The Bronze Age of comic books is a period of time between the early 1970s and 1986.
The 70s were a time of transition for the comic book publishing industry. Marvel Comics, with its more realistic take on super-heroics, was quickly surpassing DC Comics’ Silver Age sensibilities to become the more profitable comic book publisher.
The Comics Code Authority had loosened some of its restrictions after the US government asked Stan Lee to write a Spider-Man story about drug abuse. As a result, Marvel reintroduced horror comics to the scene with titles like Tomb of Dracula and Werewolf by Night.
Underground comix were becoming more popular with older readers as a more mature alternative to the super-hero titles from DC and Marvel. While the subversive elements of many underground comix eventually died away for the most part, the independent spirit of them took hold, and independently published, non-CCA-approved comics like Dave Sim’s Cerberus and Wendy and Richard Pini’s Elfquest became high points on the independent scene that still highly regarded.
In response, both of the larger publishers (especially Marvel) start experimenting with different kinds of heroes inspired from other media, like the “blaxploitation film” that was the genesis of Luke Cage in Hero for Hire, and the kung-fu movies that inspired the character who would become Cage’s partner, Iron Fist.
It’s also in the Bronze Age that we begin to see the newsstand distribution model that comic books had used since the very beginning start to crumble. One on hand, traditional magazine outlets (newsstands, drug stores convenience stores, etc.) weren’t ordering as many copies of each title. On the other hand, comic book specialty stores could cater specifically to comic book readers and stock older issues. By the late 80s, comic books all but disappeared from traditional outlets.
And the 70s saw the premiere of the last true stand-out, cross-over super-hero character. You may have heard of him. His name is Wolverine, and he’s the best at what he does.
The Bronze Age comes to a distinct halt in 1986, where two things happened, both involving writer Alan Moore:
- Even with the more adult tone super-hero comic books were taking, Moore’s Watchmen miniseries took a dramatically darker tone, exploring themes and subjects that had never been explored in super-hero comics before.
- “Whatever Happened to the Man of Tomorrow” also written by Moore, was a capstone to the character of Superman as portrayed up to that point. John Byrne’s Man of Steel miniseries later that year “re-booted” the character of Superman to make him more relevant for the 80s.