- Bronze Age of Comic Books
The Bronze Age of Comic Books is an informal name for a period in the history of mainstream
American comic booksusually said to run from the early 1970s to the mid 1980s. It followed the Silver Age of Comic Books. ["The Overstreet Comic Book Price Guide]
The Bronze Age retained many of the conventions of the Silver Age, with brightly colored
superherotitles remaining the mainstay of the industry. However darker plot elements and more mature storylines featuring real-world issues, such as drug use, began to appear during the period, prefiguring the later Modern Age of Comic Books.
The term "Bronze Age" was first used by "Wizard" magazine to refer to the 'modern horror' age in the mid 1960s through late 1970s marked by such titles as
Gold Key's "Boris Karloff Tales of Mystery" (1963), "Ripley's Believe it or not! True Ghost Stories" (1965), and "Ripley's Believe It or not! True Demons and Monsters" (1965), as well as DC's " House of Mystery" (went Horror in 1968) and " House of Secrets" second series (1969) and Marvel's "Tomb of Dracula" (1972). Eventually it came to refer to superhero comics of what has originally been called the 'late Silver Age'.
There is no one single event that can be said to herald the beginning of the Bronze Age. Instead a number of events at the beginning of the 1970s, taken together, can be seen as a shift away from the tone of comics in the previous decade.One such event was
Jack Kirby's departure from Marvel Comicsin 1970, ending arguably the most important creative partnership of the Silver Age (with Stan Lee). Kirby then turned to DC, where he created "The Fourth World" series of titles starting with " Jimmy Olsen#133" in December 1970. Also in 1970 Mort Weisinger, the long term editor of the various Supermantitles, retired to be replaced by Julius Schwartz. Schwartz set about toning down some of the more fanciful aspects of the Weisinger era, removing most Kryptonitefrom continuity and scaling back Superman's, by that point, near infinite powers. In 1970, Marvel published the first comic book issue of pulp character Conan the Barbarian. This was the start of the reintroduction of 1930s pulp elements in comic books.
The murder of
Spider-Man's long-term girlfriend Gwen Stacyat the hands of the Green Goblinin 1973's "Amazing Spider-Man #121-122" is considered by many to be the definitive Bronze Age event. However there had been a gradual darkening of the tone of superhero comics for several years before that point, including the death of her father in 1970's "Amazing Spider-Man" #90. (See also: " The Night Gwen Stacy Died".)
In 1971, Marvel Comics Editor-in-Chief Stan Lee was approached by the United States Department of Health, Education, and Welfare to do a comic book story about drug abuse. Lee agreed and wrote a three-part Spider-Man story, "Amazing Spider-Man #96-98", portraying drug use as dangerous and unglamorous. At the time any portrayal of drug use in comic books, regardless of the context, was banned outright by the
Comics Code Authority. The CCA refused to approve the story, but Lee published it regardless.
The positive reception that the story received led to the CCA revising the Comic Code later that year to allow the portrayal of drug addiction as long as it was depicted in a negative light. Later that year, DC Comics had their own drug abuse storyline when it was revealed in
Green Lantern/ Green Arrow#85-86 that the Green Arrow's sidekick Speedy had become addicted to heroin.
The 1971 revision to the Comics Code also relaxed the rules on the use of vampires, ghouls and werewolves in comic books, allowing the growth of a number of horror oriented titles, such as "
Swamp Thing", "Ghost Rider" and " Tomb of Dracula".
The Spider-Man drug issues were at the forefront of the trend of "relevance - comic books handling real-life issues. The above-mentioned Green Lantern/Green Arrow series dealt not only with drugs, but racial prejudice and social inequity. The X-Men titles, which were partly based on a premise that mutants were a metaphor for real-world minorities, became wildly popular. Other well-known "relevant" comics include the Lois Lane story "I Am Curious: Black", a story (named after a film) where Lois becomes black, and the socially conscious stories written by
Steve Gerberin such titles as the absurdist satire Howard the Duckor the grim urban realities of Omega the Unknown. Feminism was a trend with female versions of popular characters (Spider-Woman, Red Sonja, Ms. Marvel, She-Hulk).
While the larger trend eventually faded, contemporary social commentary has remained a source for material for superhero stories to this day.
Creator Credit and Labour Agreements
Writers and Artists began getting a lot more credit from their creations even though they were still ceding copyrights to the companies that they worked for. Pencil Artists were allowed to keep their original artwork and sell it on the open market. When word got out that Superman's creators
Jerry Siegeland Joe Shusterwere living in poverty artists such as Bernie Wrightsonhelp organized his fellow artists to pressure DC in rectifying them and other pioneers from the 1930's and 40's
One of the most significant developments during the period was a substantial rise in the number of African-American and other minority superheroes. Before the 1970s, there had been very few non-white superheroes (the Black Panther and the Falcon being notable exceptions) but starting in the early 1970s this began to change with the introduction of characters such as
Luke Cage(who was the first black superhero to star in his own comic book), Storm, Blade, Shang-Chi, Misty Knight, John Stewart, Bronze Tiger, Black Lightning, and Cyborg.
Some of these early minority superheroes have subsequently been criticised for perpetuating
racial stereotypes. Characters such as Luke Cage, Misty Knight, and Shang-Chi have been seen by some as an attempt by Marvel Comics to cash in on the 1970s crazes for blaxploitationand Kung Fumovies. Luke Cage in particular became infamous for his catch phrase"Sweet Christmas!" Other minority characters however did not face such criticisms, and became increasingly popular and important as time progressed. By the mid-1980s, Storm and Cyborg had become leaders of the X-Menand Teen Titansrespectively, and John Stewart had replaced Hal Jordanas the lead character of the " Green Lantern" title.
Starting with Neal Adam's work in Green Lantern/Green Arrow a new sophisticated realism became the norm in the industry. Buyers would no longer be interested in the heavily stylized work of artists of the Silver Age or simpler cartooning of the Golden Age. The so-called "
House Styles" of DC and Marvel became imitations of Adam's work and more realistic versions of Kirby's respectively. This change is sometimes credited to a new generation of artists influenced by the popularity of EC Comicsin the 1950s. In spite of the House Styles, those artists who could draw realistically apart from these would gain some notoriety. Such names include Berni Wrightson, Jim Starlin, John Byrne(Byrne's style would become the House Style at Marvel), Frank Miller, George Perez, and Howard Chaykin.
The revival of the X-Men and the Teen Titans
X-Menwere originally created in 1963 by Stan Leeand Jack Kirby. However, the title never achieved the popularity of other Lee/Kirby creations, and by 1969 Marvel ceased publishing new material and the title was turned over to reprints. However, in 1975 an "all-new all-different" version of the X-Men were introduced by Len Weinand Dave Cockrumin " Giant-Size X-Men #1", with Chris Claremont as uncredited assistant co-plotter. [Chris Claremont's role in this issue is mentioned in "Official Marvel Index to the X-Men" #4, November 1987] Claremont stayed as writer on just about all X-Men related titles including spinoffs into the Modern Age, after which other regular writers such as Louise Simonson, Fabian Nicieza, and Scott Lobdell joined and Claremont eventually left.
One of the most apparent influence was the creation of what became DC Comics' answer to X-Men's character based storytelling style, "The New Teen Titans" by
Marv Wolfmanand George Pérez, which became a highly successful and influential property in its own right. Wolfman would associate himself with the title for sixteen years, while Perez established a large fanbase and sought-after pencilling style. A successful cartoon based on the Titans of the Bronze Age of Comics was launched in 2003, and lasted for three years.
Team-up books and anthologies
During the Silver Age, comic books frequently had several features, a form harkening back to the Golden Age when the first comics were anthologies. In 1968, Marvel graduated its double feature characters appearing in their anthologies to full-length stories in their own comic. But several of these characters could not sustain their own title and were cancelled. Marvel tried to create new double feature anthologies such as "Amazing Adventures" and "Astonishing Tales" which didn't last as double feature comic books. A more enduring concept was that of the team-up book, either combining two characters, at least one of which was not popular enough to sustain its own title ("Green Lantern/Green Arrow", "Super-Villain Team-Up", "Power Man and Iron Fist", "Daredevil and the Black Widow", "Captain America and the Falcon") or a very popular character with a guest star of the month ("Marvel Team-Up" and "Marvel Two-In-One"). Even DC combined two features in "Superboy and the Legion of Super-Heroes" and had team-up books ("The Brave and the Bold", "DC Comics Presents" and "World's Finest"). Virtually all such books disappeared by the end of the period.
Carmine Infantinoat the helm of DC, he and Stan Lee struck up a close friendship from Infantino's work at Marvel. The two worked out several unprecedented crossover titles the first of which was Superman vs the Amazing Spider-Man. They would be followed by Batman vs. The Hulkand the X-Men vs The New Teen Titans. Another title, The Avengers vs The Justice League of Americawas written and drawn by Marv Wolfmanand George Perezbut was never published, reflecting the later animosity between the two companies. Both companies would do crossover work with independent companies such as Teen Titan and the DNAgentsas well the Marvel vs Capcomvideo game.
Beginning circa 1970, Marvel introduced vast numbers of reprints into the market, which played a key role in their becoming the overall market leader among comic publishers. Suddenly loads of titles were full of reprints: X-Men, Sgt. Fury, Kid Colt Outlaw, Rawhide Kid, Two-Gun Kid, Outlaw Kid, Jungle Action, Special Marvel Edition (the early issues), War is Hell (the early issues), Creatures on the Loose, Monsters on the Prowl, and FEAR, to name just a few.
DC Implosion and Marvel's New Universe
In the mid-70's, with Carmine Infantino at the helm, DC flooded the market with numerous new titles such as Jack Kirby's
New Gods, and Kamandi, Steve Ditko's Shade the Changing Man, etc. The company referred to this as the DC Explosion. DC greatly overestimated the appeal of so many new titles at once and it nearly broke the company and the industry, including Charlton Comics. Janette Kahnwould eventually take the helm of the company.
Marvel eventually gained 50% of the market and in the mid-80's Stan Lee handed control of the comic division to
Jim Shooterwhile he worked with their growing animation spin-offs.
Shooter developed Marvel's
New Universeas a series of titles with its own continuity separate from the Stan Lee creations. Like DC, Shooter greatly overestimated the appeal of so many new titles flooding the market, four of the titles were cancelled the first year, with the last in 1989.
During this time period, and partly because of the revision of the Comics Code, many non-superhero mainstream comics became popular. Notable non-superhero comics of the time include "Conan and
Savage Sword of Conan", which each lasted over 200 issues, with Savage Sword being a magazine format that escaped the Code entirely; " Tomb of Dracula"; "Master of Kung-Fu"; the "Star Wars" comics; " Howard the Duck", " Swamp Thing"; and " Jonah Hex". " Doctor Strange" and "Beast" developed in the direction of horror. There were a marked number of post-cataclysm series (" Deathlok, Killraven, Kamandi"). The success of Conan also led Marvel and later DC to adapt other franchises such as pulp characters (" Doc Savage, Kull, The Shadow, Justice, Inc., Tarzan"), entertainment personalities (Kiss, Human Fly), toys (" GI Joe, Micronauts, Transformers, Rom, Atari Force"), popular movies ("Planet of the Apes, Godzilla, Indiana Jones, Jaws, "), TV shows (" Six Million Dollar Man", Star Trek) and even a life of Pope John Paul II that was a best-seller. As part of the move away from super-heroes, this era saw several series featuring villains (" Tomb of Dracula, Super-Villain Team-Up, Secret Society of Super-Villains, Joker").
Alternate Markets and Formats
Archie Comics dominated the female market during this time with their characters,
Betty and Veronicahaving some of the largest circulation of titular female characters. Several clones were attempted by the Marvel and DC unsuccessfully such as Millie the Model. Several Archie titles too examined socially relevant issues and introduced a few African American characters Archie largely switched to paperback digest format in the late 1980's.
Children's comics were still popular with Disney reprints under the Gold-Key label along with Harvey's stable of characters which grew in popularity. The latter included
Richie Rich, Casper, and Wendy Witchwhich eventually switched to digest format as well. Again Marvel and DC were unable to emulate their success with competing titles.
An adult market was ostensibly opened with the Belgian import
Heavy Metal Magazine. Marvel launched competing magazine titles of their own with Conan the Barbarian and Epic Magazinewhich would eventually be their division of Direct Sales comics.
The paper drives of World War II and a growing nostalgia among Baby-Boomers in the 1970's made comic books of the 1930's and '40's extremely valuable. DC experimented with some large size paperback books to reprint their Golden Age comics, create one-shot stories such as
Superman vs Shazamand Superman vs Muhammad Alias well as the early Marvel crossovers.
The popularity of those early books also opened up a market for specialty shops. So-called Independent publishers and titles grew such as
Dark Horse Comics, Dave Sim's Cerebus, and Wendy and Richard Pini's Elfquestseries. Marvel and DC began seeing this market as a way to bypass the Comic-Code Authorityand as a way to return added value with high quality formatted titles including the creation of Graphic Novels.
That period is also marked by the cancellation of most titles in the genres of romance, western and war stories that had been a mainstay of comics production since the forties. Anthologies, whether they presented feature characters or not, also disappeared. They had been used since the Golden Age either to create new characters, to host characters that lost their own title or to feature several characters. This had the effect to standardise the length of comics stories.
End of the Bronze Age
The end of the Bronze Age is debated, and some do not believe it ended at all. Like the beginning, the exact date is fuzzy, and not every single comic book may be said to have exited the Bronze Age at exactly the same date.
One commonly used ending point for the Bronze Age is the 1985-1986 time frame. As with the Silver Age, the end of the Bronze Age relates to a number of trends and events that happened at around the same time. At this point, DC Comics completed its special event, "
Crisis on Infinite Earths" which marked the revitalization of the company's product line to become a serious market challenger to Marvel again. This time frame also includes the company's release of the highly acclaimed works, " Watchmen" by Alan Mooreand Dave Gibbonsand "" by Frank Miller which redefined the superhero genre and inspired years of "grim and gritty" comic books.
At Marvel Comics, the commonly-used milestone marking the end of the Bronze Age is
Secret Warsalthough this could be extended to 1986 which saw the cancellation of Defenders, Power Man and Iron Fist(Marvel's longest running titles launched in the seventies) and the launch of the New Universeand X-Factor.
The growth of the internet in the 1990's has hurt all print media industries and increasingly many comic titles could only be found in bookstores and specialty shops in Graphic Novel format. Today, modern comics have to compete for shelf space with
Noted Bronze Age talents
"NOTE:" This is not a definitive list whatsoever. These are merely people who have represented a strong fan following and have been involved with some of the greatest and/or most influential projects of the Bronze Age.Writers
T. Casey Brennan(" Creepy, Eerie, Vampirella, House of Mystery)
Chris Claremont("Iron Fist", "Uncanny X-Men")
Gerry Conway(" Amazing Spider-Man")
Steve Engelhart(" Captain America", " Detective Comics")
Mark Evanier("Blackhawk", " DNAgents", "Crossfire")
* Don McGregor ("
Black Panther, Killraven")
Steve Gerber(" Howard the Duck", "Defenders", " Man-Thing", " Omega the Unknown", " Guardians of the Galaxy")
Al Milgrom(" Peter Parker, the Spectacular Spider-Man", " Incredible Hulk")
David Michelinie(" Aquaman", " Iron Man")
Dennis O'Neil("Batman", " Green Lantern/ Green Arrow")
Michael Fleisher(" Jonah Hex", " Spectre")
Jim Starlin("Captain Marvel", " Adam Warlock")
Roy Thomas(" Conan the Barbarian", " All-Star Squadron")
Len Wein(" Swamp Thing", "Giant Size X-Men")
Marv Wolfman(" Tomb of Dracula", " New Teen Titans")
Neal Adams(" Detective Comics", " Green Lantern/Green Arrow")
John Buscema(" Conan the Barbarian" " Savage Sword of Conan")
John Byrne(" Alpha Flight, Fantastic Four, Uncanny X-Men")
Dave Cockrum(" Legion of Super-Heroes", "Uncanny X-Men")
Ernie Colon(" Richie Rich")
Mike Grell(" Legion of Super-Heroes", " Warlord")
Gene Colan(" Tomb of Dracula, Howard the Duck, Daredevil")
Mike Kaluta(" The Shadow")
Frank Brunner(" Dr. Strange")
Jack Kirby(" New Gods, Mister Miracle, The Demon, Kamandi, Eternals")
* Frank Miller ("Daredevil")
George Pérez(" New Teen Titans")
Marshall Rogers(" Detective Comics")
Walt Simonson(" Hercules Unleashed, Manhunter, The Mighty Thor")
Herb Trimpe(" Incredible Hulk")
Barry Windsor-Smith(" Conan the Barbarian")
Bernie Wrightson(" Swamp Thing, House of Mystery, House of Secrets")
Mike Zeck(" Captain America, Punisher")
Keith Giffen(" Legion of Super-Heroes")
Arvell Jones(" All-Star Squadron, Iron Man, Iron Fist")
Key issues of the Bronze Age
Timeline of the Bronze Age
*1969: Robin leaves Batman to attend college.
*1969: First appearance of the
Falconin "Captain America".
Marvel Comicsbegins publishing "Conan The Barbarian".
DC Comicsbegins publishing Jack Kirby's "Fourth World" titles beginning with " Jimmy Olsen" and continuing with " The New Gods", " The Forever People" and " Mister Miracle".
Falconshares co-feature status in the renamed "Captain America and The Falcon".
Comics Codeis revised.
*1971: DC Comics introduces the character of "
Swamp Thing" in its " House of Secrets" title.
Clark Kentbecomes a newscaster at WGBS-TV.
*1972: Marvel begins to publish "
Tomb of Dracula".
Luke Cagebecomes the first African American superhero to receive his own series in "Hero for Hire #1".
*1973: The death of
Gwen Stacyin "Amazing Spider-Man #121".
*1973: The absurdist Howard the Duck makes his first appearance in comics and would be one of the most popular non-superheroes ever. He would get his own series in 1976 and he would graduate to his own daily newspaper strip and a 1986 film.
*1974: First appearance of Wolverine in "
Incredible Hulk" #181.
Giant-Size X-Men #1" by Len Weinand Dave Cockrumintroduces the "all-new, all-different X-Men."
Dave Simlaunches Cerebusindependent of the major publishers, the longest running mini-series (300 issues) in comics as well as the longest run by one artist on a comic book series.
*1978: At the request of Roy Thomas, Marvel releases
Star Wars, based on the hit movie, and it quickly becomes one of the best-selling books of the era.
*1978: DC cancels over half of its titles in the so-called
*1979: DC publishes "The World of Krypton", the first
comic book mini-series, which gave publishers a new flexibility with titles.
*1980: First issue of DC Comics' "
The New Teen Titans" whose success at revitalizing a previously underperforming property would lead to the idea of revamping the entire DC Universe.
*1982: Marvel publishes "
Contest of Champions", the first "cross-over event" to feature all of Marvel's major superheroes.
*1982: The "
G.I. Joe" comic book is launched by Marvel Comics and becomes one of the most successful titles of the decade.
*1984: Marvel publishes "
Secret Wars", the first 12-issue miniseries ever published in the history of the company, and a toy line is created to complement the series.
*1985: DC begins publishing "
Crisis on Infinite Earths" eliminating much of DC's fifty year continuity.
*1985: In the aftermath of "
Crisis on Infinite Earths", DC cancels The Flash and Wonder Woman.
Golden Age of Comic Books
Silver Age of Comic Books
Modern Age of Comic Books
Crisis on Infinite Earths
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