Thursday, April 11, 2013

Face-Off: The Mainstays or Bronze Age-contained Series?

Doug:  When you think of the Bronze Age, do you reflect on runs of those books that began in the Silver Age, or does your brooding, reading, and reminiscing stray toward those series that began and ended in the Bronze Age of comics?  Would your mind tend to stick on the drug issues or deaths of the Green Goblin and Gwen Stacy in Amazing Spider-Man, the George Perez run in Justice League of America, or the oft-discussed Claremont/Byrne/Austin masterpiece within the covers of X-Men?  Or, do your thoughts wander to Marvel Team-Up, the Secret Society of Super-Villains, or Omega the Unknown?  Go ahead and choose -- something like Detective Comics, or a book such as Marvel Spotlight?


Rip Jagger said...

This is a really interesting question. I'll have to say that my mind goes first to the Bronze Age specific material.

There was a shift I think from the Golden Age to the Silver in the sheer quality of what was being produced. There was a wave of professionalism which experience brought to the field. The comics were well done by often anonymous but seasoned veterans. The lack of info made fans react to the "Good Duck Artist", and the "Good Supeman Artist", talents with styles but rarely names.

Series were successful and the sign of that success was a good long run of issues. The lengthy runs also were encouraged by the Post Office rules about second-class status. That changed in the Bronze Age with the decline in sales, the escalation of prices due to paper shortages and whatnot, and the budding growth of the direct sales market toward the end of the era.

All of those factors led to lots of short-run titles which defined the Bronze Age.

Another factor was with the retirement of the first wave of comics talent there came a second wave of fanboy talent which had a more respectful link to the comic book reader and the advent of conventions and such really caused talent to be valued above characters and books. People began to buy George Perez books and John Byrne books as opposed to Spider-Man books and Superman books. We ended up then with arcs by specific talents such as Steve Englehart's run on Captain America, Archie Goodwin's run on Detective Comics, Jim Starlin's run on Captain Marvel, and so forth.

All of these factors shifted the focus away from the long-term books, which seemed always to chug away sometimes for no really good reason. When Adventure Comics finally was cancelled it was at once a surprise and no great shock. It was strange to see such a venerable title give way. Then with the direct sales market number ones became important the the long-running books were in serious trouble.

That rambled more than I wanted it too, but I think I made sense.

Rip Off

Doug said...

Quite cogent, Rip -- well said!

Edo -- I know you'll be along soon enough. In regard to the Tarzan Family cover pictured, make sure to tune in over the weekend. The anthology titles post that you suggested is coming in just a few days!


david_b said...

I don't recall ever looking at it like that, silver-born vs. bronze-born. I suppose I felt the bronze-age newbie books were cooler because you got in on 'first issues', but I mainly went for my fav characters or teams.

During my collecting years, I kept up with Spidey and Cap among others; both characters saw new titles with either new stories or reprints (Spectacular, MTU, Marvel Double Action..), and I recall feeling either 'AWESOME, another Spidey title' or 'Sheesh, NOW how am I supposed to afford these additional books with my measly 50 cent allowance'. That forced me off other regular titles like DD or FF (which under Buckler, I had felt my initial excitement wane already from their Buscema days..).

It just boiled down to disposable income economics.

Anonymous said...

I think there’s a key point here that almost any era is more sharply defined by its eccentricities and extremes than the things of good and lasting quality that were produced. This goes for everything (cinema, fashion, music) and it especially goes for the 70’s ...the decade that taste forgot!

I mean, in some ways the 70’s are typified by great stuff, but are they OF the 70’s? Dark Side of the Moon is a great album in any decade, whereas the Bay City Rollers sound wonderful through 70’s-tinted-nostalgia earphones but are inexcusable in any other context. Therefore, the Bay City Rollers are more definitively 70’s than Pink Floyd.

Rip’s excellently argued point in some ways contradicts this and in some ways supports it. The Englehart / Buscema Avengers are a very different animal to the Lee/Heck Avengers, but do those wonderful stories typify the 70’s? Not really. The 60’s Xmen don’t typify the 60’s any more than the 70s Xmen typify the 70’s, but by the time we get to the 80’s, with far greater sensitivity around racism and prejudice, suddenly the Xmen come into their time and are a metaphor-in-waiting.

Having said that, there is another layer, which is this: connection to other trends and fads of the era. Shang Chi &Iron Fist, I would argue, were of such quality that they transcend their era and are still very readable today, but they are unquestionably a product of the 70’s Kung Fu craze, so to that extent they both typify and transcend the era.

Conversely, there is the 70’s milieu that is unique to comics e.g. the Dracula, Mummy, Vampire, horror type comics that proliferated in 70’s comics are VERY 70’s in terms of comics because they’re the result of the code disappearing and would have been impossible in the 60’s , but do they connect up to big 70’s social trends in other ways? Is Tomb of Dracula a unique product of its time? Not really.

Lordy Mama. Ask a big question, whydoncha, Doug?


Bruce said...

Wow - tough question. Rip makes a great point about the Bronze Age being the point where fans started to follow creators more than characters.

Anyway, my personal favorites tend to be from the "Mainstay" category. Amazing Spider-Man of the Conway/Andru era, Claremont/Byrne X-Men, Simonson's Thor, etc. But that doesn't mean I also don't greatly enjoy may titles that began and ended in the Bronze Age. The Invaders, for example - and I still don't think Nova gets enough love!

Anonymous said...

My immediate thought on reading today's post was that this is a very interesting topic but I'm not sure how to address it. Then, I read all of my fellow bloggers posts and thought...Wow! You guys all have some great thoughts. Where to go now?

To try to answer your question Doug, I guess I am more of a Mainstay guy. Being almost strictly a Marvel reader, it was the history of series like Spidey, FF, Avengers, etc. that hooked me. I enjoyed the reprints and the current titles and I think, for me, they sort of fed off of one another, if that makes sense.

That having been said, during the 70s I moved from being strictly a reader to a reader/collector. So, I remember being excited to stumble upon new titles. Some I liked or was at least intrigued by - Master of Kung Fu, Nova, The Eternals. Some I thought were reaches - the Human Fly? I had a similar thought as david_b when Peter Parker the Spectacular Spiderman (mouthful of a title) debuted - why another Spidey book AND how am I going to afford all this stuff?


Matt Celis said...

I'd rather hear Saturday Night than anything by the Floyd, personally...


When I think of the Bronze Age, it's not so much particular titles as much as fads: vampires, werewolves, barbarians, Frankensteins, hypno-hustlers and disco dazzlers, one-sided liberal screeds hailed as "relevant" by the choir to whom they were preached, kung fu and karate heroes, fighting crime with Hostess products, embittered inner-city black heroes, self-indulgent writers who used to be mere fans, Filipino artists exploding onto the scene, swamp creatures, "cosmic" heroes, knockoff female versions of heroes...stuff like that.

Matt Celis said...

Hey, I LOVE the Human Fly! The only issue I need to complete my collection is #6!

Anonymous said...

"fighting crime with Hostess products"

Ah.. Those were so wacky and oddly cool. One of the essential elements of a true Bronzse Age comic.


Anonymous said...

Sorry Matt. No offense intended on the Fly. But, I'm also with Richard on Floyd over the Rollers.


Matt Celis said...

None taken, I just find the comic fun when taken as its own thing. Worked best when separated from superheroes. Lasted 19 issues so something went right!

Re: Floyd, I just find them (mostly) deathly glacial and dull, but I know I'm in a small minority on that. I have Dark Side but never play it. I prefer The Wall if I have to have Floyd on.

mr. oyola said...

My favorite Floyd albums are Obscured by Clouds and Meddle. . Wait? What's the topic again? ;)

I with those who view the ages by its outliers and weird things. At the time of young collecting I gave no thought to the "ages" but looking back it is the ability for a publisher to try particular things as its own title that I think marks the Age. Sure there are also certain storylines and supporting characters that also determine this, but they are harder to pinpoint buried in an established long-running series, as opposed to Devil Dinosaur.

It is also my own personal project to collect weird little canceled series the 70s and 80s - from the afore-mentioned 9 issues of Moonboy and Co. to the 5 issues of Black Goliath to all 12 issues of. . . wait for it. . . US 1. :)

Matt Celis said...

I collect those as well...also Team America and NFL Superpro kind of stuff, just for fun.

david_b said...

For what's it worth, for my limited times of collecting back in the 70s, none of the new characters did anything for me, enough to collect the title. The only exceptions would be Mar-Vell, simply because with Starlin at the helm, it bared little resemblence to Lee/Colan's original Silver concept.

Forty years later, I still agree it was the smart choice for me, and saved a lot of money. I got into Howard a few months back for a simple (and cheap) Gerber indulgence, having picked up one or two issues back in the day. I picked up a couple of Defenders issues, which is a Bronze concept/title but used Silver mainstays, so how that's interpreted is anyone's guess.

Edo Bosnar said...

I've gone through all the comments, and you've all made some great observations, but I'm pretty much with david_b here: I've never really made the disctinction, certainly not then, but not even later. I suppose my reading habits back then slightly favored mainstay titles/characters (Spidey, Avengers, Hulk, X-men, JLA...), but I was really open to the newer stuff introduced in the '70s/'80s. To me, Spider-man and Dr. Strange were just as much faces of the Bronze Age as Luke Cage and Howard the Duck.

By the way, mr. oyola, your project to collect the short-lived, oddball titles of the era really hits home with me: back in 1980 or so, I discovered how easy and cheap it was to get back issues - both from a local comic shop that I discovered and from Lone Star Comics' mail order catalog. For about the next year or so, I spent what little money I had amassing complete runs of stuff like Black Goliath, Black Lightning, Starfire, the Inhumans, etc. Sometimes I wish I still had all that stuff, although I don't know where I'd keep it all...

Edo Bosnar said...

Oh, and Doug, I didn't suggest the post for anthology titles (I think you did, actually), but I have absolutely nothing against the idea! Should be fun.

Doug said...

Ah, duly noted, Edo. But if I recall, there was something that you'd said that made me think such a post would be quite comment-worthy.

Sunday, my friend!


david_b said...

I'm liking Matt's reference to the awesome earth-shaking power of.. Hostess, as the Bronze ads would attest to.

The jury here should consider the 'near-Undocumented Stories of Greatness' that graciously Hostess saw fit to bring light of day to, else they would have been woefully forgotten.

Incredibly classic was the Dynamic Duo saving the professor and his cute daughter from the clutches of that Mummy, who mercifully succumbed to the riches of Twinkies:

Still boggles my mind that Robins 'Mummy Ray Gun' didn't work.. Incredible.

I know I mentioned it in the Suggestion Box many moons ago, but
seeing the very weapons used have such an amazing chemical shelf-life, the column suggestion could again be shelved for.. well, eternity.

"What sayest all..?"

Anonymous said...

I'm like a lot of people here, I didn't make much of a distinction between "ongoing" and "contained"; I liked ongoing stuff (Amazing Spidey, DD, JLA, Batman), but I liked lots of "Bronze Age contained" comics too.

If I had to qualify the latter, I personally tend to prefer comics that started in the 70s and continued into the 80s (Power Man/Iron Fist, MTU, MTIO, Spider Woman, Shang Chi). The shorter series didn't really do anything for me.

Mike W.

Matt Celis said...

As for comics that began and ended during the Bronze Age, I quite like:

Human Fly
Black Lightning
Black Goliath
Luke Cage/Power Man
Marvel Team-Up
Marvel Two-In-One
Batman Family

I'm sure there are others that are slipping my mind.

William said...

Great comments everybody. I guess when I think about the soul of the Bronze Age, I first think about titles like Marvel Team-Up, Marvel 2-in1, Luke Cage, Iron Fist, Nova, Devil Dinosaur and Shang-Chi.

However, all of my favorite runs of the mainstays were during the Bronze Age as well, such as Byrne / Claremont X-Men, Byrne Fantastic Four, Stern / Romita Jr. Amazing Spider-Man, Frank Miller Daredevil, Perez / Wolfman New Teen Titans, etc. It was a great time for creativity in comics (especially at Marvel).

Let's face it, the Bronze Age was the greatest era in the history of comics, and we won't see it's like again I'm afraid.

I also love those old Hostess ads. There's almost nothing that takes me back to the carefree days of my youth like those do. If you want to relive a little blast from the past, here is a link to the ultimate resource of Hostess comic book ads.

"You get a big delight in every bite of Hostess Twinkies snake cakes!"

Matt Celis said...

I like how the ads refer to "creamed filling." I know of no one who says that. Everybody I know would say "cream filling."

Anonymous said...

Yeah count me in with those who didn't make a distinction between ongoing stuff and purely Bronze Age stuff - to me it was all great baby! Hmm I kinda sound like ol' Groove over at Diversions of the Groovy Kind! When you're a pre-adolescent kid chasing down comics, you really don't care what era it comes from - a good comicbook was a good comicbook!

- Mike 'wait what age are we in now again?' from Trinidad & Tobago.

J.A. Morris said...

As I grow older, I find I lean towards the Bronze Age contained stories.

The Defenders is probably my favorite series that began in the Bronze Age. The last issue was published in November 1985, the very end of the Bronze Age(I think the Bronze Age ended in 1980, but most comics experts will tell you it ran 1970-85).

And even though the Defenders stories of 1984 are much different than those from 1975, it always remained a series that was very different from other superhero comics of the era.

Matthew Bradley said...

J.A. makes an excellent point about the end of the Bronze Age (which, like its beginning, has never been formally defined, although I'm content to go with the majority and say it started when Kirby decamped for DC). On the one hand, I'm quite content to have 1985 considered as the end, for the purely personal reason that that's when I stopped buying new comics, although I still feel that SECRET WARS II represented some kind of apocalypse. On the other hand, as I look back over the years leading up to that, I've started to realize that once we pass my personal peak of 1975-76, things start to decline with an unnerving speed, and even though I continued buying almost everything robotically until 1985, the stuff that really excited me--with very few exceptions--was mostly done by 1980. So I'm equally content to think of Bronze as ending there. (Of course, you can chalk a lot of that up to Jim Shooter's regime.)

As much as I love what was done in some of the Silver books during the Bronze Age (most notably Englehart's AVENGERS), I get the biggest tingle from such Bronze-specific books as SUPER-VILLAIN TEAM-UP. I don't think it's necessarily, or at least purely, a question of quality per se, since the Men of Bronze were doing cool stuff pretty much everywhere. But what excites me about the Bronze Age so much is its diversity (by which I don't merely mean wider representation of genders and races among the super-heroes).

Rip's reviews of the awesome three-volume MARVEL FIRSTS: THE 1970s, which reproduced the covers of all of the stories contained therein, really caught that spirit. In 1972 alone, they show an average of one new strip PER MONTH, and that doesn't even include those omitted from the book for whatever reason. You just had this whole explosion of new characters, books, subjects, and creators.

Of course it was inevitable that a great number of them fell by the wayside (some deservedly, and some not), because such an expansion is unlikely to be sustainable. And obviously not every newcomer was an Englehart or Starlin or Gerber, but the difference from the late Silver Age, when virtually every super-hero book other than Archie Goodwin's IRON MAN was written by either Stan or Roy, was gigantic. They varied in quality, just like anything else, but--nothing at all against Stan or Roy--the variation in the palette still excites me.

So yeah, for better or worse, give me your MTU, MTIO, IRON FIST, INVADERS, NOVA, DEFENDERS, and BLACK GOLIATH. And one could consider the new X-MEN a new strip as well, if one wanted to. :-)

A really excellent and thought-provoking topic, you guys...

WardHill Terry said...

I'm late again because I usually ruminate on these topics for a day or two. (then I usually forget to post my thoughts.) I was thinking of this topic this morning and the books I was buying in the late 70s. It was not the titles so much as the characters inside. This was when Batman's books had little, if any, Robin. Clark Kent was a TV newsman. Peter Parker was a long-time college guy with an on-again-off-again romance. The JLA had their own satellite. The Avengers were symbolized by The Vision. I was just as thrilled to see Action Comics reach #500 or Fantastic Four get to #200 (first one I bought), as I was to see Shade, Steel, or Spider-Woman #1. Before any of that was "the old days." After all that, I lost interest. FWIT, at DC "Crisis" spelled the the definitive end to the "Bronze Age." No Earth-2? No Superboy in the 30th century? Well, that's it for me.

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