By the 1980's, something had happened to the comic industry that had changed it dramatically. For one, comics were becoming much more story-oriented, especially after such hit comics as The Watchmen and The Dark Knight Returns, which both received national attention. And second, comic book specialty stores began springing up around the United States. Over 3,000, in fact. Because of this, an increase in demand for comics came about which spawned new companies to compete against the "big two." There was Defiant Comics, Acclaim Comics, Dark Horse Comics, and Malibu Comics. None of which, though, became as successful as Image Comics.
Image Comics was formed by a group of artists from DC Comics and Marvel Comics who had decided they had taken enough gruff from the editors and wanted to do stuff their way. Inside Image Comics were miniature studios, such as Wild Storm Productions, Todd McFarlane Productions, and Extreme Studios. And they did great. Talent from all over the industry flocked to the company to make their stories and the company became even more successful, at times, than the "big two" themselves.
Art also evolved to a higher level, as new talent broke onto the scene changing the way people looked at comic art. Joe Maduria and Adam Warren made manga art, a Japanese style of illustrating, into focus. Alex Ross brought painting to comics, showing companies that not everything needs to be done with pencil and ink. Artists like these made others strive for higher quality, changing how they illustrated there work to suit the wants and needs of the readers.
As computers seized the world, they also seized comics. Coloring became an art form more suited for computers ad companies such as Liquid Coloring and Digital Chamaeleon broke new ground in how to color comics. And let's not forget Richard Starkings who created Comiccraft, a lettering company which would make panels and letter comics using computers and specialized fonts.
Comics also have obviously become a piece of American culture. Comic books now have possibly the largest group of followers ever thanks to the Internet, possibly a larger group of followers than the television show Star Trek. Comics, in fact, have become such a popular thing in our culture that it is not rare to find others sources of media, such as television and movies, poking fun at them. It is not rare anymore to hear the words "Look, up in the sky!" being used in some strange form in order to get a few laughs. In some cases entire shows and movies are made that are all about spoofing comic books, like The Tick and Mystery Men.
Of course, the modern age still is not over, so wait around, things have just gotten started.