Most comic-book aficionados agree that the Bronze Age of comics began in 1970, shortly after artist Jack Kirby left Marvel for DC Comics, which promised him a greater degree of artistic freedom since “Superman” editor Mort Weisinger had just retired. Among other things, the Bronze Age challenged established publishing conventions and brought the subject matter of comics into the modern day.
For example, in 1972, Luke Cage, the first African-American superhero, appeared. Around the same time, the concept of the superhero expanded to include foreign heroes (Banshee) as well as women heroes (Hawkwoman), who were more assertive and powerful than their predecessors. Unfortunately, many of the foreign and black characters simply reinforced racial and ethnic stereotypes, but some were genuine attempts to create a more diverse, inclusive world.
Similarly, Bronze Age comics began dealing with more real-world issues, beginning with “The Amazing Spider-Man” #96 and #97, which featured a very strong-anti-drug message at a time when the Comics Code did not allow any references to drugs at all. Other comics followed suit: Green Lantern and Green Arrow teamed up to fight drug abuse and corruption. Captain America—now the product of a disillusioned, post-Watergate, post-Vietnam world—entered the realm of politics when he fought the Secret Empire, a conspiracy to take over America run by a villain who bore an uncanny resemblance to Richard Nixon.
Violence was portrayed more realistically—when villains killed, their innocent victims died. Illustrators also began leveraging the sex appeal of their characters as the Comics Code loosened. And the Bronze Age saw the introduction of the graphic novel, one more form of experimentation and innovation. Even titles that stuck to the traditional comics format took on longer story arcs that spanned multiple issues.
The end of the Bronze Age is widely debated. Some point to 1986, when “Watchmen” and “The Dark Knight Returns” were published. Also of debate is the name of the age that followed it—Dark Age, Modern Age, and Iron Age are often used interchangeably.