boom History 101: 70's Comic Books
The early 70s – or, if you want to be pretentious about it, the dawning of the Bronze Age of Comic Books – were an interesting time of transition for the world of comics. Plots got a little more serious, characters became more representative of the world population, and censorship boundaries were challenged. And you thought comics were only bathroom reading material…
ART IMITATING LIFE
During this time, comic book plot elements got darker and storylines became more socially-relevant. It makes perfect sense that, while the real world was experiencing war, the comic book world would reflect a social consciousness it had not exhibited since the 40s. The Iron Man story “Demon in a Bottle” dealt with alcoholism while the X-Men titles used mutants as a metaphor for real-world minorities. Female versions of popular male characters (Spider-Woman, She-Hulk, Ms. Marvel) brought female empowerment to the comic world’s attention.
A WORLD OF COLOUR
During the early 70s, there was a significant rise in the number of racial minority superheroes. Marvel’s Luke Cage was the first black superhero to star in his own comic book (1972). In the Lois Lane story “I Am Curious: Black”, Lois becomes a black woman for a day. Other minority characters that were introduced around the same time include Black Panther, Storm, Blade, Shang-Chi, and Cyborg. By the time the mid-80s rolled along, Storm had become the leader of the X-Men and Cyborg was at the helm of the Teen Titans.
DRUGS! DRUGS! DRUGS!
In 1971 the Nixon Administration’s Department of Health, Education, and Welfare approached Stan Lee, Editor-in-Chief of Marvel Comics, to publish a comic book story condemning drug abuse. Lee agreed and wrote the now-famous three-part Spider-Man story “Green Goblin Reborn!” The story arc included a number of drug-related scenes such as Harry Osborn (son of Norman Osborn, the Green Goblin) popping pills because his love interest had turned him down. At that time, any portrayal of drug use in comic books, even if presented in a negative light, was banned by the Comics Code Authority. Lee’s Spider-Man story was not approved by the CCA but Lee flipped the finger to censorship and published it anyway. “Green Goblin Reborn!” was a huge success and eventually led to the revision of the CCA’s Code.