Comics are undoubtedly a visual medium; indeed, it is the medium’s graphic component that sets it apart as a unique type of storytelling. But that doesn’t mean the writing isn’t important. In the dark days of the 1990s, we learned what comics with pretty pictures and little in the way of story looked like — and it wasn’t pretty. The market tanked, and it only recovered when a new crop of writers — Brian Michael Bendis, Warren Ellis, Ed Brubaker, etc. — brought story back to the fore.
The Bronze Age (roughly 1970 to 1985) was another classic period for comic-book writers. While there were still plenty of hack jobs, fill-ins, and one-offs, the era also saw the rise of more complex storytelling, better characterization and well-developed supporting casts. As writers settled in for long tenures on books, readers came to feel at home with individual writers’ styles. As a child of the period, the stories of the Bronze Age — and the authors who wrote them — keep a special place in my heart. Below, I discuss the 10 scribes I most enjoyed during my formative comic-book years, and suggest both multi-part and done-in-one stories by each as possible starting points for checking out their work.
My runners-up, in alphabetical order:
John Byrne: After first honing his storytelling skills as the co-plotter on X-Men, Byrne went on to revitalize the Fantastic Four with a back-to-basics approach. Central to his long run on FF was a sure understanding of the family dynamic and bigger-than-life sense of adventure that are both necessary parts of the book. (He also brought along one heck of an artist to illustrate his scripts!)
Multi-part story: Fantastic Four #251-256 (see reviews) (collected in the trade paperback Fantastic Four Visionaries: John Byrne: Vol. 3)
Done-in-one: Fantastic Four #236 (see review).
Jack Kirby: Yes, his dialogue could be awful. And, yes, his stories could seem like relics from another time. But when it came to imagination, no one could top the King. As a writer, Kirby regularly blasted out concepts as oversized and powerful as his art. An acquired taste, but a delectable one, as well. (Admission: I didn’t acquire that taste for many years.)
Multi-part story: OMAC #1-8 (collected in hardcover as Jack Kirby’s OMAC, One Man Army Corps)
Done-in-one: Kamandi #29.
Paul Levitz: From fanzine publisher to DC president, Levitz has had many titles during his long comics career. But, for many, he’s best remembered as the once-and-current writer of the Legion of Super-Heroes, a title he took to new heights during the Bronze Age (with a little help from Keith Giffen). Levitz’s Legion featured richer characterization and a more fully realized 30th century. He also turned in a nice run of Justice Society stories for the Bronze relaunch of All-Star Comics.
Multi-part story: Legion of Super-Heroes #290-294 (collected in the trade paperback Legion of Super-Heroes: The Great Darkness Saga
Done-in-one: DC Special #29.
Bill Mantlo: Perhaps the most underappreciated writer of the Bronze Age, Mantlo delivered solid stories on books few others wanted to tackle. Two of his signature books — Micronauts and ROM— started life as toy tie-ins with little promise; he filled both with rich characters and compelling back stories. Sadly, a rollerblading accident in 1992 left Mantlo with severe brain damage; learn more — including how to make a contribution to his medical care — by Googling “Bill Mantlo Benefit Projects.” Multi-part story: Cloak and Dagger (1983) #1-4 (collected in hardcover as Cloak & Dagger, Child of Darkness, Child of Light)
Done-in-one: ROM #1 (see review).
David Michelinie: Along with inker/co-plotter Bob Layton, Michelinie promoted Iron Man to the comic-book A-list. Shifting the book’s focus from the iron to the man, Michelinie fleshed out the character of Tony Stark, alcohol problems and all. He also upgraded the supporting cast (hello, Jim Rhodes) and put Stark’s business affairs center stage. The blockbuster Iron Man movies owe much to Michelinie’s work.
Multi-part story: Iron Man #149-150 (collected in the hardcover Iron Man vs. Doctor Doom)
Done-in-one: Iron Man #128.
Frank Miller: When it comes to his early work, it can be hard to separate Miller’s stories from his art. While he’d eventually earn acclaim as a writer for other artists, too, his Daredevil tales — all ninjas, assassins, and emotional tumult — were infused with the energy of a future graphic master learning his craft. His DD stories redefined the character for a generation.
Multi-part story: Daredevil #168, 174-181 (collected in the Frank Miller Daredevil Omnibus and the trade paperback Daredevil Visionaries: Frank Miller: Vol. 2
Done-in-one: Daredevil #191 (see review).
Doug Moench: While also well known for his work on&
nbsp;Moon Knight and Batman, Moench makes this list on the strength of Master of Kung Fu. Making something out of very little, Moench infused the kung-fu series with an espionage back story and a strong supporting cast. He also featured complex plotting and distinct story arcs — years before anyone was “writing for the trade.”
Multi-part story: Master of Kung Fu #45-50
Done-in-one: Marvel Premiere #41 (see review).
Dave Sim: Cerebus isn’t your typical Bronze Age comic, but Dave Sim is too talented an author to pass over here. Though more often recognized as an artist — heck, even letterer — it’s actually Sim’s skill as a writer that set his opus apart. From the earliest issues’ spot-on barbarian parodies to the biting political satire of High Society, Sim regularly delivered perfect dialogue and a rich blend of humor, drama and action. Multi-part story: Cerebus the Aardvark #26-50 (collected in trade paperback as Cerebus: High Society)
Done-in-one: Cerebus the Aardvark #6.
Marv Wolfman: While Wolfman wrote tons of comics for Marvel, he first earned major acclaim for his gothic horror opus with Gene Colan, Tomb of Dracula. That series would have marked a career high point for many writers, but Wolfman went on to even greater success at DC, where he co-created New Teen Titans with artist George Pérez. That series, along with Marvel’s X-Men, took superhero-team books to a whole other level.
Multi-part story: New Teen Titans #42-44, Annual #3 (collected in the trade paperback New Teen Titans: The Judas Contract)
Done-in-one: New Teen Titans #38 (see review).
And, speaking of the X-Men, my favorite writer of the Bronze Age:
Chris Claremont: His tenure on X-Men is the stuff of comic legend, and is largely responsible for my lifelong comic-book addiction. Complex plotting and strong characterization were keys to Claremont’s work, as was his ability to pull readers into exotic settings. For the tweens and teens of the late Bronze Age, Claremont’s comics seemed like a passport to a bigger world.
Multi-part story: X-Men #129-137 (collected in trade paperback asUncanny X-Men: The Dark Phoenix Saga (see review of X-Men #137)
Done-in-one: Avengers Annual #10 (see review).