Called by a few the Iron Age, to follow the metallic progression of ages, many more people think of it as the Dark Age. As comics began to skew towards an older readership as the Bronze Age progressed, comics continued to get edgier and grittier. With historic stories like Batman: The Dark Knight Returns (1986), Watchmen (1986), and Batman: The Killing Joke (1988), darker more adult-oriented themes abounded. Characters being maimed or killed and the inclusion of dystopian political concepts into the stories became fairly common.
During this time frame comics and the heroes changed quite a bit, a common term describing them at the time was "grim & gritty". In the 1990's most of DC's main heroes died, were seriously injured, or retired and came back again: Superman died (1993), Batman's back was broken (1993) and he turned the mantle of the Bat over to another even more violent individual and Green Lantern went crazy and killed most of the Green Lantern Corps (1994). There were bright spots among the gloom, but they were overshadowed by the storylines with the injuries, mayhem and death that were getting the most attention (and the most sales).
Up Next:Direct Market Crash (1994) - A huge inflection point for comics.
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Colorful costumes were covered up with leather jackets, punching bad guys was replaced with shooting them, the general demeanor of the books was dark. External market conditions in the comics industry were beginning to mirror the dark and bleak worlds the stories themselves were set in.