Previously, the Silver Age ended with the complete overhaul of the Comics Code Authority. This allowed for darker and more mature themes. It also allowed Marv Wolfman to use actual wolfmen (the Comics Code prohibited the use of “werewolves” in comics, leading to a funny story where DC gave credit to Marv Wolfman as a joke to get around that restriction and soon everybody wanted credits).
But what about crossovers? Well, let’s begin with something quite different, something that had never been attempted before: Jack Kirby’s Fourth World saga. Not just one book, but four books (The New Gods, Mister Miracle, The Forever People, and Superman’s Pal, Jimmy Olsen) were dedicated to telling a giant story about the Fourth World, a world where the “old gods died” and the New Gods lived on two worlds: utopic New Genesis and hellish Apokolips.
Kirby’s saga was, on the whole, pretty successful, so much so that DC kept trying to extend it. Kirby had originally envisioned it as a giant novel that would come to an end, but DC found the characters so popular, they didn’t want it to end. They pushed more crossovers between the Fourth World books and characters like Deadman, but the books soon floundered and were cancelled. They wouldn’t be brought back until 1977.
The cancellation of the Fourth World books didn’t stop DC from using those characters, however: in 1976, in the pages of The Secret Society of Super-Villains, Darkseid brought together a bunch of disparate supervillains to make an anti-Justice League.
Also, with the cancellation of Forever People, Kirby was free to work on Kamandi: The Last Boy on Earth, a post-apocalyptic book that only vaguely referenced the modern day DC universe (at one point, Kamandi finds a group of apes worshiping Superman’s suit). Then, in a backup story called Hercules Unbound, the worlds of Kamandi, OMAC, Hercules, and the Atomic Knights were all tied together: the “Hydrogen War of 1986” that was referenced in Atomic Knights was the same “Great Disaster” referenced in Kamandi and OMAC took place right before the Great Disaster.
Unfortunately, at this point, something called the “DC Implosion” happened: in 1978, DC introduced a lot of different monthly titles in what they called the “DC Explosion.” Due to poor timing and just plain bad luck (there was a major blizzard in 1977 and 1978 which contributed to poor sales), the market couldn’t sustain so many books and DC ended up cancelling nearly half of their books, including Kamandi, Mister Miracle, and The Society of Super-Villains.
It turned out that team-up books still went on strong: DC Comics Presents teamed Superman up every issue with a different superhero, from Batgirl to Captain Comet. DC Comics Presents actually introduced a bunch of new characters to the DC universe, including Mongul (in DC Comics Presents #27) and issue #26 included a backup story that was the very first appearance of the New Teen Titans, who would go on to become one of the most popular DC titles ever.
And in DC Comics Presents #47, Superman travels to Eternia and meets the Masters of the Universe. (I mean, Wonder Woman already met Fafhrd and the Gray Mouser.)
DC Comics Presents lasted all the way up until Crisis on Infinite Earths. The series would regularly publish back up stories called “Whatever Happened To...?” about old characters that hadn’t appeared in a long time (such as Congorilla and Sargon the Sorcerer). So, of course, the last two issues of Superman and Action Comics were called “Whatever Happened To The Man of Tomorrow?”
In 1977, DC also tried bringing back Showcase, publishing stories about the new Doom Patrol and Power Girl. They then published Showcase #100, which brought back nearly every single hero that had been in Showcase for one big, non-canonical adventure involving Nazis, Vikings, gold robots, exploding volcanoes, and dinosaurs. Unfortunately, the new Showcase only lasted another four issues before the DC Implosion ended it.
Luckily for DC, in 1980, The New Teen Titans by Marv Wolfman and George Perez was a massive hit and, in 1982, DC and Marvel decided to have a crossover between both of their best-selling properties: The Uncanny X-Men and the New Teen Titans. Basically, it involved Darkseid trying to pierce the Source Wall by using the power of the Dark Phoenix. Needless to say, it didn’t end well for him. Unfortunately, this would be the last DC/Marvel crossover for a while, even though there had been plans for another New Teen Titans/X-Men crossover and even a JLA/Avengers crossover (this would wait until 2004 before Kurt Busiek and George Perez would make it).
Marv Wolfman and George Perez were still considered top talents and New Teen Titans was still selling like hotcakes — so DC made the decision to hand over the fate of the DC universe to them with Crisis on Infinite Earths in 1985.
Though the whole thing was first conceived as a 50th anniversary celebration (National Allied Publications published their first comic, New Fun, in 1935), it quickly grew when Wolfman realized he could clean up what he saw as a messy and problematic continuity. Long ago, he had thought up a villain called “the Librarian” that would be so big and powerful, it would take all the heroes in order to defeat him. This villain morphed into the Monitor and Anti-Monitor.
Wolfman carefully started seeding appearances of the Monitor and his assistant in 1982, a full three years before the Crisis would begin. This led into the main series, where the Monitor revealed his antimatter counterpart was destroying the Multiverse. After twelve epic issues (where both the Flash and Supergirl died), the Anti-Monitor was defeated and only one Earth remained.
The impact of Crisis on Infinite Earths was massive: it crossed over with nearly every single comic, even if just in small ways (characters commenting about the “red skies”). It crossed over more prominently, however, with Swamp Thing.
Swamp Thing was an DC horror comic in 1972 that had done well at first and then sales had dropped. It was revived in 1982 as Saga of the Swamp Thing, but when the original writer dropped out, it was handed over to a young writer named Alan Moore. Who proceeded to remake the character and create an epic of horror and magic that hadn’t been seen before.
Previously on the verge of cancellation, Moore’s run brought it back and made it popular. Moore was handed more and more stories: he wrote DC Comics Presents #85, “The Jungle Line,” about a meeting between Superman and Swamp Thing and he wrote the last Superman story, “Whatever Happened to the Man of Tomorrow?”
And in 1985, when DC Comics acquired all the characters from Charlton Comics — including the Blue Beetle, the Question, Captain Atom, the Peacemaker, and more — Alan Moore got an idea in his bushy, bushy beard: he submitted a crossover story featuring all the Charlton characters to DC Editor Dick Giordino called “Who Killed the Peacemaker?” Giordino liked it, but didn’t want him to use the Charlton characters, who would have been rendered unusable in the story.
So instead, in 1986, Moore and artist Dave Gibbons created Watchmen.
Watchmen used pastiches of the Charlton characters: the Blue Beetle was now the Nite Owl, the Question was now Rorschach, Captain Atom was Doctor Manhattan, the Peacemaker was the Comedian. But the story was significantly darker, more complex, and more mature than pretty much anything that had gone before (at least in mainstream comics). Combine this was a four-issue mini-series that Frank Miller was making called The Dark Knight Returns and comics were changed forever.
And so the Bronze Age came to an end.
(It began when the old gods died and ended when a comedian died.)
And the Dark Age began.