Let’s Talk Comics – April/May/June 2021

The comics’ Bronze Age launched in 1970. Or maybe not. Depends on who’s talking.

Some argue the precursor Silver Age ended when the cover price of comics rose to 15 cents from 12 cents in early 1969. Others suggest the end occurred the following year when Green Arrow was added to Green Lantern in GL/GA 76 in 1970 and introduced realism into comic stories. 

A very thin slice of time compared to the cosmos, but it really could set off discussion and tempers among comic collectors. 

The Bronze era lasted up to about 1986 when DC published Crisis on Infinite Earths and Marvel printed Secret Wars, both offering their respective publishing houses a chance to revitalize their products. Others contend it ended in 1983 when new comic publishing houses joined the market, like Mirage Studios with its Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles. Again, a thin slice of time compared to  the cosmos…

Bronze was followed by Copper, which lasted to about 1992, with the Death of Superman story line. But others argue about that as well, showing that comic collectors don’t take to arbitrary dates.

The Silver Age is generally agreed to have begun with the return of the Flash in DC’s Showcase 4 in October 1956, but that’s being argued because, well you know. The era offered promise to the industry at the start of the ‘60s — which had been battered in the 1950s by politicians and a psychiatrist who created a moral panic among parents — and reached its peak with the campy Batman television series.

  But by the time the television show was cancelled in 1968, the industry was slowing down significantly. Comic sales were slipping towards the latter years of the Silver Age. The top selling comic in 1960, Dell’s Uncle Scrooge, sold more than 1.04 million copies a month, according to Comichron.com, while the top seller in 1969, Archie, recorded an average monthly sales of about 515,000.

Marvel and DC experimented with concepts, ideas and characters in hopes of boosting sales. Marvel also turned to acquiring the licences to movies, pulp heroes and a Montreal stunt man called the Human Fly to boost sales. The most significant was, of course, Star Wars. It was considered a gamble at the time, taking on a film with an unfamiliar story was released. 

It proved to be the financial life saver for the publisher. Marvel dabbled in films previously, buying licences to publish comics for films like Planet of the Apes, Logan’s Run and 2001: A Space Odyssey, and had launched the barbarian craze with Conan.

Meanwhile, over at DC, Jack Kirby had offered up his Fourth World at the dawn of the Bronze Age, beginning in Superman’s Pal Jimmy Olsen 133. The concept spread to include the series The New Gods, Mister Miracle and the Forever People. They are an interconnected batch of titles telling the story of the battle of good and evil between the worlds of New Genesis and Apokolips, and DC is reportedly developing a movie on the concept.

It’s clear that putting a comic character on the silver screen affects market demand for comics, while television appears to be a hit-and-miss influencer. 

Marvel movies has more or less exhausted it cache of Silver Age heroes, so expect it explore its stable from the Golden Age, like Prince Namor, and more characters from the Bronze Age, like Shang-Chi. A Namor movie is being talked about, while Canadian actor Simu Liu was picked to play Shang-Chi. The characters in its latest hit show, WandaVision, reach back to the Silver Age at least, and with Jimmy Woo (Claw 1 in 1956) and the Vision (Marvel Mystery 13 in 1940) arguably to the Golden Age.

Marvel’s television shows have introduced some Bronze characters, like Iron Fist, Luke Cage and others, but expect more in the near future. Marvel’s Phase Four is expected to involve The Eternals, Ms. Marvel, and She-Hulk. 

As prices of high grade key books from the Golden and Silver Ages reach levels unattainable for most, interest among collectors have been turning to lower priced books overlooked by many —some would say offbeat books — like Marvel’s Machine Man (first appeared in 2001 number 8), Red Sonja (first appeared in Conan the Barbarian 23), Deathlok (first appeared in Astonishing Tales 25), Moon Knight (Werewolf by Night 32), Kull (Creatures on the Loose 10 and Conan 1), and Red Wolf (Avengers 80).

DC’s offbeat group would include titles like Kung-Fu Fighter, Karate Kid, the Demon, Ragman,  Man-Bat, Men of War, the Unknown Soldier, Black Lightening (which has a television show), Claw the Unconquered (some argue this brief series is better than Conan), Freedom Fighters, Ghosts, and House of Secrets.

Charlton has a few titles worthy of keeping an eye on, including Yang, E-Man, Creepy Things, Haunted, Charlton Bullseye, Ghostly Haunts, Ghostly Tales, Ghost Manor, Baron Weirwulf’s Haunted Library and Doomsday+1.

And all three also printed romance comics, some reprints of earlier versions, that have long been overlooked by boys and men. Do so at your peril. The stories may not be strong, but the artwork is usually tremendous.

Don’t dismiss a batch of comics found deep in an storage locker that aren’t super-heroes, because the market is looking for the off-beat, the overlooked, and — at least for the moment — the under-appreciated and often under-valued. 

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