The Bronze Age of DC Comics

Image of The Bronze Age of DC Comics
Release Date: 
October 14, 2015
Taschen America
Reviewed by: 

The Bronze Age is when Superman broke the chains of Kryptonite! Batman could finally become a vampire! Wonder Woman, looking to exist in the human world and searching for meaning in her life, could forsake her Amazonian heritage and become a martial arts expert! This is when The Swamp Thing rose from the muck! This is when The Teen Titans fought not only evil but themselves and each other.

The Bronze Age of DC Comics by Paul Levitz tells the story of this wild, shifting era in comic’s history. Jam-packed with at least a thousand pieces of classic comic art, the book makes an inarguable case that this is when comics at DC began to grow up and move into the future.

When charting the dense history of comics, fans often break the timeline into divisions. In celebrating the 75th Anniversary of their company, DC Comics has also published volumes covering the company’s Golden Age (1935–1956) and Silver Age (1956–1970). The treasures in that rich era are found here, in The Bronze Age.

Levitz, an award-winning writer and the former editor and publisher for DC Comics, writes openly and honestly of his company’s history. As the era begins in 1970 it is no secret that the company is struggling for relevancy in the marketplace. DC is reeling from the intense competition brought on by the rise of Marvel in the sixties.

After a quick, insightful essay, Levitz tells the story of how DC met that challenge in concise and informative captions for every piece of art. Moving in a roughly chronological sequence, he will occasionally jump across time. If he is speaking of how the legendary artist and Editor Joe Orlando impacted the young Bernie Wrightson, with covers by each artist sit side by side. Even though the issues published a decade apart.

The editorial choices made behind titles is fascinating. The success of the sixties Batman TV show had over-exposed many of Batman’s classic villains. Editors at DC knew that young creative talent such as Neal Adams, Jim Aparo, and others were looking to bring Batman back into the night. In addition to this, horror was selling for DC at the time.

This move to a darker knight leads to the creation of the first major addition to Batman’s Rogue’s Gallery in quite a while, Rā’s al Ghūl as well as the creation of the Man-Bat.

With Green Lantern is facing cancelation, the editors make the decision to turn the title over to a couple of relative newcomers. Denny O-Neil and Neal Adams bring drugs, race, sexism, prejudice, and more right into the brand new Green Lantern/Green Arrow title. Marvel may have dropped the CCA Stamp with the first drug story in an issue of Spider-Man, but nothing they ever did topped the sheer emotional heft and depth of O’Neil and Adams’ run during this period.

At the start of the Bronze Age, DC brought in Jack Kirby. For over a decade he had been over at Marvel where he and Stan Lee had co-created a good number of the hit characters that were now causing DC grief.

While at DC Kirby creates an entire universe. Filled with characters such as Mister Miracle and the uber-villain Darkseid, today The New Gods are still an important part of the DC Universe.

In addition to the bright covers and detailed panels, there are pieces of original art. The cover-art for Detective #500 (March 1981) is a two-page montage created by Jim Aparo, Dick Giordano, Carmine Infantino, and others. The image is reproduced so perfectly that you can easily see line erasures. You can even see how Joe Kubert’s Hawkman was pasted into the title.

The book exposes so many forgotten gems. Nick Cardy’s cover for Aquaman #50 (April 1970) is a classic in terms of design and execution. The artist has created a perfectly balanced cover that is as close to three dimensional as you can get in a two dimensional format.

There are multi-page tributes to artists such as Bernie Wrightson Jim Aparo, Neal Adams, Alex Toth, Joe Kubert, and others. Seeing the work of José Luis García-Lόpez again reminds us how his interpretation of Superman is more than a worthy successor to the Superman of the fifties and sixties drawn by Curt Swan or Kurt Schaffenberger, both of whom have their own work solidly represented in this volume.

Levitz writes of the business side as well. This isn’t just about comics.

When the old distribution model for comic books begins to change, DC actively worked with retailers to help shape and build the new one. The chest plate of Wonder Woman changed form an eagle to the now familiar “WW” symbol because it would help marketing.

DC also created samplers for early direct market releases, employed higher-grade printers, and worked with educators to create comics designed to promote reading. Big screen success with Superman and the TV success of Wonder Woman and the animated Super-Friends series bring in readers from across the planet.   

As the Bronze Age closes, the once dictatorial Comics Code Authority is toothless. New ways of distribution have changed the way comics are sold and marketed. Creative talent gains credits and royalties.

When The Bronze Age ended, DC would, among other things, hire Grant Morrison and Neil Gaiman, two of the most influential writers of the end of the 20th century. The company would publish Watchmen and The Dark Knight Returns and continue to build on the success of the 1978 Superman movie.

This is pure fun in an era of comics most have forgotten.

This volume is one of three that were pulled from the 720 page, 2010 release 75 Years of DC Comics: The Art of Modern Mythmaking. This book contains a new interview with artist, writer, and teacher Neal Adams.