In history, the Bronze Age refers to a period in time when bronze was the primary metal used to craft the tools used by society.
The Bronze Age of comics is something completely different. In contrast to the Golden Age and the Silver Age that preceded it, some believe its name is reflexive of a poorer quality of comics. Devoted fans of the era would disagree.
Regardless of your opinions to the quality of comics during the Bronze Age, one thing that most agree on is that this period brought about a much darker era for the superheroes and the worlds they inhabited.
The Era of the Bronze Age
According to Cool and Collected’s definition of the Bronze Age, it spanned the years from 1970 to 1984 using The Overstreet Comic Book Price Guide as its reference. eBay differs on the end date marking it coming to a close in 1983 while MyComicShop.com takes this age into 1985.
The beginning of the age is attributed to Jack Kirby leaving Marvel and moving over to DC. This places the first two comics coming out of this age as Superman’s Pal Jimmy Olsen #133 published in October and Green Lantern #76 published in April as the books to kick off this era.
DC brought the Bronze Age to an end with Crisis on Infinite Earths published in April of 1985. This series allowed DC to reboot most of their storylines the coming year. Over at Marvel, Marvel Super Heroes Secret Wars final issue published at the same time is, according to Cool and Collected, the book that brought an end to this age for their Bronze Age stories.
Dealing with Social Issues
Both DC and Marvel used their comics to expound on the social issues of the time. With America winding down its involvement in the Vietnam War and the Civil Rights Movement’s head of steam, comic book story lines of the era dealt with the loss of faith in traditional American values and other issues such as:
- Government corruption
The topic of drugs also made its way into comics after a re-write of the Comic Book Code in 1971.
Another milestone from the Bronze Age is the fact that in 1972 Luke Cage from Marvel became the first African-American superhero to star in his own comic book. Before then minority superheroes only appeared in other superhero’s titles.
A Dark Time for Super Heroes
Dealing with the societal issues mentioned above brought about some dark times for many of the superheroes and their worlds. Speedy, the ward of the Green Arrow, became addicted to heroin and Tony Stark’s alcohol abuse became problematic for Iron Man. In Spider-Man, Peter Parker’s girlfriend Gwen Stacy is kidnapped by the Green Goblin and is killed during the ensuing battle between the villain and her love, Spider-Man. This also marks the time when Captain America renounced his name after a growing disgust with government corruption. The name change, in 1974, saw Steve Rogers going by the alias of Nomad for four issues and wearing a costume of dark blue and yellow.
The topics and tone of comics during this time show a stark contrast to the lighthearted plots of the previous Silver Age. As more mature themes began to make their way into the storylines, some comics removed the stamp of the Comics Code altogether. Not all of those that defied the code were edgy comics. In fact, Amazing Spider-Man #96 and #97 saw Stan Lee foregoing the ban on drug references when he decided to weave an anti-drug message into the plot after a request from the US Government to do so.
Most Valuable Comics of the Bronze Age
Comics published in the Bronze Age carry a large price range when it comes to the record sales and minimum values. For example, Incredible Hulk #181 published in November 1974 boasts a record sale of $150,000 and a minimum value of $200. This book also features the first full appearance of Wolverine.
Rounding out the top ten most valuable comic books for this era are:
- Marvel Spotlight #5 with a record sale of $48,000 and a minimum value of $20.
- Green Lantern #76 with a record sale of $31,000 and a minimum value of $40.
- Star Wars #1 with a record sale of $26,000 and a minimum value of $450.
- Hero for Hire #1 with a record sale of $24,000 and a minimum value of $30.
- X-Men #94 with a record sale of $15,000 and a minimum value of $80.
- Werewolf by Night #32 with a record sale of $14,500 and a minimum value of $40.
- House of Secrets #92 with a record sale of $14,000 and a minimum value of $80.
- The Amazing Spider-Man #129 with a record sale of $10,600 and a minimum value of $80.
- Cerebus #1 with a record sale of $9,000 and a minimum value of $50.
Summing up the Bronze Age of Comics
All and all, the Bronze Age of comics may be one of the most overlooked of the eras. Without the steps taken during this period, comics may have kept the almost goofy nature that the storylines of the Silver Age focused on. The fact that the writers and artists of this time put so much effort into weaving social issues into their work laid the ground work for the books that came about in the Modern Age. It also provided writers with a chance to reboot the story lines and take the characters down different paths.
The time period marked an era of maturity as comics were not simply for kids anymore. Allowing them to take on adult themes meant that they could grow with their audience and become a voice for people who felt disenfranchised with the cultural norms of the earlier generations.