The Journey of the Most Valuable Bronze Age Comics

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BY April 18, 2019

Neal Adams
© Luigi Novi / Wikimedia Commons

The Bronze Age comic books refer to the genre of American superhero comics produced during the period between 1970 and 1985. This genre follows the Silver age comics and is followed by the modern age ones.

The traditional superhero titles of the Silver age comics are retained by the Bronze era but a lot of darker plots, including relevant social issues and racism, began to be incorporated into its storyline and elements. If you look back to history, there is no single event that heralded the advent of the Bronze Age comics.

Origin of the Bronze Age

A series of events in the 1970s gave birth to this chapter of comic books. For example, the issue of Green Lantern that included Green Arrow as the title character. Danny O’Neil and Neal Adams penned and inked the series which focused on poverty and self-doubt, two of the most relevant social problems. Many veteran writers and artists of their time either retired or were promoted to the managerial positions with the beginning of the Bronze period. A younger generation of people with experiences in comic book fan conventions and publications started running the show.

The era also witnessed changes in terms of distribution and audience of comic books. Earlier, the books were meant for cheap sales and were available on the newsstands. But in the Bronze era, they became expensive, to be sold at specific comic book stores for the smaller and niche yet dedicated audience.

1970: The Beginning

During this year, Marvel published the first comic book on Robert E. Howard’s pulp character, Conan the Barbarian. As a result, Conan became an instant success, and that led to several other characters such as Red Sonja, King Kull, and Solomon Kane. According to comic scholar Arnold Blumberg, the murder of Spiderman’s girlfriend Gwen Stacy in the hands of Green Goblin in 1973’s Amazing Spiderman series was one of the major events in the history of Bronze Age comics. The event exemplifies the period’s trend towards darker plots. During this time, Dennis O’Neil and Neal Adams started working on their Batman series as well.

In 1971, the US Department of health, education, and welfare approached Marvel Comics editor-in-chief, Stan Lee, to start a comic book story on drug abuse. Lee accepted the proposal and started writing a three-part story on Spiderman with the title “Green Goblin Reborn.” In this story, drug abuse was shown in a negative light to spread awareness about the issue among youths. Similarly, in the Green Arrow story, Snowbirds Don’t Fly, it was shown how Green Arrow’s sidekick Speedy got a heroin addict.

Return of supernatural elements

From 1971, various supernatural elements such as ghouls, vampires, and werewolves started returning to the comic book fold. This gave rise to a lot of supernatural characters such as Swamp Things, Ghost Rider and the Tomb of Dracula among others. The tone of the horror comic stories had witnessed major changes in the late 1960s.

Social relevance and further developments: Various social menaces and issues have been widely covered in the Bronze era comics. For example, Spiderman stories focused on child mistreatment and poor working condition for minors. The adaptation of social menaces started being the selling quotient for the stories. The Green Lantern series dealt with drug abuse, urban poverty, racism, and environmental degradation. The X-Men titles were a metaphor to the real-world minorities. In Iron Man, we see the protagonist fights against his alcoholism. Female empowerment also became an important trend with characters like Spiderwoman, Red Sonja, Ms. Marvel, and She-Hulk among others.

Credit for creators

Artists and writers started getting a lot of recognition for their creations during this time. Pencil artists started selling their original artwork in markets. The creators of Superman, Joe Shuster, and Jerry Siegel, were living in poverty like many others. Artists like Neal Adams and Jerry Robinson along with others helped them organize and pressurized the DC to rectify them. Thus, many artists from 1930 to 1940 also got helped by the organization.

Minority superheroes

During this time, a significant number of black and other minority superheroes started coming to the forefront. Black Panther, Luke Cage, Storm Blade, Black Lightning, Vixen are such minority superhero characters that got enormous popularity.

Art styles and crossovers

Due to Neal Adams’s Green Lantern and Green Arrow, sophisticated realism-based artwork became the norm of the industry. Buyers were no longer interested in the heavy stylizing of the Silver age or the simpler cartoons from the Golden age. The House styles of Marvel and DC were influenced by Adams’s works. A lot of talents were brought in from Asia and Latin America as well.

Marvel and DC worked on a couple of crossover titles. Among them, Superman Vs. The Amazing Spiderman is very popular. This was followed by Batman Vs. The Incredible Hulk and X-Men Vs. The New Teen Titans. The Bronze Age also includes very famous non-superhero comics as well. Ghost Rider, the Tomb of Dracula, Swamp Thing were famous among them. Marvel’s Star Wars series also had a wonderful nine-year run. Long-running sci-fi anthology Metal Hurlant began to be published in the 70s.

End of the Bronze Age

At the end of this period, a number of events happened. DC comics completed its Crisis on Infinite Earths event which became a serious contender for Marvel. The highly acclaimed work of Alan Moore, Watchmen, was published in this time. Frank Miller’s Batman: The Dark Knight returns was also brought to the fore. Consequently, all these events redefined the superhero genre.

At Marvel, one of the significant events to mark the end of the Bronze era is Secret Wars. This was extended to 1986 which saw the cancellation of Defenders, Powerman and Iron Fist, and the launch of New Universe and X-Factor. After the Bronze Age, came the Modern Age of comics which is also known as the Dark Age of comics’ books. In this era, adult-oriented content started taking place in the comic books. This eventually got popular. The rise of X-Men is a clear example of this as a result.

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