THE BRONZE AGE (1970 to 1985)
— “I am fire and life incarnate! Now and forever — I am PHOENIX!!!” – Jean Grey (Dark Phoenix)
This is considered to be the start of the ‘Dark Age’ of Comics, and with good reason, which continued into the late 90’s (the Copper Age). Some very dark twists to many popular characters backstories were first established during this time such as: (Retro Spoiler Alert!) the Green Goblin killing Spider-man’s girlfriend (Gwen Stacy, not MJ), the demise of Jason Todd (the second Robin) at the hands of the Joker, Elektra’s murder by Bullseye, etc… (BULLSEYE was introduced in Daredevil #131 – 1976, and ELEKTRA in #168 – 1981)
Often disputed between comic fans / historians, this Bronze Era is typically said to have occurred sometime between 1970 and 1985 give or take a couple years. This was a time when comic books became more socially conscious and began featuring real-world issues. Comic books were no longer just an escape from reality, but a mirror of it. This is when the legends behind the most acclaimed adult-themed comics started to creep onto the scene. Writers and artists like Alan Moore, Frank Miller, Neil Gaiman Chris Claremont, John Byrne, Jim Lee, George Perez, Joe Quesada, and countless others who are still relevant today, most of whom are still actively in the comic industry today!
The Bronze Age was when there was a resurgence in interest for super heroes in general. Following the cheesy campy spoof that was the Batman 60’s TV series was the first serious, live action, depiction of a comic book, on the silver screen with Superman: The Movie in the late 70’s, and in the 80’s there was the Wonder Woman show and the Incredible Hulk became a Smash Hit! (pun-intended)
Meanwhile, many of the new heroes, and villains (or anti-heroes) that showed up in comics around then were also a reflection of the times. This was the early days of Anti-heroes with a disturbing psychological addiction for obliterating thugs without remorse (Punisher). The super villains started getting the mentally-ill sympathy treatment as well (Joker), they were actually given more depth than their respected heroes in many cases, along with deeper meaning to why they were the way they were. Also relevant issues like drug addiction came to the forefront, namely an issue of Green Lantern / Green Arrow, where Oliver Queen (the Emerald Archer) discovers that his ward / sidekick (Speedy) has been shooting up heroin… with a code-name like Speedy, he Mr. Queen should’ve seen that coming.
To kick things off Jack Kirby gave us the villainous demon-deity / alien warlord DARKSEID in 1970, the immortal tyrant of the fiery Planet APOKOLIPS! (oddly enough first appearing in ‘Superman’s Pal, Jimmy Olsen’?! #134) Darkseid is heavily featured in Kirby’s ‘New Gods’ stories, and is one of the few super villains that can toss Superman around, so it usually takes the entire Justice League to balance the scales. Darkseid would later go onto inspire Marvel’s THANOS, (Iron Man #55, 1973), the Mad Titan with his Infinity Gauntlet would later be ripped off by DC’s MONGUL of War World…
Another epic villain from this era was RA’S AL GHUL! The immortal master of the League of Shadows (or Assassins) was on a quest to save the world from itself, armed with an army of ninjas, and finally met his match in the Caped Crusader known as the Batman! Created by Neal Adams and Denny O Neal, Ra’s was first introduced in Batman 232: ‘Daughter of the Demon’ (1971) the title of which refers to the daughter of Ra’s Al Ghul, Talia, whom Bruce falls in love with against his better judgment, eventually leading to some very awkward moments down the line… like when Bruce finds out he has a son whose also the grandson of one of his deadliest enemies!
Another creation from O Neal and Adams was the third human Green Lantern, John Stewart! (not counting the original, Alan Scott; the second being Guy Gardner, Abin-Sur’s back-up option to Hal Jordan from issue 59 – 1968) John was an African American soldier prior to being recruited into the Corps in issue 87 (1971) and would temporarily take Hal’s place in later issues. Stewart was the first in a line of black super heroes of this era. LUKE CAGE, Hero for Hire #1 (1972) was the first in a new generation of darker heroes (not just in skin tone); he would later be known as ‘Power Man’ and often teamed up with Iron Fist. Another famous black hero of the day, BLADE, the day-walking Vampire / Vampire Hunter first appeared in ‘Tomb of Dracula’ 10 (1973). In 1979 James Rhodes was introduced into Iron Man 118. Rhodes would temporarily replace Mr. Stark as the Armored Avenger while he was busy dealing with his bout of alcoholism, and his perpetual problem with being a gigantic dickhead. Rhodes is better known as WAR MACHINE (1992) from that one time he upgraded the suit with missiles and a big freaking Gatlin gun!
As far as representing other minorities comics attempted to make up for lost time. The Silver Samurai, one of Wolverine’s baddies first showed up in Daredevil 111 (1974). The Immortal IRON FIST (Marvel Premiere 15) punched his way to glory in 1974. Another martial artist who talked with his fists was (The Hands of) SHANG-CHI ‘Master of Kung-Fu’ (Special Marvel Edition #15 – 1973)
Speaking of badass mo-fo’s, THE PUNISHER made his first kill in the pages of Amazing Spider-man 129 (1974) where he was shown shooting J-walkers. This nut-case of an assassin was hired by a C-class villain, the Jackal, as a hit-man to take out Spidey. He quickly gained badass points for the skull on his chest with guns blazing, and soon enough had his own comic, and even a crappy 80’s movie followed by two more crappy films 20 years later. The Punisher is a true anti-hero in every respect. He’s a man on the edge with nothing left to lose, his family was murdered by the mob, and he dedicated his life to hunting them all down, one by one, and murdering them, sometimes in rather painfully creative ways, but one way or another Frank Castle will make certain that his wife and kids are avenged!
Another rage-driven anti-hero sliced his way to fame in an issue of the Incredible Hulk (as previously mentioned), the WOLVERINE!!! (First appearing briefly in a cliffhanger of #180, but showing his face on the cover of the following issue) Now ‘Logan’ is one of those characters that conveniently had amnesia and therefore didn’t initially have a backstory, but his origins are the stuff of legends! The details of his mysterious past and the Weapon-X program (which gave him his badass Adamantium-reinforced skeleton and claws) have been consistently tweaked and added to over the years. Now Wolverine (the 200-year-old beer-chugging Canadian mutant, who goes by Logan, but was originally named James Howlett, even though he was actually Victor Creed’s half-brother, born with a healing-factor, and super-sniffing powers, complete with indestructible razor-sharp metal claws that eject between his knuckles, thanks to Weapon-X) has a more complex backstory than Superman himself. For enemies like Hydra, and the legions of Hand ninjas of the Marvel-verse, it becomes painfully apparent, time and time again, that Logan is the best at what he does, and what he does is repeatedly stab people in a drunken berserker fury, which isn’t very nice.
Wolverine soon came out as a mutant and joined up with the X-Men in the special GIANT-SIZE: X-MEN #1 (1975) along with a new, ethnically diverse, roster including: STORM (African American woman), COLOSSUS (Russian), and NIGHT CRAWLER! (German) This new team lasted for quite a while and started a trend, in numerous X-titles, of randomly adding new recruits in the effort to combat injustice …and massive fraking mutant-killing robots called SENTINELS! Then came #101 (1976), a game changer that introduced the PHOENIX! The psychic / telekinetic team-member Jean Grey was an original member of the X-Men who suddenly became the host of an immensely powerful, psionic-cosmic entity known as the Phoenix Force. Around this time Logan revealed he had feelings for Jean, who was Scott Summer’s (Cyclops) girlfriend creating some interesting love-triangle-esque tension and soap-opera-ish drama. This would later lead to ‘The (phenomenal) DARK PHOENIX SAGA’ (129-138, 1980) in which Jean became completely corrupted by the power of the Phoenix (partially thanks to Sebastian Shaw and the Hellfire Club) and subsequently started annihilating planets, and eventually forced Cyclops to kill her to save the universe.
Many notable X-villains began crawling out of the woodwork around this time period, such as EMMA FROST (the White Queen) who first appeared alongside the Hellfire Club during the Dark Phoenix Saga (not to mention Kitty Pryde / SHADOWCAT). Other notable X-adversaries from this period: Wolverine’s arch-enemy, the animalistic renegade mercenary SABRETOOTH (Iron Fist #14, 1977) and the shape-shifting femme-fatale MYSTIQUE (Ms. Marvel 16, 1978) who would go on to reform Magneto’s Brotherhood of Mutants, in which ROGUE grew up in, later reforming and switching sides.
I could go on and on about all the new awesome characters from this period, but instead of writing a book I’ll sum up the rest in a nice paragraph: Marvel’s GHOST RIDER, the motorcyclist with flaming skull burned his way to glory in Marvel Spotlight 5, 1979. Another cyclist, LOBO the alien bounty hunter-turned anti-hero first roared into the panels of Omega Men #3 (1983). Obadiah Stane, Tony Stark’s rival business partner turned psychopathic killer in a massive robotic suit of armor (IRON MONGER), first showed up as himself in Iron Man # 163 (1982) and after some character development became a full-fledged arch-enemy in issue 200 (1985). DC’s DEATH-STROKE showed his masked face in the New Teen Titans 2, 1980, while later that year the Teen Titan’s leader CYBORG first showed up in ‘DC Comics Presents’. Bruce Wayne’s adopted son Richard Grayson graduated from being Robin, went solo and donned the identity of NIGHTWING in ‘Tales of the Teen Titans’ #44, 1984. Meanwhile in Justice League # 219 (1983), Dinah Lance, the daughter of the original Black Canary, took on the identity of The BLACK CANARY, as a kick-ass martial artist with a sonic scream, and a thing for a certain Green-clad Arrow-slinger…
The Bronze Age is often said to have ended with DC’s ‘Crisis on Infinite Earths’, and Marvel’s ‘Secret Wars’ crossover series. It was during the Secret Wars (issue 8, 1984) that Spider-man’s black suit originated. The black suit turned out to be a symbiotic organism which attempted to corrupt Peter Parker before finding a new host with rival photographer Eddie Brock, whom inherited all of Spider-man’s abilities, but with an enhanced edge, and no morality, giving rise to the deadly VENOM! (Amazing 298, 299) During the ‘CRISIS’, (Spoiler Alert!) Barry Allen died, and Wally West (Kid-Flash at the time, first introduced in Flash 110 – 1959) became the new The Flash.
Which leads us right into the ‘modern age’ of comics.
To be continued… Part 4: The Copper Age?
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