What Are DC's Darkest Bronze Age Comics?


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Jul 13, 2023

What Are DC's Darkest Bronze Age Comics?

The Bronze Age of comics was a dark shift for many great heroes. Nowhere was this as true as in DC Comics. DC Comics has often been a leader in the comic book industry, with their books like Action

The Bronze Age of comics was a dark shift for many great heroes. Nowhere was this as true as in DC Comics.

DC Comics has often been a leader in the comic book industry, with their books like Action Comics, Green Lantern, Crisis On Infinite Earths, and more heralding new ages of comics. The Bronze Age was an especially incredible time for the publisher as Jack Kirby joined the company, creating multiple titles for them. However, the age was particularly known for its move into dark, gritty and socially conscious comics.

The Bronze Age moved DC away from the upbeat, campy style of the '60s Silver Age into a hard-hitting decade of social commentary and a move toward horror. Marvel and DC alike began to explore topics like death, violence, and real-world ills. The decade's grim stories have become the defining aspect of its stories, and DC handled this tone better than anyone. With the likes of Denny O'Neil and Len Wein turning in some of their best stories, the era contains many dark tales.

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On its surface, New Gods isn't the darkest or hardest-hitting comic of all time. However, as Kirby further explored the history of Apokolips, such as the trading of sons and the sadism of Granny Goodness, things became evermore harsh. The story juxtaposes the Hellscape of Darkseid's Apokolips against High Father's bright New Genesis.

Kirby's exploration of the New Gods' mythos, defined through the ongoing battle between Orion and Darkseid, makes for one of DC's biggest tragedies. Not to mention the abuse suffered by Mister Miracle in Granny Goodness' "care."

Denny O'Neil's Batman is every bit as important for the character's lore as transformative stories like Dark Knight Returns. O'Neil and artists like Neal Adams introduced Ra's al Ghul to the Batman mythos and took the character in a considerably darker direction than had been common in the Silver Age.

One story, Batman #227, deserves special recognition. In "The Demon of Gothos Mansion," Batman had a close brush with death when he rescued Alfred's niece. The story reached its peak when Batman narrowly avoided death by hanging, as well as Daphne very nearly being sacrificed in a way that belonged in a Hammer Horror movie.

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Crisis On Infinite Earths serves as the simultaneous end of the Bronze Age and the beginning of the Modern Age of comics. It's also responsible for one of the biggest tragedies in DC's history, the death of Barry Allen and the destruction of some worlds in the multiverse.

Crisis On Infinite Earths was made all the more dark through its sequel, Infinite Crisis, which revealed the event caused suffering for some of the heroes of Earth-2, namely the death of Lois Lane. The event's deaths, coupled with the tragic aftermath, made for a fitting way to close out the Bronze Age.

One of Jack Kirby's most enduring DC creations is that of Etrigan the Demon, better known as Jason Blood when in his human form. The character is the combination of an ancient knight bound to a demon from Hell, together forming one of DC's most monstrous antiheroes.

Kirby's original series was set in the '70s while also telling the reader about Blood's immortality. As good as the horror of the series was, the story's darkness came from Blood's story, as a man locked into endless life who must navigate Hell when the demon rises to the surface.

Swamp Thing was a particularly dark comic, even for the Bronze Age. The series began with the murder of Linda Holland and Alec's transformation into the titular hero, left alone to wander the swamps in hopes of a cure. However, the series only got darker as the issues went on.

Swamp Thing #8 took the book to a horrific height with an encounter between the hero and an ancient, Lovecraftian cosmic entity that dwelled in the tunnels beneath a small town. After the local residents tried to sacrifice the hero to the god, he fought to rid the world of the planet-killing monster.

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In the waning days of the Bronze Age, Alan Moore penned a series of stories dedicated to the final days of that era of Superman. The best of these was "For the Man Who Has Everything," an annual story that told the tale of Mongul incapacitating the Man of Steel with the Black Mercy.

As Superman lived out a doomed fantasy, Batman and Wonder Woman battled the dictator of Warworld, Mongul, who was intent on destroying the Trinity. In Mongul, the story had one of Superman's darkest enemies, with one of his saddest challenges in the Black Mercy's illusions, which got progressively darker.

All-Star Squadron became DC's home for the Justice Society of America during the 1980s, recounting the Golden Age adventures of the original team. One tale, however, was a surprisingly dark direction for the team. After being captured by the villain Brainwave, the JSA were trapped in a dark illusion.

The heroes of the JSA were forced to live in a false reality during WW2, where they were killing Japanese soldiers over and over again. Only Alan Scott was free of the illusion, being forced to watch as his friends and Japanese soldiers alike were killed in front of him.

Phantom Stranger was always an especially dark comic, feeling reminiscent of the works commonly found at EC Comics. The anthology book took DC's most mysterious figure on a series of dark adventures through the world. However, the seventh issue got into some dark and tragic territory, even for the series.

The comic felt like a combination of Sam Raimi's Evil Dead, ghostly horror and tragedy, with its saddest story following a cursed woman who'd cause the death of any man she kissed. As the book's characters recounted their harrowing histories, readers saw their close brushes with death.

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Swamp Thing's dark roots in the first volume only escalated when Alan Moore joined the title and immediately reinvented the hero and his lore. Where Swamp Thing's origin had previously been Alec Holland transformed by the bio-restorative formula, it took a tragic turn in issue 21, "The Anatomy Lesson."

In this issue, Moore retconned Swamp Thing not as a man changed by a serum but explained Holland had been dead all along. Swamp Thing was, in fact, an avatar of nature itself and had absorbed and retained the mind of Holland, tricking him into believing he was once a man or that he could be one again.

Perhaps the single most shocking Green Lantern comic of all time, issue 85 took the title's examination of social ills to a new height. The story "Snowbirds Don't Fly" had Green Arrow discover that his sidekick, Roy Harper, was addicted to heroin. Just as dark was the fact the pushers unknowingly injected Arrow and Lantern with their drugs, hoping to frame them for the police.

"Snowbirds Don't Fly" is often considered to be the official turning point in comics, both away from the Comics Code Authority and toward more biting social commentary. The story was a warning against loneliness, with Speedy stating directly that Oliver going on adventures and leaving him behind drove him to drugs.