Marvel Comic Art – The Bronze, Silver, and Modern Ages
Marvel Comics has been around for over a half century. In that time, the company has pushed the boundaries of what is considered realistic storytelling.
For example, one Spider-Man story arc dealt with drug abuse and drew the ire of the Comic Code Authority. This allowed for more humanistic characterizations that would connect with the reader.
The History of Marvel Comics
From a small publisher of pulp magazines to the entertainment monolith of today, Marvel has refined the superhero genre. It was a company that knew what its audience wanted and gave them it.
In 1939 established pulp-magazine publisher Martin Goodman launched a series of new comic books under the umbrella name Timely Comics. The debut issues showcased Carl Burgos’ android hero the Human Torch and Bill Everett’s mutant antihero Namor the Sub-Mariner. Both titles were among the first to be distributed directly to comics-specialty stores rather than through newsstands.
With the advent of the booming postwar economy, more and more Americans were spending their leisure time reading comics. Increasingly, readers wanted more realistic characterizations and social-issue stories that delved into problems such as pollution, race relations, and drug abuse. A Spider-Man story arc from 1971 that depicted heroin use even caused the comics industry’s self-regulatory Comic Code authority to review its policy. This more serious approach helped build Marvel’s reputation and attracted university-age readers to its titles.
The Silver Age
Marvel was still getting its feet wet in the superhero genre when it released a new character called Thor in 1952. Originally created for Atlas Comics under the Journey into Mystery and Tales to Astonish brands, Marvel was unsure about the God of Thunder, but he soon shot up the sales charts with his super-powered antics.
This was also the era when the Comics Code Authority began to heavily influence publication, with stories forced to keep to certain moral and family-oriented topics. It wasn’t until the last 60’s and 70’s that publishers would start to allow more wacky speculative fiction plots.
The best artists of this era included Joe Kubert, Gil Kane, Carmine Infantino, Alex Toth, Russ Heath, Steve Ditko, and John Buscema. But the most important contributor was Jack Kirby. His sheer, explosive creativity was something to behold. He just couldn’t stop creating new characters. He was the most prolific superhero creator of the Silver Age.
The Bronze Age
Unlike the Silver Age, there isn’t one specific event that defines the beginning of the Bronze Age. Some people peg the beginning at 1970, with the enthralling Captain Marvel Adventures from Fawcett Comics. Others look at the end of the era in 1985. This was when DC’s Crisis on Infinite Earths concluded, and the company began reworking their entire universe, making them a serious competitor to Marvel again.
Many people also use this time frame to mark a change in the tone of superhero comics, which had been moving towards more mature themes and darker stories. This can be seen in the death of Gwen Stacy in Amazing Spider-Man, the emergence of Dennis O’Neil on Batman, and a shift toward more realistic superhero stories. The Bronze Age also saw creators fighting for their rights, resulting in more stories featuring characters who were the products of their own imagination rather than someone else’s. This would continue into the Modern Age.
The Modern Age
The Modern Age, spanning from the mid-1980s to present day, was marked by the commercialization of comic book publishers and psychologically-complex characters that challenged traditional superhero archetypes. Marvel began to produce horror and science fiction titles, reversing the Comics Code Authority’s ban on the genre, while influential limited series such as Alan Moore’s “Swamp Thing” and Neil Gaiman’s “Watchmen” set new artistic standards that led to DC’s Vertigo line.
The success of the X-Men franchise launched an entire line of spinoff titles and propelled Marvel into mainstream popularity. The Modern Age also saw a great rise in the popularity of graphic novels and manga-inspired books.
The Modern Age was characterized by numerous reboots and relaunches of existing characters and lines, as well as the increasing prominence of independent publishers. This trend is continuing to this day. The Modern Age was also the first time that comics incorporated the Comics Code Authority’s rating system. This can be found on a comic’s UPC box and indicates whether the comic is appropriate for all ages or for teens and up.