Celebrating the Unpopular Arts

What is this Bronze Age of which you speak?

Rereading the Silver Age has reminded me that back when I started college, my personal view of DC and Marvel consisted of three ages.

First came the four years after I discovered comics in ’64 (Justice League of America #30) through 1968. As I’ve mentioned before, things changed big-time that year as Marvel finally expanded its line and DC axed Gardner Fox, Arnold Drake and other writers for suggesting DC give them a better deal.

From my perspective the changes at DC (I wasn’t reading much Marvel at the time) sucked. Carmine Infantino was publisher instead of an artist, and while I like Ross Andru’s work on Metal Men and Wonder Woman he was not a good replacement for Infantino on Flash. Denny O’Neil took over JLA from Gardner Fox and his writing was awful. House of Mystery dropped Dial H for Hero. Wonder Woman became plain Diana Prince and the Metal Men got secret identities. The Doom Patrol died. That sucky, sucky artist Neal Adams replaced Murphy Anderson on The Spectre. Okay, I admit that last one showed poor taste on my part but the rest of it? I still think it sucked.

While it would be a few years before I started buying comics regularly again, I flipped through them on the stand and read friends’ copies. The next few years were the joyless Phase Two: a lot of efforts at “relevant” comics dealing with searing issues of the day — racism! Sweatshop labor! Pollution! All worthy issues but they don’t adapt well to comic-book heroes’ methods of solving problems; dealing with the issues realistically usually produced clunky, unsatisfying stories (there are exceptions). They didn’t entertain me then and I don’t like them much better now.

Part of this was DC and Marvel responding to the 1960s zeitgeist; part of it, I suspect, was DC backing away from the Batman TV era and trying to show that comics weren’t campy and silly. IIRC, supervillains didn’t show up much in that period.

Then came the third era, starting in 1972-3, when comics got fun again. More supervillains. Writers I liked better — Len Wein on Justice League of America was way preferable to Denny O’Neil or Mike Friedrich. Wonder Woman got her powers back, even if the first year or so after that was a mess. I discovered lots of enjoyable new comics — Doc Savage, Luke Cage, Hero For Hire, Beowulf, Jungle Action (though I didn’t get to reading those until a college friend of mine loaned me the run) and later the JSA’s return in All-Star Squadron.

It wasn’t until well after I’d graduated college that I heard the term “Bronze Age.” At the time I equated it to “1970s” but looking back I think there has to be more to it. A previous post discussed the beginning point of the Bronze Age; my question for today is what defines the era.

Was it the Big Two embracing horror again? Of course that started with House of Mystery and House of Secrets back in ’68 but it certainly got bigger in the 1970s (Son of Satan, Ghost Rider, Dracula, Morbius). Or maybe the Big Two jumping into sword-and-sorcery?

Was it the dominance of a younger generation of creators, fans turned pro? Many of them got their start in the Silver Age too but with so many old hands gone by the 1970s, Gerry Conway, Cary Bates, Elliott S. Maggin, etc. had a lot more impact.

Was it Marvel’s 1960s style of storytelling become common at DC too? The slight but definite increase in nonwhite representation? Other suggestions when I proposed the question elsewhere were that comics became more imitative rather than breaking fresh ground; increased interest in retcons and continuity (which fits with former fans turning pro); a smoother mix of politics and comics (some of Steve Gerber’s stories, for example).

And whatever defines the Bronze Age, when do you think it stopped? Definitely by Crisis on Infinite Earth but was it earlier? If so, when?

I don’t think I have a hill on which I intend to die over this topic but maybe I’ll discover one in your answers.

#SFWApro. Covers top to bottom by Murphy Anderson, Neal Adams, Ricardo Villamonte and Joe Orlando.


  1. I would put the start of the Bronze Age at January 1971, when the Comics Code was revised, eliminating several restrictions, allowing the publishers to include such things as corrupt politicians, sympathetic criminals, werewolves, vampires, and classic literary monsters (but not zombies). “Suggestive poses” were no longer forbidden, and eventually clothing restrictions were relaxed.

    Most of the content associated with the Bronze Age – horror, social relevance, and characters like Conan the Barbarian, would not have been permitted under the pre-1971 Code.

  2. Edo Bosnar

    For me, what is now often called the Bronze Age is where I live in comics – it’s my personal golden age. So my response to the question of what defines it could simply be: “Its overall awesomeness!”
    A less glib answer would probably include something you mentioned, i.e., the big two putting out a bunch of horror titles, but also experimenting with other material, like – as Jim notes above – Conan and other sword & sorcery characters/settings, science fiction (either in anthology titles or stuff like Killraven) and even introducing Western characters with a non-traditional twist (like Jonah Hex or Scalphunter). And yes, the crop of younger fans turned pros, both writers and artists who started to make a big splash.

    As to when the Bronze Age ended, I’d put it at around 1981 or so. It was around that time that we began to see the onset of what I’d call the writer/artist era that marked a break from what came before. Frank Miller’s first issue as both writer and artist on Daredevil is cover-dated Jan. 1981, and Byrne took over Fantastic Four a few months later.
    Also, Pacific Comics also launched its line in 1981, and that marked the beginning of the indie boom in the 1980s.

  3. Jeff Nettleton

    I’m with Edo that it ends circa 1980/81. There is a definite shift in both the market and the content, as well as the tone and the approach to things. The Direct Market is flowering, after some baby steps and it comes into its own in the first few years of the 1980s.

    I’m also a Bronze Age Baby, as my earliest comic memories are all BA titles. I’m not a horror guy, so it doesn’t factor into things, for me. The maturity of some of the content (picking up from late 60s developments) and the experimentation define it, for me. A big influx of young talent, who come into their own across the decade. It’s more fringe material than mainstream; but, there are pockets of the mainstream where I thought they were at their best. Your Englehart Captain America, Claremont & Cockrum and Byrne on X-Men, a good stretch of Daredevil, segments of Batman, Superman with Kryptonite No More. It’s names like Gerber, Wolfman, Wein, O’Neil, Claremont, Starlin, Perez, Byrne, Grell, Cockrum, Gulacy, Moench, McGregor, Russell, Chaykin, Wrightson, Kaluta, Brunner, Englehart, Rogers, Staton, Newton, Aparo, and so on. It is also an explosion of Richie Rich, lots of Archie familiar titles and religious Archie. Warren horror and Charlton bouncing around between genres. Gold Key with Star Trek, Dagar, Tragg & the Sky Gods, and their horror and Disney titles. It’s early steps into an indie market, with the Undergrounds and stuff like Byron Preiss and Mike Friedrich’s Star*Reach.

    The 80s sees the Direct Market come to the fore and there is a real shift in things. Shooter is ruling Marvel with an iron fist and riding high on hot books and some surprises that became hot, like Miller on Daredevil, and Simonson on Thor. DC was starting to pay off the steps that Jenette Kahn began when she took over DC, in the late 70s. The proto-Vertigo emerges. The self-publishers are finding an audience. Comics are getting mainstream respect and media attention.

    At the time, people were referring to the 80s as the Modern Age, that we had definitely left the Bronze Age behind. it is only in the 2000s that the name stretched to the 80s. To me, the Modern Age was about 81/82 to about 96ish, ending with Marvel’s bankruptcy and the major downturn from the ashes of the distributor wars. Then, I think we start the New Millennium of comics.

  4. No one so far has mentioned Kirby’s switch & death of Gwen Stacy. To me the Bronze Age is a nebulous mixture of these two factors plus all those mentioned above by Fraser and commenters – Code relaxes, new/renewed genres like relevance/S&S/horror, DC upheaval, fans turned pro.
    It could be encapsulated in Carmine Infantino’s ultimately disastrous reign from editorial director to publisher, c.1968 to 1976. The character of the Bronze Age could be summed up in Infantino’s frenetic approach after some solid Silver Age building blocks: throw some excrement (read: genres! Kirby! Prez!) against the wall, see what sticks, then cancel it within six to 12 issues! A lot of it didn’t work but there was some good stuff that did.
    You could name a Bronze Age phase two, summed up as Kahn/DC Implosion & pre-Crisis; Shooter & rise of writer-artists (see rest of Jeff’s list)/direct market, and yes, it all ends some time in the early 80s.
    It was certainly a ‘golden age’ of new artistic talent; again, look at Jeff’s list. Only that initial surge of Kirby to Kubert plus the EC generation can match/outdo it.

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