Issue 4: Bronze Beauties
My 2-cents on Unsung Non-Variant, Non-Key Covers
Well, hello there from Music City! Hope you're all well and found some loot, last week. As promised, this week is all about the Bronze Age and it's a long one, so saddle up.
I am a Bronze Age boy… literally, I was “created” in the Bronze Age and I assume many of you were, too. As such, I have a huge affection for most things 70’s, including comics… well… the stories, anyway. So, before I really get started, some disclaimers:
DISCLAIMER #1: For our purposes, here, I’ll define the Bronze Age as spanning from 1970-1983 much as ebay does. Some people would extend that to 1985, but I feel that there begins to be a shift in covers somewhere in-and-around 1984. Thus, with good conscience, I won’t include anything after 1983 on the main list. I do add two from ‘85 as a bonus, though.
DISCLAIMER #2: This list is a bit Marvel-heavy. Sorry if that offends anyone, but if you’re offended by great art, then I really do feel sad for you.
DISCLAIMER #3: As you are no doubt aware by now, this column is built around great non-variant, non-key covers you can get your paws on cheap. However, pretty much any high-grade book from the Bronze Age, (much like those from the Silver Age and Golden Age) are going to command a premium.
In the Bronze Age, many covers have those big, bulky, ugly, distracting borders which were often red, blue or black. Any damage to blue and black = horrendous instant color break. Likewise, even an ounce of sunlight to red = pink or orange.
Thus, high grade bronze is a challenge and you’ll pay dearly for it. Now, luckily, once you get down into the Very Good+ to Fine range, the prices come down to earth for all but the mega-keys. Thus, if you’re a 9.8 hound, there really is no such thing as “cheap” Bronze Age.
With all of that in mind, my definition of “cheap,” this week, is in-and-around $10. Some may require some shrewd digging, but they’re out there. I know you’re all up to getting a little dingy in those 40-year-old stacks, so get in there ya big furry oaf, I don’t care what ya smell.
DISCLAIMER #4: The Bronze Age is known more for key issues than it is known for great covers, especially when it comes to Marvel. Now, don’t get me wrong, I’m not suggesting there aren’t some amazing Bronze Age raw cover art and artists (some made their fame during those years as we will discuss, below), but the Bronze Age layout aesthetic is what ruins so many of them for me.
So many of those big thick borders I mentioned above, so many different clashing colors, so many words around the edges and SO MUCH TRADE DRESS. In short… many Bronze Age covers have distractions from their beauty.
DISCLAIMER #5: While Marvel and DC runs on the famous books like X-Men, Spiderman and Batman, etc. have amazing story arcs, most of the great covers from them are on key issues and, as such, don’t follow my rules of inclusion on this list. Oh well. So, no Romita Sr. Spidey (since they all sell like they’re keys) and no X-Men. Also, no magazines (because that will be a later feature. Those painted covers are amazing and deserve their own spotlight).
When I initially sat down to do this issue, I was worried that I’d have a hard time finding 5 really stand-out covers that weren’t already worth a fortune. One thing I didn’t have to worry about, at least, was variants (I really have a hard time calling price changes and Jewelry Ads variants, but to each their own).
Now, for the good news!!! There ended up being WAYYYYYYY more fantastic covers than I had initially thought which were tucked in to some awesome titles and by great artists. I have included 10 this week because I’m weak and couldn’t choose. I could have done 20, but I’ll save those others for a second Bronze Age feature.
So, for this week’s group, I tried to combine popular characters with great art and try to spotlight a few unsung beauties from the Bronze Age that really stand out from the preverbal crowd. Somewhere down the road, I may do some more obscure titles, but for now, there was plenty to choose from out of the big boys. I hope you like them.
1. Detective Comics #472 (1937 Series)
PUBLISHED: DC Comics – September, 1977
ARTIST: Marshall Rogers / Terry Austin
Whenever I run across this book in bins, I get SO excited. I always think to myself, “OOOH, this is one of the expensive ones. SCORE!!!” Then, of course, I look it up and realize it isn’t worth a thing.
With that said, it has the feel of a major classic cover that, for some reason, just hasn’t been welcomed into the fold by the community. I think it is partially to do with the Adams runs around it in both Detective and Batman. As such, these non-Adams covers become the bin fodder.
This one won’t run much more than $8-$10 in VG+/FN. The simplicity of this cover is what makes it so striking. It has almost a Mondo feel to it and a nearly perfect layout. The negative space is as important as the positive space, here.
Nothing is out of place.
The fact that the cover is bordered as if it IS a tombstone is super-clever and it ties with such fluidity into the title dress. Visually, overall, this is my favorite cover, this week.
2. Doctor Strange #6 (1974 Series)
PUBLISHED: Marvel Comics – February, 1975
ARTIST: Frank Brunner
This was a VERY tough choice as there are a myriad of beautiful covers in this run. I especially loved the line work on these #6 pencils, but I’d have been equally satisfied to put #39, #56 or #58 on here, too.
The mystical qualities of the story and character lend themselves very well to psychedelic covers. There’s an intricacy to this cover that stands above the others. The perspective of the layout displays fantastic depth and action.
This just feels like a classic cover to me. Again, this is a CHEAP, CHEAP book. A decent copy shouldn’t set you back much more than $5-$10.
3. Swamp Thing #9 (1972 Series)
PUBLISHED: DC COMICS (Later, DC Verigo) – March/April, 1974
ARTIST: Bernie Wrightson
Man, did I have a tough time choosing between this cover and #8. Wrightson is obviously revered like a God for House of Secrets #92 and Swamp Thing #1 (and for good reason), but EVERYTHING that makes the cover amazing on Swamp Thing #1 is on this cover.
The only difference is, this cover does it better, in my opinion (and it costs a tenth of what #1 does). This cover doesn’t suffer the clashing color woes of so many other Silver/Bronze/Copper covers. As such, it has a flow to it that I love.
The captured tension and strength of the moment is palpable and every line is deliberate. Wrightson really was a genius, especially here with his gorgeous use of shadow and line. The water actually looks wet.
Even the tree line in the background (done very much, again, in a Mondo style) doesn’t take away from the focus of Swamp Thing in the foreground. It is just a beautiful piece of work and layout. This one is a pretty easy find at $10-$12 for a fairly nice copy.
4. Tomb of Dracula #60 (1972 Series)
PUBLISHED: Marvel Comics – September, 1977
ARTIST: Gene Colan
Again, another tough choice. The entire Tomb of Dracula series has some sick covers, but this one by Colan accentuates all of his incredible line work for which he is famous.
I first fell in love with his work in Daredevil, but I don’t adore his covers for that series (more due to those pesky borders I mentioned, earlier, than to his actual art). This cover is pure motion and fury. It sums up the Dracula character so well.
The wrath displayed here and, again, the perspective, is brilliant.
5. Ms. Marvel #20 (1977 Series)
PUBLISHED: Marvel Comics – October, 1978
ARTIST: Dave Cockrum / Bob Wiacek
Wait, what? A sexy cover in 1978? … and wait, what? Dave Cockrum? Yep and yep! This cover has all of the earmarks of a modern cover. Bump up the coloring a bit and you have yourself a hot modern variant.
This one is sorta-kinda a key-ish book since it’s a costume change, but it’s a costume change no one seems to care about because this book is still a $10-$12 book in VG+/FN. Many people point to Brian Bolland’s Wonder Woman covers as the first real “sexy girl” covers, but those are from the 90’s.
This one is long before that and, I don’t know, maybe it’s just me, but this one is pretty hot. Anyhow, I won’t go into detail about Cockrum but this guy has a flood of beautiful comic work.
For those that haven’t paid attention to him in a while (or ever, perhaps), you may want to do yourself a favor and revisit his stuff.
6. Superman #317 (1939 Series)
PUBLISHED: DC Comics – November, 1977
ARTIST: Neal Adams
Um, okay… so, why is this a $10 cover when some of his others are many hundreds? I will NEVER know. This one has everything one could want in a Superman cover and from Neal Adams. The energy and strength of Kal-El is all here.
The genius line work and perspective of Adams is all here. The layout and simplicity rocks and the lighting… man, the lighting just makes this one for me, especially the Kryptonite glow.
For a 70’s cover with a very limited color printing palette, it’s amazing that this much life can be in this cover. The background is superbly done in its simplicity. The depth that it lends to an already striking cover really makes Supe pop.
This is one of Adams’ best, in my opinion, and it can be had for a song and a dance. I get that Superman #233 and Batman #251 are legendary, but I’m inclined to think this one is just as good.
7. Daredevil #189 (1964 Series)
PUBLISHED: Marvel Comics – December, 1982
ARTIST: Frank Miller
I’m going to sound like a broken record, here, but I say again like I said with Neal Adams’ Superman covers, why are some Miller covers revered and others ignored? Arguably, every freakin’ cover in this run is classic, in my humble opinion.
This entire run from Miller (as a writer on the series as well as artist) would literally change how comics were written and read, forever. The darker nature of the storytelling and art had been heretofore unheard of in a superhero comic during the Comic Code days.
Of course, horror comics had done it, but that was because they had circumvented the Comics Code in magazine formats. In this run, #168 and #181 are Elektra keys and the Punisher issues are equally sought after (although, those can be gotten fairly cheaply).
My real money, though, is on this #189. I almost chose #185. I almost chose #188, too. But, nope, #189 blows them all away. This one almost gets into key status as Stick dies in it, but since it can be had easily for $10, it isn’t really treated as such.
I doubt I really even have to say why I think this one is fantastic as I imagine the perspective, simplicity and movement which are captured to perfection all speak for themselves.
The plainly colored backdrop and the shadowed DD all make for a starkly striking cover that deserves a frame in a gallery.
8. Conan the Barbarian: Annual #1 (1970 Series)
PUBLISHED: Marvel Comics – Annual 1973
ARTIST: Barry Windsor-Smith
This cover is just straight-up badass. There is a visceral nature to the line work and such an expression of grit to Conan. BWS is a legendary artist and I would have been remiss to leave him off of a Bronze Age list.
His first work on X-Men during the 60’s is a far cry from this piece. By this time, he had found his stride and was pumping out tremendous stuff, especially in his Conan work for which he would draw through the intro of Red Sonja in issues #23/#24.
Yet again, this is an easy find in VG+/F for a tenner.
9. Captain Marvel #37 (1968 Series)
PUBLISHED: Marvel Comics – March, 1975
ARTIST: Gil Kane
Man, what a cover!!! This issue has a very different feel than others of the time, especially in the movement. There is a grandeur and a depth to it that we see all of the time, now, on modern covers, but was rarely captured in the Bronze Age.
I could do without some of the clutter from the trade dress, but the raw art is so darn cool, I am not distracted by it. The colors are a touch more muted on this one than on previous Captain Marvel covers (and all of the associated Warlock covers) and I feel that is a major reason for this one as a stand-out.
It allows us to focus on the actual art rather than on flash. By this issue #37, we are passed all of the Thanos key mayhem and can settle in, relax, and enjoy for $5. Phew.
10. Wonder Woman #306 (1942 Series)
PUBLISHED: DC Comics – August, 1983
ARTIST: Jose Luis Garcia-Lopez
Here is a dollar bin book that blows me away! Wonder Woman comics suffer from the dreaded “cluttered cover” throughout almost all of her 329-issue run (well, 344 if you count #600-#614 as part of the original run). Additionally, there is some really poor art on many of them.
Couple those woes with the fact that, during the first half of the Bronze Age, Wonder Woman really wasn’t Wonder Woman. She was some fashion model and not the tough, sexy Amazonian she was known to be and became popular because of. Thus, the Bronze WW pickin’s are slim.
This issue #306 comes not only at the tail end of the series, but also at the tail end of the Bronze Age. While it clearly isn’t Bolland/Hughes/Finch/Frison-level WW, it’s pretty close. I love the monochromatic simplicity of Diana as the backdrop and a small, uncluttered color Diana in the foreground.
The whole thing just works. If you dig this type of cover, check out the issue prior to it which is a prime example of how to make trade dress a part of the art of the cover (that one, issue #305 is by Gil Kane, by the way).
11 & 12. ** BONUS**
Star Wars #92 and #98 (1977 Series)
PUBLISHED: Marvel Comics – February and August, 1985 (respectively)
ARTIST: Bill Sienkiewicz
So, I couldn’t very well do a real 1970’s/1980’s article on anything without mentioning something Star Wars. These are “bonuses” because they fall out of my purview for Bronze Age as they are both from 1985. However, some people view Bronze Age as going through 1985, so, I’m making it an exception that still loosely follows the rules.
Regrettably, most of the covers in the original Star Wars Marvel run are pretty lackluster. In fact, most of them are downright terrible. However, these are superb purely because Sienkiewicz was breaking all of the rules for comic book covers (more on that in my upcoming Copper Age issue).
I’ve said it before in previous issues and I’m not shy to say again that Sink is masterful at the media. His art is definitely not for everyone and it stands on the brink of abstract, but he just saw comics differently than everyone else. As a result, his work is timeless which is testament to his talent.
It also explains why he still puts out hot covers in 2018. Even if you’re not a Star Wars fan, these covers are just off the charts. I like #98 a touch better, but you can’t go wrong with either one.
Well, that’ll do it for another issue. There’s a dirty dozen for you all to hunt down. Good luck, thanks for taking the time read and, as always, happy hunting.