Saturday, September 27, 2014

Evolution: The Early Bronze Age, the High Bronze Age, and the Copper Transition

Doug: We have a broad topic for the weekend that asks you to do a little evaluative thinking. The conversation that should develop as our readers set forth their posits should give us some friendly disagreements that will push the conversation further.

We discuss Silver, Bronze, and Copper Ages topics all the time around here. This weekend we'd like you to see if you can delineate characteristics of parts of that period from 1968-1988 or so. What key works stand out as representative of each era, and can you put your finger on a key work and say, "Yeah, that's different from anything that had been going on just before." Like the Silver Age came to different companies at different times, we'll reach no consensus today and that's fine.

Who were those key creators who spurred on the next period? Can we say that a certain creator did his best work in a given period? Jack Kirby comes to mind -- obviously he's most known and perhaps best appreciated for his Silver Age work at Marvel. Yet his departure from the company and then later return serves as the very parameters of the Bronze Age for some comics historians.

Lastly, which characters epitomize these various ages? For this question I'd like you to think of characters created within the period you are discussing. They could certainly have a life stretching past, but let's examine just what about them makes them so representative of the period.

Have fun, and thanks in advance!


Anonymous said...

Evaluative thinking + weekend = I'll have to get back to you on this......

The Prowler (got a call from an old friend we used to be real close)...

Martinex1 said...

Doug, what a wonderful way to keep my mind busy as I clean up the yard today. Using your title as my three periods of evaluation, I apologize in advance for a long post. The Early Bronze Age for me was defined by transitions in the Avengers. I was a Marvel maniac so much of my observations will be from that company. In 1968, with Roy Thomas came the creation of the Vision, the transformation of Hank Pym into Yelowjacket, and the mix of Gold and Silver age characters with the new. It created a sense of history and change that was more fleshed out. Avengers 71 was key for me. It was about a year after the creation of Vision and Yellowjacket and put them in conflict with the Invaders, the final splash page with the team shouting "Avengers Assemble" includes not only YJ and Vision but also Black Panther, Black Knight, Clint Barton's Goliath, all of the founding members, and Cap. It was new, transformed, historical, and exciting all at once. Along with Roy Thomas, Sal Buscema handled the art chores. Sal was such a mainstay throughout the Bronze Age. He along with his brother defined a new house style in my opinion. Their work contained clean and clear storytelling with consistent characterization. About a decade later in the late 70's I would say the peak of the High Bronze Age was reached with a number of writers and artists on team books. Of course there were Claremont and Byrne on the X-Men. But I also think Shooter, Michelinie, Perez and again Byrne on the Avengers were just as stellar. The Nefaria three part story and the Taskmaster tale a couple of years later had the same complexity of plot and characterization and detail. In my opinion there was almost a house writing style; some would say it was a bit wordy but I enjoyed the depth with consistency. The art of course was tremendous but still was very on model. The character choice to represent this era is the Beast. He was full of intelligence and pathos layered beneath humor and heroism. He was not super powerful, was troubled, but dealt with his insecurities. He was complex. He was transformed. He had history. And he was visually different. Another group I would like to point out are the Micronauts. Bill Mantlo and Michael Golden told wonderful stories and I would say their first year or so on the title rivaled all others. Just beautiful work. The team dynamic was great; it was a bit of a riff on Star Wars but was twisted and dynamic enough to be thrilling on its own. It represented licensed works differently than previous licensed products because it tied them to the Marvel universe and was not second rate. Along with Rom these stories changed the model. Just look at the cover for Micronauts 20 and not be drawn in. This was closely followed and even overlapped by the Copper Transition because of the advent of direct sales. The demise of the spinner rack times to the sales transition when Micronauts and Kazar moved to direct only. At the same time Frank Miller was creating the darker and tragic Daredevil stories. I think the grittiness led to an overall change to the way heroes were depicted. His stories were brilliant. But the echoing followers were just gritty and violent without the heart. I think that change in the definition of heroism along with the sales model targeting a more select clientele ushered in the next era. I am curious what everybody else has to say. I really like this topic.

Edo Bosnar said...

Throughout the '60s, '70s and early '80s, I think Marvel was the real trend-setter.

And I see Martinex echoes a point I've made here before, i.e., that the Bronze Age started at Marvel in the late '60s, with the ascendancy of Roy Thomas as head writer on a number of books, and the Buscema brothers and Gene Colan, and then Steranko, Adams and others, creating some wonderful, boundary-breaking art.

So for me, the early Bronze Age actually transitioned to the Middle or High Bronze Age in about 1971/72. And that High Bronze Age lasted until the late '70s, and gave us, among other things, Starlin's epic runs on Captain Marvel and Warlock, McGregor's work on Black Panther and Killraven, Gerber's Defenders, Howard, Man-Thing, Guardians, etc., Englehart's Avengers and Captain America, and the appearance of young, future hotshot artists like Perez and Byrne.

What I'd call the Late Bronze Age or some kind of transitional period ensued right at the end of the '70s, with the Claremont/Byrne/Austin X-men run already heralding the changer earlier, and when Frank Miller's run on Daredevil and the Michelinie/Layton run on Iron Man began. In fact - and I've mentioned this before as well - I consider Miller's Daredevil the beginning of a new, post-Bronze Age period, along with Byrne's run on Fantastic Four and Simonson's on Thor, as well as the Wolfman/Perez run on New Teen Titans and Levitz & Giffen on LoSH.

By the way, who came up with the term Copper Age? It's always been a pet peeve of mine since I've heard the term used for comics, because in archeology or historiography, the Copper Age (technically the Eneolithic or Chalcolithic) preceded the Bronze Age. They should have called it brass, iron or aluminum...

Martinex1 said...

I like the idea of Miller ushering in an "Iron Age"especially since weapons whether sais, claws, or billy clubs seem much more predominant as that time evolved.

Anonymous said...

Yeah, I agree with Edo to a certain extent, but I might place some of the things differently. I'd say Early Bronze Age would be around 1970 or so, when Kirby left Marvel and Conan started; it would also include the Death of Gwen Stacy.

High Bronze Age (for me) would be a few years later with (as Edo mentioned) Killraven, Black Panther, the Gerber stuff, Starlin's stuff, Moench/Gulacy on MOKF, O'Neil/Adams/Novick etc. on Batman, all of Englehart's stuff and so on.

Late Bronze Age would be getting into the 80s, with Byrne, Wolfman/Perez on New Teen Titans, Simonson's Thor, Miller's DD, the end of the magazine era, and the rise of the indies (Jon Sable, American Flagg, Grimjack, Nexus, Badger, etc.)

I'd say the Bronze Age ends with the rise of Image in the early 90s. Like Edo, I've never liked the term "Copper Age", but I suppose it could run from the mid-80s (Watchmen, Crisis, Dark Knight Returns, the beginning of Dark Horse) to the early 90s when Image and the speculators changed the whole dynamic.

Mike W.

Anonymous said...

Ditto with my namesake Mike W. Personally everything in the 90s I consider the Tin Age (as in scrap metal!).

- Mike 'golden voice but tin ear' from Trinidad & Tobago.

Redartz said...

Martinex1 makes a good point regarding Roy Thomas' influencing the early Bronze Age. What strikes me about this period is something a bit more visual; the look of the covers. Although the Bronze Age was certainly underway by 1971, consider the change in Marvel's logo from the "corner box" of the Silver Age to the cirle / top stripe logo that followed. Nothing says "Bronze" to me like a "Marvel Comics Group" stripe topping the cover.

As to the cover art itself, by this time you see at Marvel covers by Gil Kane, as common in the 70's as Kirby covers were the preceding decade (at DC, Jim Aparo covers seemed as ubiquitous). As the High Bronze age arrived, covers by Byrne and Perez were frequently seen.

Keeping to the cover theme, we move to the Copper Age transition period. One telling feature here is the direct sales box in the lower left; no UPC. As the direct sales market came to dominate distribution, the UPC symbol was often replaced by artwork; Todd McFarlane did so much of this on Amazing Spider-Man for instance. And speaking of McFarlane, he is prominent among the new generation of cover artists as the Bronze age passes to the Copper. You see fewer covers by Perez and Byrne. You see more by Romita Jr., Paul Smith, etc.

Also, the paper of which the comics were made had a different look by the late Bronze. Again, with the collector's market and direct sales influence, the newsprint used in comics for years was replaced by Baxter paper and later by slick stock. The cover stock became heavier, giving later comics more of a magazine appearance. A typical comic from the 70's looked like something you would pull out and read under the covers by flashlight at night. By the Copper age and later, they looked more like 'collectibles', and were often labelled as such. There was a modest, throw-away quality (not that I'd throw any away!!) to a comic from Bronze age and earlier; this probably helps explain why you find countless boxes of 90's and later comics everywhere at giveaway prices. Compare to the relative scarcity of earlier books. No great revelations here , I know...

William said...

It's relatively easy to mark the beginning of the Silver Age. For DC it was Showcase #4 with the introduction of the new Flash, and for Marvel it was FF #1.

It's much harder to determine exactly when the Bronze Age began. But I'm going to give my opinion. For DC, I would say the Bronze Age began with Detective Comics #395, which was the first Batman story by Neal Adams and Dennis O'Neil. Batman is DC's most important character, and Adams and O'Neil redefined and revitalized him for a new generation of readers. They rescued him from the campiness he'd been drowning in for the past decade or so, and returned him to his roots as a Dark Knight.

For Marvel, I feel the Bronze Age began with Hulk #181 and the first appearance of Wolverine. This marked a turning point for Marvel, and introduced their most important new creation since the creative boom of the early 1960's. Over the years, Wolverine helped to usher in the age of the anti-hero, and set a darker (more adult) tone in comics.

To me, the end of the Bronze Age at DC comics was marked by Crisis on Infinite Earths. An event that basically blew up the DC Universe and restarted it from scratch. Literally ending the Bronze Age and ushering in a new age. The publication of The Watchmen, was also a big turning point for DC, as it set a new and even darker tone for comics which pretty changed the medium forever. (And not for the better, IMO).

At Marvel, I'd say the end of the Bronze Age was the publication of Secret Wars. This event brought about many lasting changes to Marvel's characters, such as Spider-Man's change of costume. It just seemed that after that story, Marvel started becoming more interested in Big Event arcs, instead of good, solid month to month storytelling.

J.A. Morris said...

Late to the party, and this is as good a time as any to mention that I am in the middle of taking my first ever graduate level class (and my first college course in 12 years). That's one reason I haven't been 'round this corner of the blogosphere very much lately.

But here's my contribution, I'll try not to dwell on stuff already stated.

The Bronze Age introduced anti-heroes like Wolverine & Punisher. The late Bronze Age took that and went a different direction, bringing us heroes who turn into villains. Dark Phoenix in 1980 and Yellow Jacket in '81. Quicksilver did the same in 1986 (during the "Copper Age" or whatever it's called), in West Coast Avengers Annual #1. This was something you didn't see in the Silver Age, which brought us villains turning into heroes (Hawkeye, Black Widow, Wanda, etc).

Another characteristic of the Bronze Age was, for lack of a better word, quirky stories and characters. Gerber's Howard the duck and Defenders is an obvious example. But David Anthony Kraft carried on the quirkiness in Defenders as well. Remember "Defender for a Day" with Dollar Bill? Kraft's tribute to Blue Oyster Cult is another example that comes to mind.
And only in the Bronze Age did you see Spidey team up with the cast of SNL.

Teresa said...

The end of the Bronze age for DC was CoIE or maybe the Man if Steel reboot.
I'm not as well versed in Marvel. But the turning point for me was the Squadron Supreme 12 issue series. It predated Watchmen and Dark Knight.
SS was a world changer. It had the 90s grimdark, but in a Bronze age storytelling style. Its one of my favorites of the Big Two.

david_b said...

Seems to me 'my Bronze Age' would technically be the Early period to the beginnings of the High period.

I only nibbled occasionally on a few titles for (at most) a dozen issues or so from the High period to the Late.

Fred W. Hill said...

Seems to me the beginnings of the Bronze Age for both DC & Marvel is far more subjective than the beginnings of the Silver Age. I agree with William's assessment that for DC it would have been O'Neil & Adams 1st Batman story. Over at Marvel, Kirby's departure was certainly a big deal but not as much as it would have been 5 years earlier when he had his hand in so many more titles at a time when Marvel had far fewer titles than was the case in 1970, by which time in my estimation Kirby was no longer the prominent trendsetter at Marvel. But perhaps we can use that marker as a beginning and the death of Gwen Stacy as the ending for the Early Bronze Age at Marvel, by which time not only had Conan become a big deal but Marvel also had several mags starring classic and newly created horror characters and overall Marvel had developed a much darker feel than it had had in the mid-60s. That was just amplified in the High Bronze Age and the Copper Transition with Miller's Daredevil and Batman tales and Claremont & Byrne's Dark Phoenix epic and the rise of Wolverine and the Punisher as highly popular characters. But I think the key signal of changes to come was in Alan Moore's revision of Marvel Man a/k/a Miracle Man in 1981. Of course, he wouldn't become well-known in the U.S. until he totally revitalized the Swamp Thing, but he set new plateaus in writing standards that few have matched and none have exceeded IMO.

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