I can’t recall exactly when I began to read comic-books. It was the mid-70’s though. I had already been exposed to something of that exuberant world through the live-action television program Batman (which I didn’t realize was camp) and the animated Spider-Man (with the greatest theme song ever). Still, I was in for something of a shock when I plunged into what is now referred to as the Bronze Age of Comics.
One of (if the not the) earliest comics I read was 1971's The Amazing Spider-Man No. 99 (an apocalyptically numbered issue if ever there was one) with a story entitled “Panic in the Prison”. I can still see the cover very clearly: there was my friendly neighborhood Spider-Man confronting not some garish goon, but a bunch of normal guys in prison uniforms. They were in the yard of a prison to which Spidey himself had probably sent several. There was a strange current of desperation in that cover illustration. And inside, we see the web-head confronted with rioting in-mates who don’t want to take over the world or even rob banks: they just want to be treated humanely. Okay, there was a real villain in the piece, who was using the other in-mates, but he was kind of incidental; the real opponent here was “the System”. The cover of this issue isn’t regarded as iconic for the Bronze Age; that appellation usually falls to Green Arrow surprising Speedy in the act of shooting up or Spidey confronted with a drugged-out Harry Osbourne. Still, when I think comics, this cover is what immediately springs to mind.
And thus this supplement. Because wherever the strange world of super-heroes has gone in the ensuing decades, there is a part of me that still thinks they live in the mid-70’s somewhere, confronting social injustice, bizarre cults, the Energy Crisis, and disillusionment with the government. In the Bronze Age, the heroes began to face off with the most insidious villain of all - our own worst selves. Plus Disco.