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The History of Comic Books and their Superheroes Part 4 – The Bronze Age of Comics takes comic books into the mainstream.

The DC Explosion

The History of Comic Books and their Superheroes is part of a four-part series.

  1. How The Pulps and comic strips laid the groundwork for the introduction of modern-day comic books.
  2. The Golden Age of Comics and the legendary comic book characters that kicked off the industry
  3. The Silver Age of Comics and groundbreaking innovations it introduced to the comic book industry
  4. The Bronze Age of Comics takes comic books into the mainstream.

The Bronze Age of Comics through the Modern Age of comics

Green Lantern/Green Arrow #85 tackles issue of drug use.
Green Lantern/Green Arrow #85

The Bronze Age of Comics was an era of change. Many industry veterans retired and were replaced by a whole new generation of writers and artists. Over at Marvel Comics, legendary writer Jack Kirby jumped ship in 1970 and joined DC Comics where he created The Fourth World series starting with Superman’s Pal Jimmy Olsen #133. By 1971, the subject matter had grown darker throughout all genres.

Horror comics with supernatural themes became popular with readers and mainstay lines such as romance, westerns, and war tales were retired. Comic book publishers realized there was big profits in licensed products. Real life elements such as racism, began to appear as lessons for young readers. Hollywood took notice and began using comic book characters and storylines as the basis for new superhero movies.

It was during the Bronze Age of Comics that comic books themselves shifted from mass-market products sold as newsstands and grocery stores to specialty products sold in comic book shops. This shift allowed small-print publishers to enter the fray. No longer did Marvel and DC dominate the industry. This spawned a plethora of exciting, new characters and a wide-ranging variety of fresh comic books.

The downside to the Bronze Age of Comics produces a downsizing in the industry

As more and more publishers sprouted in the marketplace, the weak began to falter. One of the hardest hit was long-time publisher Gold Key, known for their digests and 3-per-bag bagged comics. Gold Key published a variety of comic books licensed from Disney and Warner Bros. Legendary writer/artist Frank Miller wrote for Gold Key. Among their titles were Tarzan, Star Trek, The Twilight Zone, and Lost in Space.

The bigger players, Marvel and DC, pressured Gold Key to sell them popular titles which contributed to their Gold Key’s decline. Mattel purchased them in 1979. Five years later, the comic-book division was shut down for good.

Major comic book publishers nearly shutter their doors

The Bronze Age of Comics - The DC Explosion

Gold Key wasn’t the only comic book company that suffered during the Bronze Age of Comics. DC Comics nearly went bankrupt.

By the mid-1970’s, DC recognized a significant number of new titles emerging from Marvel. In response, they began trimming their superhero offerings and shifted tactics to offer an increasing number of new titles. The move came to be known as the “DC Explosion”.

Then in 1978, they increased their page count and raised their prices to 50 cents. But readers showed little interest in their new offerings. Sales dropped severely and the company nearly went bankrupt. More than 24 ongoing and planned series were cancelled. As a result, Marvel took the reigns as the dominate comic book publisher in the industry. This period in DC’s history came to be known as the “DC Implosion”. Their comeback would ride atop a new comic book event – one that would signal the end of the Bronze Age of Comics.

The end of the Bronze Age of Comics

Floundering and nearly bankrupt, DC launched a special event title Crisis on Infinite Earths. It was a smash hit with readers. Highly acclaimed and award-winning works such as Watchmen by Alan Moore and The Dark Knight Returns by Frank Miller followed and inspired the next wave of comics books – grim and gritty, dark works of art. The Bronze age began to fade into a new age – The Dark Age of Comic Books.

The Modern Age of Comics

It is generally believed we live in the Modern Age of Comics. The name of course, will change over time, likely to be known as the Dark Age of Comic Books. Or possibly we’re still in a continuation of the Bronze Age…

Antiheroes such as the Punisher, Cable, Venom, Spawn and Wolverine grew popular with readers. Independent publishers rode atop the digital wave and today, publishers like Image Comics, ride alongside the big boys while comic book creators gained independence, sparking innovation unmatched in comic book history. Earnings roared into the late 1990’s, then began to decline again. DC was purchased by Warner Bros., Marvel was bought by Disney.

Works today feature dark, serious themes. Kids have lost their innocence and the comic book themes ride hand-in-hand with them. Dystopian themes abound, adult-oriented content emerged, and comic book characters have been redefined. Writing has been honed to classic levels and artwork matches masterpieces.

It’s a good time to be a comic book fan.

Image Credits:
• The DC Explosion via DC Comics with usage type - Public Domain

Featured Image Credit:
• The DC Explosion via DC Comics with usage type - Public Domain