After reading Jason Sacks’s “Top Ten 1970s Marvels” and Andrew Wahl’s “Top Ten Most Underrated Bronze Age Comics,” two excellent articles recently published here at Comics Bulletin, coming up with my selection of DC’s best comic book series of the Bronze Age was easy, but convincing myself that the series I chose deserved to stay at the top was the hard part because it wasn’t long before every other series or story I had relegated to #2 came calling with strong justifications for supplanting my choice. But I held strong.
DC produced some monumental stories during the Bronze Age: Green Lantern/Green Arrow; Jack Kirby’s New Gods, Forever People, and the first eleven issues of Mister Miracle; Denny O’Neil and Neal Adams’s Batman stories; Joe Kubert’s Tarzan tales; at least a couple dozen mystery stories; John Albano’s and Michael Fleisher’s respective Jonah Hex yarns; Len Wein and Bernie Wrightson’s Swamp Thing; Steve Skeates and Wrightson’s “The Gourmet” from Plop #1; Skeates and Jim Aparo’s Aquaman; and Robert Kanigher and Kubert’s Enemy Ace in Star Spangled War Stories.
The last two entries–Aquaman and Enemy Ace–saw a good portion of publication in 1968 and 1969, but the Bronze Age (give or take a debate or two) ran from 1970 to 1985. Still, I’ve always considered the seeds of the Bronze Age to have been planted in 1968, taking root in 1969, and then fully blossoming in 1970. Thus, I don’t have a problem stepping back a couple of years to include stories that I feel are pertinent to the development of the Bronze Age.
After the Bronze Age came the Modern Age, 1986-2004. Then, with the publication of DC’s Identity Crisis in 2004, we entered the Jaded Age. Well, in my humble opinion we did. I’m more than willing to be convinced otherwise. But I’ve digressed too long!
So back to the fun: Kanigher’s Sgt. Rock stories; “Dirty Job,” a four-page masterpiece by Bob Haney and Alex Toth in Our Army at War #254; O’Neil and Mike Kaluta’s The Shadow; one lone Steve Gerber tale in Metal Men #45 illustrated by Walt Simonson; the first sixteen issues of Kirby’s Kamandi, the Last Boy on Earth . . . no, the first twenty-four . . . no, it’s gotta be the first thirty-six . . . and the happy list goes on and on, gratefully.
Rather than a long list of great stories, it would be easier, of course, to construct a Top Ten list and tack on a few Honorable Mentions. However, the best of them all would then kind of get lost in the shuffle, which is why I decided everything in my above list (and others) would be #2, and we can all debate lively from there. The #1 entry must stand alone, though, I admit, Steve Englehart and Marshall Rogers’s Batman in Detective Comics came damn close to tying this series for the #1 spot but, in the end, Englehart and Rogers still finished tied for #2.
Now, can I convince you that the particular series I have in mind deserves to stand alone?
If the series had a sympathetic hero, and a strong supporting cast, and a special guest star towards the end–a familiar guest star whose presence never distracted from the story.
And I know I could win you over with the story. It’s packed with mystery and intrigue and conflict and martial arts mayhem, twists, turns, exotic-but-deadly locales, action, adventure, atmosphere, all leading to the end of our world if the hero doesn’t save the day and all our tomorrows. Relevant but never preachy. Smart enough to know when to use humor, and how to use it to move the story forward. Yeah, I would say the story was the clincher for me.
The story had a beginning, which most stories do, of course, and a middle, one that never dragged, which is good–no, which is outstanding–and an ending, which, I’m sorry to say, most DC series of the Bronze Age did not have (I’m looking directly at you with sympathy, Fourth World and Shade, the Changing Man and Carson of Venus).
My #1 series had an actual ending . . . dramatically . . . with a bang, and then a softly spoken coda that resonated deeply with the reader–folding back on what had gone before, over seven chapters, five continents, and an engrossing history that through key flashbacks spanned thirty-five years.
And the artwork was just as epic, too.
You know what series I’m talking about, don’t you? You figured it out four or five paragraphs ago, didn’t you?
Once you figured out the series that I placed as #1, you didn’t really need me to convince you, did you? With Manhunter in Detective Comics #437-43, Archie Goodwin and Walt Simonson convinced us a long time ago.