view/257930 Revisiting Profit]]''

There's a very strange relationship between character/plot development and maintaining the status quo. Changing said status, if done poorly, may result in a Dork Age. A Dork Age is a period in a franchise, especially a long-running one, where there was a dramatic change of concept or execution, usually [[WereStillRelevantDammit to stay current]] and it did ''not'' work.

It could be an ill-advised "new direction". Or a costume change [[TwoDecadesBehind that was dated the instant it premiered]]. Maybe it's [[FadSuper a timely gimmick that was dated five months before it premiered]]. Perhaps the character lost their trademark powers and went through a run of very different ones. Or there was a RetCon or plot twist that revealed something that didn't quite gel, or attached a completely new mythos that came off as completely at odds with a character's history and overall mood. Sudden {{Genre Shift}}s. [[OpeningACanOfClones Clones]]. [[TheScrappy Scrappies]]. {{Romantic Plot Tumor}}s. [[OvershadowedByControversy Overshadowing Controversies]]. Many and unsubtle are the forms of the Dork Age.

While this trope is most readily associated with fictional characters, note that musicians and other performers can enter Dork Ages as well. Especially when they try (and fail) to form a new and radically different onstage persona, experiment with [[GenreAdultery a very different genre]], attempt to dramatically alter their entire image ''permanently'', or a band [[TheBandMinusTheFace loses a key member]]. You know a band is in its Dork Age if you, as a fan, are wholly unaware that they're still around and releasing albums.

There are even cases when ''reality itself'' can enter a Dork Age (or [[TheWarOnStraw reality as perceived in the mass media]], at least, as attempts to change ''all'' of reality will never be successful).

This fundamental change is often [[OldGuardVersusNewBlood an attempt to attract new fans]]. Unfortunately, that usually does not work. Worse, the change does ''not'' go over well [[TheyChangedItNowItSucks with the established fans]]. Generally, the more dramatically something diverts from its basics, the more likely it's the start of a Dork Age.

Now a Dork Age isn't necessarily a ''bad'' idea - [[TropesAreTools not in theory at least]] - but depending on how deep a legacy runs, it can make for a strange detour. Like its close cousin JumpingTheShark, it's much easier to spot in hindsight. The main clue that a Dork Age has happened is that it's mentioned [[CanonDiscontinuity as little as possible]] by newer writers. You can bet a series with AdaptationDistillation will never mention it.

That said, often there will be a group of fans who remember the Dork Age with affection, and every so often there may be a ContinuityNod about it. Once enough distance has been put between the readers and the offending material, it'll usually be considered "safe" and people will start referring to it again, often in a [[SelfDeprecation self-deprecating jest]]. Part of the reason for this change in attitude is that, while a Dork Age is still ongoing, readers understandably fear that it will never end (at least not without taking the [[FranchiseKiller franchise with it)]] and that the franchise will be RuinedForever. Once it ''has'' ended and the status quo safely restored, the entire incident can be remembered as just one self-contained story arc in the franchise's history, rather than a permanent drastic change.

And much like JumpingTheShark, this is most evident and should be supported upon retrospect. A Dork Age can sometimes be a FranchiseKiller, and also a result of SeasonalRot, but quite often those involved learned their lesson and things will change upon recognizing the dork age. It's TheyChangedItNowItSucks when it really does suck.

This trope's name evolved from the ''Wiz Kid'' TimeSkip of ''TabletopGame/BattleTech'', which they called ''VideoGame/MechWarrior: Dark Age''. You can see what the fans did there.

Not to be confused with UsefulNotes/TheDarkAgeOfComicBooks or UsefulNotes/TheDarkAgeOfAnimation, though anything that earns the label "Dark Age" is likely to overlap. Definitely not to be confused with [[ComicStrip/{{Dilbert}} Dogbert's condescending name for one of Dilbert's inventions]].

See also FanonDiscontinuity, CanonDiscontinuity, RunningTheAsylum, and EarlyInstallmentWeirdness. If the causes of the Dork Age are visible in earlier, good installments (if to a much lesser degree), we can point to that as the FranchiseOriginalSin. Often happens because a long-running series feels the need to say "WereStillRelevantDammit!", or because the creator had a ToughActToFollow. See DeadHorseGenre for the musical ''era'' equivalent. This can be a lucky case of JumpingTheShark and surviving later. Speaking of sharks, see VoodooShark for a similar trope applied specifically to plot devices. For the network equivalent (though it is somewhat more akin to JumpingTheShark or SeasonalRot) see NetworkDecay.

'''Please be careful you aren't ComplainingAboutShowsYouDontLike.'''

* DorkAge/AnimeAndManga
* DorkAge/ComicBooks
** DorkAge/TheDCU
** DorkAge/{{Marvel}}
* DorkAge/{{Film}}
* DorkAge/LiveActionTV
** DorkAge/TelevisionNetworks
* DorkAge/{{Music}}
* DorkAge/NewspaperComics
* DorkAge/ProfessionalWrestling
* DorkAge/{{Radio}}
* DorkAge/{{Sports}}
* DorkAge/TabletopGames
* DorkAge/{{Theater}}
* DorkAge/{{Toys}}
* DorkAge/VideoGames
* DorkAge/{{Webcomics}}
* DorkAge/WesternAnimation
* DorkAge/RealLife