Integrative Arts 10

The Bronze Age of the Mainstream and the Rise of the Post Modern Graphic Novel


The Bronze Age
by Jamie Coville


In my opinion superhero comics took a curve in 1970. Comics got more complex, rules changed, and different characters and stories were told. For the most part, the Bronze Age refers to the magic inspired stories of the 1970's. I see that as a part of the changes that comics went through so I thought I would use the title. This age is also called the Post Silver Age. You will see what I mean by changes as your read ahead.

During the 1970's, DC had a rough time selling comics. There was an event labeled as the DC Explosion, where they created a bunch of titles. Then the DC Implosion came, where DC canceled a lot of those titles. But they did have one spectacular thing happen to them. They got Jack Kirby from Marvel Age fame to work for them. He created a book called New Gods that was new and different to the DC universe. The New Gods book ended up bringing in some great heroes and villains to the DC universe that are still in use today. Jack Kirby was the first comic proffessional to get the special treatment that he did. Getting Jack Kirby was so important, his picture was put on the front of a comic and the slogan "Kirby is coming" started appearing on DC Comics. He paved the way for future "hot" comic pro's in getting more say in the comic industry.

In 1970 Marvel came out with a different type of hero. He was Conan the Barbarian. His comic series would last 20 years, and beyond with new series. He is probably best remembered for Arnold Schwarzenegger's Conan the Barbarian movie. Conan wasn't a Marvel created hero though. Originally Conan came from a series of books by Robert E Howard, a pulp fiction writer of the 1920's and 30's.

In 1970, Green Lantern/Green Arrow #76 comics got more serious. In this issue the two Green heroes talk over real life problems. Where good and evil are not so black and white. In this particular issue, Green Lantern saves a man who is being attacked by a younger kid. The result is the nearby on-lookers attack Green Lantern. Green Arrow steps in and explains to Green Lantern that the man is the owner of a run down apartment and that he is about to throw the residents out on the street to build a parking lot. The two heroes work together to find away to defeat the landlord's plans legally. At the end of the issue, Green Lantern and Arrow hop into a pick up truck and travel around the country, dealing with tough social issues. At one time this book went without the CCA approval by doing a story about Green Arrow's sidekick Speedy, who was addicted to drugs. But this was not the first mainstream comic to do this.

In 1971 Marvel broke the rules. They did a story that the CCA (Comics Code Authority) would not approve. Despite this, Marvel published the story anyways. They were afraid that they would not get public support for it was only 22 years previous that people were burning comics because of the "evil" that they did. The comic was The Amazing Spider-Man #96-98. This story was about the harmful effects of drug use. The CCA thought the drug issue should be ignored completely. But the public was on Marvel's side in this case.

After doing this, The CCA relaxed some of their rules a little bit, allowing some horror comic books to pop up again. To see the slight changes they made click here. Some of the better known horror books were DC's Swamp Thing, and Marvels Ghost Rider and Son of Satan (later known as Hellstorm). These characters were also superheroes as well. Some of the new horror characters were used in mainstream superhero comics because they added a different twist to the stories. Superman could take on most villains, but what about ghosts and black magic? It provided new and different stories for the readers, instead of the same old supervillains seeking revenge again.

In 1973 DC decided to add some new heroes to their multiverse. They incorporated characters bought from Fawcett and Quality Comics into their books.

Amazing Spider-Man #121 shocked everybody. In this 1973 issue Spider-Man's girlfriend, Gwen Stacy was murdered by his enemy The Green Goblin. Never before had readers witnessed the death of such an innocent and key character. It reminded people that the villains that superheroes fight are indeed harmful and crazy. Usually we see villains make an attempt to do something bad, but they never succeed. The superhero always stepped in and saved the day. This time one was too late, and a fatal price was paid.

In 1973-4, a different breed of heroes were produced by Marvel. They are sometimes called anti-heroes. The two that became the most popular are Wolverine and The Punisher. Wolverine was a wild, formerly psychotic man would kill someone at the drop of a hat. He made his first appearance in Incredible Hulk #181, he was then introduced as one of the new X-Men in 1975, from there his popularity sky- rocketed. The Punisher's first appearance was in Amazing Spider-Man #129. The Punisher did appear in other Spider-Man stories but it would be in the mid 1980's before he would receive a comic book of his own. These anti-heroes were popular because they were different; they didn't have the same pure good motives and methods that Superman did. They would often kill (or try to kill) the villains they went against. Some parts of their personality reflected what normal people think but would not act out.

In 1975 The New X-men came. They made their appearance in Giant Sized X-men #1. Among them was Wolverine, who is still one of Marvel's most popular characters. This book is a lot like the old Star Trek cast. It included different heroes from around the world. Most of these places (or ethnic groups) didn't have heroes to call their own in the Marvel universe. Wolverine was Canadas first hero. Others include Colossus from Russia, Storm who was originally from Cairo, but was contacted from Kenya, Banshee from Ireland, Sunfire from Japan, Thunderbird who was an Apache Indian, and Nightcrawler from Germany.

In 1976, Marvel and DC would have their first superhero crossover. This was a battle between Superman and Spider-Man. Because of the success of this book, many other company crossovers have happened since then. It should be mentioned that Marvel and DC did do one other collaboration before this book. It was a co-published Wizard of Oz book in 1975.

In 1977, Cerebus #1 came out. This title was produced and published by Dave Sim. This comic series was independent of any big company, but despite that it was still able to sell. This comic paved the way for other independent publishers to come out with their own book(s). Cerebus is a gray sword wielding aardvark and the book started out as a parody of Conan the Barbarian. The comic quickly began to get more complex dealing with social and political issues of a fictional place. Within this book are parodies of famous people and comic superheroes. Another interesting thing about this comic series is that Dave Sim has stated right from the start that this series will end at issue 300 with Cerebus's death.

Cerebus #1 is also known for something not so great, counterfeit comics. This comic is one of the more famous counterfeit comics out there. For those interested, click here for information between the differences between the real thing and the counterfeit.

 

The Grim and Gritty Age

In 1979, Frank Miller started penciling Daredevil with issue #158. By issue #168 he was writing the title and was starting what would be called "grim and gritty" comics. These stories were different and more popular because they were more realistic and honest. Frank Miller would go on to write many other comics using the "grim and gritty" style. Slowly "grim and gritty" would become more mainstream in the 80's. You'll read more about these books soon.

 

In December 1981, Pacific Comics started putting out comics starting with Captain Victory and the Galactic Rangers. This is another comic that isn't worth anything more than the cover price, but is important to comics. It was the first comic book where the company allowed the creators of the characters to retain rights to those characters. This particular book was done by Jack "King" Kirby, who participated in creating a lot of popular Marvel and some DC superheroes.

In 1984, Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles #1 come out. This book was in black and white, and hugely successful. It was created by Kevin Eastman and Peter Laird one night by trying to create the dorkyist, silliest superhero or superhero team they could imagine. After laughing their guts out at this they re-worked it a little and decided to publish it. They both saved up some money and borrowed some from their Uncle, and published a magazine- sized black and white parody of the "grim and gritty" ninja heroes that were becoming popular in comic books.

The Teenaged Mutant Ninja Turtles became so popular a T.V. cartoon about them was produced, but it toned them down for the youngsters. Then they were licensed out and appeared on every product that you can imagine. This book started a black and white comic boom, and also is the most commercially successful self-published, creator-owned superhero comic book ever. Recently the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles joined with Image comics, a company that lets it keep it's creator-owned and -edited status.

In 1985 DC put together a Crisis of the Infinite Earths series. This was in responce to a confusing mess of alternate "earths" where heroes of one sort or another existed. There were 6 different "worlds" in the DC Universe. They were:
Earth 1 or Prime (Normal DC Universe)
Earth 2 (Golden Aged DC)
Earth 3 (Villains and heroes were reversed)
Earth 4 (Charlton Comics, 1960's) * This earth was introduced during the series *
Earth S (Fawcet Comics - Captain Marvel/Shazam and others)
Earth X or Quality (Quality Comics 1940-1955)

This series would collapse all the different Earths together, and create one Earth where everyone existed. In doing this DC killed off some of their heroes, old and new, including the Silver Age Flash, Barry Allen (I guess this was DC's revenge on Barry for starting this mess!). The problem with doing this was that DC decided to start their whole history and continuity all over again. Meaning the events in every DC book you bought before this point didn't really happen; it had no bearing on today's comics. The writers were starting from scratch again, and if they wanted the old story to have meaning, they would have to re-tell it. Having to start completely from scratch angered some of the professionals and the readers. There was also a mess of what really 'did' and 'didn't' happen in the past with reference to older heroes. Fixing the DC timeline and continuity was a great idea, but DC botched it up completely.

In 1986 a new style of superhero comic books came out. These were realistic superhero stories. If you discovered you had superpowers would you be the perfect person that you read about in the comic books? Probably not. One of the Frank Miller books that really brought "grim and gritty" into the mainstream was done in 1986. It was called Batman: The Dark Knight Returns. This story took place in the future and dealt with an old Bruce Wayne, coming out of superhero retirement and putting on the Batman costume one last time.

Also in 1986, DC created a comic book limited series called The Watchmen. In this comic real people did have superpowers and it had a great effect on the world. The Watchmen was about a group of vigilantes that were forced to stop their actions by the government after a police strike. This book also showed changes that the new superheroes would have on some major historical events, on how our technology would develop, and many other aspects of our society. But in 1985 before The Watchmen came out, DC bought characters from Charlton Comics. Watchman's writer Alan Moore made characters very similar to those from Charlton, and used them in the Watchmen series. Some of the original Charlton heroes would go on to become important heroes in DC and be a part of some major story lines in the future.


Follow the Links to Topic Pages

Comic Strips Lead to a New Form

Golden Age Of Comic Books

EC Horror Comics

The Comics Code of Authority

Mad Magazine

Silver Age of the Mainstream

Robert Crumb and the Underground Movement

The Post Modern Graphic Novel

Bronze Age of the Mainstream

Contemporary Comics

What's Next?


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