Thursday, January 22, 2009

7 Things I Miss About the Bronze Age of Comics

I talked about my Silver Age favorites before, but the Bronze Age of Comics is when I was actually old enough to start buying comics and enjoying them. I became a comic book fan in 1974 at the age of 5, and stayed with it for decades afterward.

Respectfully, here are seven reasons why the Bronze Age of Comics remains my favorite (by the way, I know I said there would only be 6, but I remembered another):

1. George Perez ruled the Justice League and the Teen Titans

This was what I consider the golden years of the JLA. Perez treated the characters like each was supposed to be a masterpiece, and they came out as such. The costumes were cool, the colors were bright, the stories made sense and usually ended within 3 issues of the start. This was a time when those particular comics were an exciting adventure.

Over the years the JLA title has undergone a lot of changes (and even cancellation at one point), but these were the stories that used the characters to their fullest potential.

It was the reboot of the New Teen Titans that really grabbed me though. Perez managed to take this comic of teen heroes and turn it into one of the hottest comics of the 80's (at one short time actually outselling the X-Men).

So many things happened here that had huge effects on the DC Universe: The introduction of Cyborg, Starfire, and Raven. Robin became Nightwing in these very pages. Kid Flash spent his final years as such before taking on the mantle of the Flash. Deathstroke was introduced here as well. The infamous "Judas Contract" storyline where Terra turned on her teammates still resonates throughout the DC storylines (a couple of months ago, Terra's brother Geo-Force finally faced down Deathstroke and almost killed him). There were entire issues that had them never go in costume, but still kept us riveted to the pages with the underlying emotional themes.

I don't usually spend the big money on DC's Archive Editions ($50 for 8 issues of a comic are steep), but I have been following the New Teen Titans reprints simply because they are such great stories. The X-Men may have ruled the 80's, but the Titans were the team I followed.

2. Spinner racks

Wow, this seems like a little thing, but I remember running into the local Magik Market and seeing that metal rack just waiting for me to go through it. I had no thoughts of the future of the books, so I'd just bend them down to see what issues were waiting behind, never thinking about how that precious issue I'd just creased would lose so much value. That squeaky sound it made as you turned it around, fighting other kids so you could look at what you wanted to without having to wait for them...those were good times.

3. Loose change could actually buy two books or more!

I remember when the price of a comic book actually used to have the "cents" sign after it. You could walk in with a quarter and come out with a book. And when you got a dollar for helping around the house, you were walking out of the store a happy, happy little boy!

Now you don't need to bother walking into the comic book shop without a twenty in hand to come away with a couple of books. Yes, I know the paper stock is much better, and the colors hold up longer, and the dollar doesn't go as far today...but isn't $4 a little expensive for just a regular comic book?

4. Giant Treasury Edition Comics!

Oh, they were usually reprints, but they were HUGE (13" X 15")! And they were so much fun to grab and read!

Call them unnecessary eye candy if you want to, but when I was a kid I bought every one of these I saw. Even today I try to collect them as I can (the one you see pictured to the left is my latest acquisition and is currently framed in my home office...I'm a Galactus fan).

Every once in a while we'd get an original story in one of these, and it was big-time! The first major publisher crossovers occurred in this format, and this was a time when it was okay to hand over a couple of dollars for a (giant) comic book!

5. Team-Up Books

All but gone today (the only exception being the recent return of "Brave and the Bold"), team-up books used to be hot. This was where you'd see a major star like Spider-Man, Superman, or even The Thing teaming up with some lesser-known hero who would get a chance to shine for one issue.

Though they've tried to bring these back over the years, it doesn't seem to be something that sticks anymore. Perhaps it's because a team-up isn't that unusual anymore, with heroes popping up in other books almost every month. Practically any issue you pick up is a "team-up book".

Still, for a time these were special moments. You wouldn't usually see Batman and Deadman team up, or Spider-Man and Captain Britain, or the Thing and Giant-Man...and that's why these were stories we kept buying each month. It was the unique teamwork that made them interesting to read.

Brave and the Bold was jump-started again a while back and it's doing a good job of offering some interesting combinations (Green Arrow and Deadman, Green Lantern and Phantom Stranger, etc). Maybe they'll be able to recapture the spark that makes these stories must-reads.

For a great blog that covers every aspect of team-up books of the past, check out Rick's Mail It To Team-Up blog!

6. That weird way they dated the comics on the cover

Oh it might say "April" on the cover, but you were picking that comic up in January or February. It was like getting your hands on the future!

There was always that weird thought of "did I miss an issue or something?", and eventually you stopped even trying to keep up with why things were so out of whack with the current month. I don't think any explanation was ever given for that little time anomaly, but it was something we just accepted as normal for any comic we bought.

Eventually they fixed all this, as today we can see the proper month in any comic we pick up...but this was a fun little quirk that added to the experience.

7. Superheroes selling sweets!

The next to last page in any comic book was always one of my favorites because you'd find your favorite heroes involved in stopping some diabolical plot in 10 panels or less! No matter how detailed the storyline you were following, this was a self-contained story that made sense...and made you hungry!

Fresh off his tour of trying to destroy the country, villains like the Red Skull, Doctor Doom, and even Lex Luthor decided to sell out and go for the Twinkies and Hostess Cup Cakes. Forget world domination...bring me sugar!

They never succeeded, but that didn't stop them from trying. No matter what horrible thing they were planning on doing to the poor, helpless kids out there, some conveniently-timed intervention by a Hostess snack cake would always save the day!

You'd better believe I loved to eat those cupcakes when I saw them in the store...and I always felt like I was doing a little something to help out Spider-Man the next time he faced The Hungry Gobbler!

Of course, today we understand from government intervention that sugar is bad for you and therefore should not be allowed in any cereal or even in comic book ads, but back in the day it was shameless promotion that we loved.

So that's it, my trip down memory lane is complete for this week. What major memories of yours did I miss?


The Groovy Agent said...

These are great posts,man! Keep it up (though I guess it would be hard to do one about the things you miss form the 90s--but hey, you're a creative guy! ;D )

About the weird dating, that started back in the dawn of comicbook distribution. The idea was that if they dated the comic (usually three) months "in the future", it would increase the comics' shelf life. If they put a mag out in January, but dated it April, then the mag shouldn't be pulled from circulation until April according to the master plan. I don't know that the plan ever worked, but there ya go.

Brian said...

Thanks for clearing that up, Groovy Agent! I always wondered about that as a kid, but just took is as one of the quirks that came with comics.

Cullen Bunn said...

Really digging these posts!

I was always more of an X-Men fan, but I clearly remember the day I was introduced to Teen Titans. I was at a big celebration event at Heroes Aren't Hard to Find in Charlotte. I was browsing the X-Men back issues, and this guy dressed as Superman said if I liked the X-Men, I'd love the Titans. I conned my dad into buying me the first several issues ... and I was a fan for years to come!

(After introducing me to the Titans, "Superman" wandered up and down the rows of back issues, telling customers, "I better not catch any shoplifters. I'll burn your butts with my heat vision!"

The Andy Man said...

OMG! I remember those days..

Anonymous said...

I've recently started buying old comics on ebay--mostly from the mid-70s to early 80s. What memories!! These are issues I read when I was 10, and still remember vividly. I still buy modern comics, but one thing stands out in the silver, bronze and copper ages that you sort of allude to but don't state outright: comics were more fun back then. They lacked the gravitas (and pomposity) that accompanies modern books. Yes, the writing is often better nowadays, the colors more vibrant, and the characters much more fully realized--but comics back then were simply loads of fun, in a way that's missing nowadays.

I loved the JLA and the New Teen Titans from that era. I've just bought a bunch of Justice League issues from then--maybe I'll revisit the Titans soon. The third great DC team-up book from that era was the All-Star Squadron, which was my introduction to a lot of the characters from the Golden Age. I've recently bought up a bunch of those one ebay as well--and they hold up really well!


Mike said...

I grew up in the Silver Age so I'm a bit partial to that era.

Spinner racks were the absolute best and they were in stores all over the place. The three nearby small towns in the area I grew up in all had at least two stores that had comics on a spinner rack. I do not know of a store in any of the those same three towns that sell comics at all these days.

I couldn't get enough of the Giant Treasury editions and I was too young to know they were reprints or even care about that. Picking those giant comics out of the rack was a real treat.
Comics were fun back then and the stories withstand the test of time. Still fun to read today and not CONSTANTLY trying to make a political statement or reflect reality. We live in reality! Comics are supposed to be a break from reality, entertaining, easy to follow and for the most part clean.
Some of the trash that they try to pass off as good writing these days is just pathetic. My parents never had to browse through a comic before buying it for me as a young child. That's not the case these days and I have heard people say they won't allow their kids to read comics simply because they don't want to take the time to browse through them and make sure they aren't full of trash before buying them. People who grew up reading comics don't want to let their young children read them!!!!

I still love comics but I miss Bronze Age comics.

Mike said...

My above post should say I grew up in the Bronze Age not the Silver Age.

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