Wednesday, May 18, 2011

Marvel and DC: Side-by-Side in 1985


Doug: I don't know about you, but I'm tired! A little behind-the-scenes peek into the lives of the Bronze Age Babies -- although you, our loyal readers, get these posts on a weekly basis, there were times when we were able to rattle off two or three of these years in a sitting. Today's last post in the series was actually written over a month ago, piggy-backed right on 1983 and 1984. So while today I'm no doubt recovered, at the time I was one worn-out fellow! But anyway -- what else was happening in 1985, you ask? Mikhail Gorbachev became leader of the Soviet Union and the era of glasnost began, which would eventually lead to the downfall of communism in eastern Europe. New Coke, a Pepsi-like recipe, proved to be one of the greatest marketing disasters in the history of America, but Wrestlemania created a marketing juggernaut of the WWF. The Live-Aid concerts in Philadelphia and London occured in July, VHS tapes brought movies into the home, and Calvin and Hobbes debuted in 35 American newspapers (I loved that strip!!). At the theater, Back to the Future was the biggest film of the year, with The Breakfast Club and The Goonies also noteworthy.

Doug: Over at the House of Ideas, nothing happened. Moving on... Each of the first three months of 1985 featured a noteworthy event at DC. In January, a four-issue mini-series kicked off called America vs. the Justice Society of America and featured a story wherein the alleged diary of the deceased Batman had implicated the JSA as allies of Adolf Hitler. February saw the wedding of Donna Troy in Tales of the Teen Titans #50 (allow me to be superficial -- could a babe like Donna Troy have been more mismatched with Terry Whatshishead?), and in March we (finally) got Who's Who #1, DC's answer to Marvel's Official Handbook series.

Karen: I really wasn't following a lot of what was going on at DC at this point. I do recall getting the Handbook though, and feeling it didn't measure up to Marvel's version. That JSA series sounds very interesting. Anyone got any comments on that?

Doug: The month of April featured another of those big-80's events at Marvel: the release of the Star Comics imprint. Planet Terry #1 was the first title, followed a month later by Peter Porker, the Spectacular Spider-Ham #1 and Ewoks #1, based on the fuzzy little guys from Return of the Jedi. The Scourge of the Underworld first appeared in Iron Man #194, which is enlightening to me because I always thought that storyline ran through Captain America. Firestar (after years appearing on the animated Spider-Man and His Amazing Friends) moved into comics in Uncanny X-Men #193.

Karen: Wow, that's another big blank space for me.

Doug: At DC, April was one of the most significant months in company history (at least until the past five years or so undid it), as Crisis on Infinite Earths was released. I didn't mention it at the time, but on the cover page to 1983, the Marvel Chronicle stated that in that year EiC Jim Shooter had wanted to reboot the entire Marvel Universe and begin anew with number 1's, new takes on old characters -- in effect, do what DC had done back in 1956 when the Silver Age began. Shooter was talked out of it, and when word leaked about the prospective plan, fans were outraged. But DC had guts -- huge amounts of guts. Because they basically did what Shooter had planned. Crisis was sweeping -- by now I was back into comics and bought this off the spinner rack at the Rexall drug store in Eureka, IL while a sophomore in college. I just felt at the time, and still do (again, even though it's all been clumsily undone), that this was a big deal. DC, who had always been perceived as stodgy and unchanging, seemed out in front now -- almost revolutionary. They were taking a treasured aspect of their universe and just chucking it out the window. Now I'm no dummy -- obviously I am looking at it from a literary rather than a marketing point-of-view. I certainly know what's to come, with all of the re-imagining showing up in #1's on the shelves, more mini-series, and more company-wide crossovers. But if this was indeed the end of the Bronze Age, what a way to go out!

Karen: I found Crisis to be a beautiful mess. Sure, it looked great, but DC took what I considered to be one of its strengths -- its long history -- and essentially threw it away. They've been trying to fix that mistake ever since. Was it really that hard to understand the idea of multiple Earths? I was only a part-time DC reader and I got that the JLA was on one Earth and JSA was on another. Actually, that was an aspect they had that really appealed to me. When they let Byrne and others come in and tinker with everything, it just felt confusing and unnecessary.

Doug: Perhaps it was not unlike what Marvel would attempt to do a bit later with their Heroes Reborn fiasco, in regard to giving top flight creators the run of the place. DC allowed Frank Miller, John Byrne, and George Perez to cook in their kitchen; a few years later the dudes who had kicked Marvel in the teeth were allowed to come back and take over the FF, Avengers, etc.

Doug: Let's go ahead and end this with a discussion of the end of the Bronze Age. First, I'll give you a couple of notes on what happened to finish off 1985. At Marvel, Longshot first appeared in Longshot #1 by Ann Nocenti, Arthur Adams, and Whilce Portacio. Mojo showed up in Longshot #3 in November, and in December the Marvel Saga debuted (now that was a project -- trying to chronologically tell the history of Marvel? It got confusing pretty quickly) and Marvel's artists created Heroes for Hope Starring the X-Men for Ethiopian famine relief. At DC, the new Dr. Light debuted in Crisis #4, Black Canary changed her outfit in Detective Comics #554, Supergirl and the Flash met their demise in Crisis #7 and #8 respectively, and DC Comics Presents #87 introduced Superboy Prime.

Doug: With those last details out of the way, let's talk. Do you think the Bronze Age ended in 1985, or sooner? A long time ago, in one of our first Open Forums, we had a great discussion about the temporal parameters of this era. Some of you suggested that the Bronze Age began with Marvel's expansion of titles in 1968; others argued that the Age was over before the advent of the direct market, mini-series, and toy licensing. Around here, we've just sort of gone with 1970 (Kirby's departure from Marvel to DC) to 1985 (Crisis on Infinite Earths effectively ending DC continuity, which led directly into a new era of "grim and gritty" stories). But since we've taken this objective look over the past four months, what sort of revisionist thinking needs to take place? I would now fall into the camp that says that what transpired between 1979 and 1985 is probably something altogether different. The things that I always felt were part of the end of the Bronze Age seem to have instead been the beginning of a new era. And I'd posit that the expansion of possibilities with new marketing techniques took what was once a somewhat confined universe (at either company) and created avenues for extreme growth.

Karen: For me, the Bronze age is that tail-end of the 60s, perhaps just 1969, through about 1977 or so. It's a relatively short time period, and was probably at its height (at least at Marvel) between about 1971-1975. As I've mentioned before, I think the presence of Roy Thomas as editor in chief allowed for a great blossoming of creativity at Marvel. The second and third wave creators who appeared knew the Marvel mythos, loved it, and saw it as their job to build upon it. They were encouraged to try all sort of things, and boy, did they, sometimes to great success and sometimes not.

Doug: What typified the Bronze Age for me? In a nutshell, as Karen said, experimentation. New formats, i.e. the B&W magazines, Treasury-sized editions, the expansion of longer story possibilities with the advent of the Marvel Giant-Size books, and then the return of Annuals. DC's Dollar Comics and their own version of treasuries, the Limited Collectors' Editions. Megos and other toy licensing -- Marvel and DC going out, rather than Mattel, Kenner, and Hasbro products coming in. The intense battle between the Big Two for market space on the spinner racks. And maybe Kirby leaving, coming back, and leaving again -- the whole of the Bronze Age seems to dovetail pretty nicely with the last phases of Jack's comic book career at the Big Two. As to the "rise of Jim Shooter", which I'd mentioned in posts past? Well, I can't fault the guy for some of the changes he made at Marvel -- books coming out on time, creator royalties, and making mo' money for the company. Wait... the company. Ah -- perhaps it was the ramping up of the corporate presence here. When Marvel was a small company, with guys playing it by ear, barely getting by on deadlines (or sometimes not) -- maybe that's when creativity ruled. After Shooter took over, I think it's when the iron fist ruled. So was it the mood at Marvel that changed, and ended the Bronze Age?

Doug: Join us next Wednesday when we begin an 8-week inspection of Marvel and DC: Side-by-Side in the Marvel Age of Comics!


dbutler16 said...

Oh, how I loved Calvin & Hobbes!
Anyway, I did not know that Shooter wanted to reboot the Marvel universe. I am really glad he was talked out of that!
Regarding Crisis on Infinite Earths, while I loved it at the time (I still think it was well done, especially with George Perez at the peak of his powers) I now have to regard it, like Karen, as a beautiful mess. It was a disaster that was a Harbinger (pun intended) of more DC disasters to come. By the way, I loved Earth-3, the earth with an evil JLA. I was really sorry to see that earth go. I think there was also an earth where the Nazis won WWII. DC lost the ability to do all those fun stories after COIE. Plus, it made things more confusing and convoluted, rather than less so. Then there was Superboy Prime. Worst. Villain. Ever.
Ah, 1985, when every Marvel character had their own miniseries. Gotta love it. Bronze Age, I’ll miss thee.
As far as the end of the Bronze Age, I’m in favor of extending it as much as possible, so I’ll go with 1985 or better yet 1986 (Dark Knight and Watchmen, the “gritty” titles really take over, several Bronze Age Marvel titles cancelled).

david_b said...

Doug, Karen:

Great wrap-up comments, all around.. Thank you both for a VERY thought-provoking, insightful review of our beloved Bronze years. All your hard work paid off in droves for everyone participating here.

Karen, I'd agree with you on the 'main thrust' of Bronze ending around '75. After that, I'd still consider it Bronze, but more of a meandering time of varying styles and ideas until the mid-80s. I personally consider the departure of Steranko's permeating influence and creativity at Marvel as a prime example in this.

The promise and excitement of 'Marvel Marches On' became more, 'well, here are the characters you love, more recycled story-lines, clone stories, new formats, how about some nifty licensing of pinball machines, boardgames, you name it..'. Plots thinned and characters once again became.., two-dimensional. The glow of new ideas dissipated.., until a 'new Age' was actually heralded and pushed forth. Remember Marvel's 'New Universe'..? Perhaps not the smartest move, but could be argued as being more gutsy than intelligent..

Doug, I enjoyed your synopsis that the creativity flourished early on when Marvel was 'less corporate' in nature and the juices flowed, without care for missed deadlines and calculating marketing ploys. A very key insight, and one which would be integral with most of the decisions, and even opinions we've shared over the last month on this thread.

J.A. Morris said...

Not a very good year. I'll admit up front that I didn't read 'Crisis' in it's entirety until the tpb was published, but I read a couple issues and got the gist.
I always had mixed feelings about the multiple earths business. But like Karen, I loved the Crime Syndicate. I've always been a fan of "same-powered" villains(Super Skrull, Mimic,Professor Zoom, Super-adaptoid). Someday I'll break down & by these action figures:

X-men was a mess at this time. Their 200th issue was disappointing. Villains that issue were the immortal...Fenris Twins. Sucked.
Amazing Spider-man had a blah year.
Byrne's stories and art were on the decline in FF, but we got a memorable story featuring Doom(sort of) and the launching into space and destruction of the Baxter Building, an homage to FF#6.

Some positives from '85:
Spectacular Spider-man featured the multi-part 'Death Of Jean DeWolff' story. A good story by Peter David & Rich Buckler.

Captain America had an interesting arc that introduced the Serpent Society, a team of villains that offered benefits, insurance, pensions,lawyers, just like a "real" job. Mark Gruenwald was at the helm, where he stayed for a while.

Doug wrote:
"The Scourge of the Underworld first appeared in Iron Man #194, which is enlightening to me because I always thought that storyline ran through Captain America."

Scourge made cameos in multiple titles, where he killed various c/d/f-grade villains. At the time, I was disappointed to see Basilisk get whacked(always thought lizard men were cool).
The Scourge storyline was one of the high points of '85(and continued into 1986)which shows how weak a year it was.

Edo Bosnar said...

1985 was pretty much the year in which my initial love affair with comics ended - for many reasons, but the ones related to comics themselves can be boiled down to the fact that I was really losing interest in what were my favorite titles at the time (X-men, FF...)
That means I didn't read Crisis, but heard of it and actually thought at the time it was a good idea (although I wasn't opposed to the whole multiple Earths idea as such). For a time in the later 80s, I sporadically followed a few DC titles (mainly mini-series and such) and actually thought the revamp seemed to make DC more interesting (esp. Superman, whom I found rather bland throughout my early comics-reading days).
As for when the Bronze Age ended, I'm sticking to my view posited in an earlier post: 1980/81 - more "single-creator" series and the appearance of Pacific Comics, marking the first major appearance of independent, creator-controlled, direct-market titles (to which the big 2 responded).
As for when the Bronze Age started, that's a tougher question. To me it seems it started first at Marvel when Roy Thomas began taking over the writing chores for a number of major titles, Avengers first and foremost, but also X-men. At DC, I think it basically started when Kirby came over.

Karen said...

Speaking of Crisis and rebooting -there's a rumor that DC is going to reboot all their titles in September:

Not that I care much any more; I'm only buying a handful of books now, and only one DC title. But this is exactly the kind of thing that makes the current crop of DC and Marvel books so unappealing. DC especially seems to be floundering around, trying event after event. My husband was showing me last night that there must be 20 different Flashpoint titles coming out this month! Do they really expect most readers to buy all of them -or even care about another event?


Inkstained Wretch said...

Karen asked about America vs. The Justice Society. I bought that back in the day, mostly because it was written by Roy Thomas, whose All-Star Squadron was one of my favorite titles at the time.

I loved the idea of the JSA in contemporary adventure but the series itself was kind of a bust.

If I recall correctly, the premise was that a recently discovered diary by the Golden Age Batman alleged the JSA were secretly bad guys.

Supposedly Superman was the only one not in on it (or even aware of it) and fear of crossing him was what kept the JSAers from trying to take over the world.

Nevertheless the diary rewrote the history of the JSA to allege that their whole career as good guys was a sham. The authorities decide to put them on trial and the JSA agrees in order to clear their names.

This premise was kind of far-fetched enough – how many times had these guys saved the world by 1985 and yet nobody believe they were innocent? – but it was the slow, plodding story that really hurt.

The entire series was just a recap of the history of the JSA from the 40s through 80s told via flashback during the trial. That’s it. No big crisis and no big fight scenes. There wasn’t much of a mystery here either since it was obvious that the JSA were framed, it was just a question of when it was revealed.

I think the intention was to summarize the JSA history for those not familiar with it. It would have worked better as a single special or annual than as a mini-series that had to be stretched over four issues.

The art was by Eduardo Barreto and it didn’t really suit the characters. Jerry Ordway or Rich Buckler should have drawn it.

J.A. Morris said...

One more positive note about this year:
Gruenwald's Squadron Supreme mini is excellent, similar to (and predating) Watchmen.

When did the Bronze Age end? Hard to say, but '85 is a good a year as any. Secret Wars II, Crisis, Jean Grey comes back, Defenders got canceled, multi-part crossovers every year, the Grim 'N Gritty books that came the next year.
One could say that it ended in 1980, with the "Death" of Phoenix/Days Of Future Past". Marvel has been retelling those stories ad nauseam ever since.

Spoiler alert! Dark Phoenix is coming back.


Anonymous said...

I hated the idea of Crisis at the time. All it ended up accomplishing was 50 or 60 re-boots of Hawkman. Talk about an identity crisis.

I still remember reading the parallel worlds explanation for the JLA and JSA when I was 8 years old. I didn't have any trouble comprehending it then, so I never could figure out what all the confusion was about. Although, explaining things like this over drinks with my wife is often problematic.

Earth 3 and Earth X offered a wealth of story possibilities that were only barely tapped into. When the Freedom Fighters got their own title, the first thing they did was migrate to Earth 1! Talk about a wasted opportunity.

As far as the end of the Bronze Age? Simple, 1980. The year I stopped collecting comic books. What else could it possibly be?

James Chatterton

Inkstained Wretch said...

I agree with James on the Crisis. The top people at DC kept saying that multiple earths was too confusing for readers so they had to be scrapped -- Well, thank goodness nothing in the DC universe was ever confused after the Crisis ...

J.A. is dead-on regarding the greatness of the Squandron Supreme series. I would even venture to say that it was better than Watchmen (heresy!). Gruenwald did not have the obvious antipathy towards superhero comics that Moore had/has and crafted a story that was everybit as thought-provoking even if I didn't agree with the ultimate message.

Redartz said...

1985 was the last year I actively collected (for quite a few years; young parenthood can produce such results). I really enjoyed Crisis; being a Marvel reader, it seemed DC had become the more innovative company. As several of you noted, many Marvel titles were pretty unremarkable.
It did feel like the end of an era, and the directions arising (grittiness, mature themes, slicker production techniques, etc.) would lead us into the 90's. Perhaps Anonymous has a point; the Bronze Age ended for each individual reader when comics just didn't feel the same.
And yes, Calvin and Hobbes Rocked!

Fred W. Hill said...

1985 was a transitional year as far as my comics-reading habit went -- I ceased being a Marvel Zombie, dropping several titles I'd collected for nearly 15 years while giving several DC titles a try. I did collect the Crisis series, as well as Batman Year One and a few of Byrne's early Superman's and Mike Baron's take on the new Flash. Some very entertaining material.
I assume, btw, that the rash of new characters at Marvel taking on the powers of their older stars was part of Shooter's plan to reboot the Marvel universe, which ultimately didn't happen. There were new versions of Cap, Iron Man, Thor, even of Ant-Man and Rick Jones as a new Hulk, as well as Peter Parker getting booted out of his comics by the clone he thought had died way back when, and I'm sure there were other substitute heroes I'm not aware of. I was still reading when Jim Rhodey took on Tony's armor and when the government took Cap's shield and uniform and handed them to someone else, but the others I only read about in websites rather than in the comics themselves.

Karen said...

Regarding Jim Shooter's plans to remake the Marvel Universe: there's an interview with Doug Moench in Comic Book Artist Collection Volume 3 where Moench claims that Shooter was planning to end the Stan Lee universe and start the Jim Shooter universe. Moench said that all the civilian IDs for the heroes would be killed off, although the super-hero characters would be retained. He cites as an example, Steve Rogers would die and the new Capt. America would be an investment banker! Now again, this is what Moench said; I am not sure anyone else has corroborated this. But Moench claims this was the final straw that led him to go over to DC.


Yankee Cowboy said...

Bronze age IMO is roughly 1970-1985. 15-17 years seems about right for an "age." 5-10 years seems very wrong. 1975-1980 was the peak of the bronze age. Dollar Comics and Marvel Team Up ruled!

I quit buying and reading comics in 1983, and when I caught a glance of my favorite hero Spider-Man wearing dark duds a year or two later, I knew I had quit comics just in time.

Edo Bosnar said...

Re: end of the Bronze Age; there is one thing that would make me concede 1985 as a definitive closing date: the folding of Charlton Comics. One of the few Golden/Silver Age hold-outs besides the big 2, Charlton actually produced a number of memorable comics in the Bronze Age in pretty much every genre, showcasing work by talents old and new (e.g. Ditko, Byrne, Staton, Cuti...) The company's closure was truly the end of an era.

Anonymous said...

I agree with you about the quality of Charlton's best in the Bronze age, Edo. Captain Atom, Blue Beetle, E-Man, and The Phantom were all top-notch. Some of them had great back-up strips, too.

However, since I personally never bought any after 1980, I'm sticking with my "Bronze ends at 1980" hypothesis.

James Chatterton

starfoxxx said...

Those Who's Who coveres were so awesome. The slight interactions, details.....

and I loved the Scourge about how UN-promoted the cross-overs were?

Terence Stewart said...

Bit late to the discussion...

I remember reading the Jim Shooter/Doug Moench stuff in various fanzines at the time - Moench was pretty steamed up by the whole affair, but he never mentioned anything about Shooter re-starting from scratch with new No.1s. He'd been told to shake things up in the comics he was writing, and if, for instance, he wanted to kill off Shang-Chi and introduce another MoKF, then it could be discussed. It was a big deal in fandom at the time, but nothing ever materialised. Whether that was because of the outcry, or it was never really a possibility, is something maybe Shooter can 'illuminate' on his blog.
For me, Marvel's Bronze Age is pretty much based on aesthetics, but for DC, I've always felt their Bronze Age started with the drift into relevancy and new approaches towards the end of the 60s/early 70s - Superman's Kryptonite No More, Diana Prince, Wonder Woman, Adams and O'Neil's Batman, the Teen Titans grow up and meet Lilith and Mal, GA/GL Hard Travelling Heroes. It didn't last long, but I'd certainly say it ended with the arrival of The New Teen Titans in 1980. That title, along with Levitz and Giffen on Legion, launched a new era for DC that exploded with CoIEs, and reformed into something entirely different.

Fred W. Hill said...

If Moench's story is true, that would seem to indicate how little Jim Shooter really understood the fan base. After all, IMO, a large part of what made comics readers big fans of Marvel in the Silver & Bronze ages was those very civilian identities that he was planning to do away with. It was never simply the powers and costumes and the fights, it was more the personalities of those characters, with all their foibles, their personal losses and triumphs, that made them so different from the competition in the Silver Age. DC could start anew with new I.D.'s for their secondary Golden Age characters because (a) they hadn't been around in several years and (b)those old I.D.'s didn't have much personality anyhow. Of course, it was different with Superman and Batman -- Clark Kent and Bruce Wayne are so integral to the public perception of those heroes that permanently replacing them would seem sacrilegious! Peter Parker, Tony Stark, Steve Rogers, and the rest may not be quite as well known as Bruce & Clark, but I've a hunch there was a reason why they were only temporarily replaced.

Dougie said...

Personally, I'd say the end of the Bronze Age is around 1980-82.With so many of Marvel's key figures from the Sixties and Seventies decamping to DC- perhaps as a result of Shooter's policies- DC and Marvel became difficult to distinguish from each other. Later, the Crisis consolidates the DCU and makes it a head-scratchingly convoluted distortion of Marvel's shared universe.

Yankee Cowboy said...

I don't really get the proposed 1980-82 cutoff to the bronze age.

There's nothing that happened in those years IMO, that can compare in any way to what happened in comics between 1984-86.
I mentioned Marvel Team-Up before. It stopped being published in 1985, which I think ties in quite well with that year being the end of an era.

Dougie said...

Cowboy, I picked the early 80s- a controversial choice - as my personal Bronze Age cut-off because 81/82 represents my introduction to the Comics Journal. Articles about the Kirby artwork debacle at Marvel and anti-Claremont reviews soured my appreciation of the comics industry. The Marvel Graphic Novel- quite a pretentious label for pretty slender fare- also seems to herald a more cynical and superficial era.

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