DC Comics (founded originally in 1934 as National Allied Publications) is one of the largest and most popular American comic book and related media companies, along with Marvel Comics. It is the publishing division of DC Entertainment Inc., a subsidiary company of Warner Bros. Entertainment. DC Comics produces material featuring a large number of well-known characters, including Superman], Batman, Wonder Woman, the Flash, Green Lantern, Captain Marvel, Green Arrow, the Justice League and the rest of the DC Universe.
The initials "DC" came from the company's popular series, Detective Comics, which subsequently became part of the company's official name. DC Comics has its official headquarters at 1700 Broadway, New York, New York. Random House distributes DC Comics' books to the bookstore market, while Diamond Comics Distributors supplies the shop specialty market].
Entrepreneur Major Malcolm Wheeler-Nicholson's National Allied Publications debuted with the tabloid-sized New Fun: The Big Comic Magazine #1 in February 1935. The company's second title, New Comics #1 (December 1935), appeared in a size close to what would become comic books' standard during the period fans and historians call the Golden Age of Comic Books, with slightly larger dimensions than today's. That title evolved into Adventure Comics, which continued through issue #503 in 1983, becoming one of the longest-running comic book series.
Wheeler-Nicholson's third and final title, Detective Comics, advertised with a cover illustration dated December 1936, eventually premiering three months late with a March 1937 cover date. The themed anthology series would become a sensation with the introduction of Batman in issue #27 (May 1939). By then, however, Wheeler-Nicholson had gone. In 1937, in debt to printing-plant owner and magazine distributor Harry Donenfeld — who was as well a pulp-magazine publisher and a principal in the magazine distributorship Independent News — Wheeler-Nicholson was compelled to take Donenfeld on as a partner in order to publish Detective #1. Detective Comics, Inc. was formed, with Wheeler-Nicholson and Jack S. Liebowitz, Donenfeld's accountant, listed as owners. Major Wheeler-Nicholson remained for a year, but cash-flow problems continued, and he was forced out. Shortly afterward, Detective Comics Inc. purchased the remains of National Allied, also known as Nicholson Publishing, at a bankruptcy auction.
Detective Comics Inc. shortly launched a fourth title, Action Comics, the premiere of which introduced Superman (a character with which Wheeler-Nicholson had no direct involvement; editor Vin Sullivan chose to run the feature after Sheldon Mayer rescued it from the slush pile). Action Comics #1 (June 1938), the first comic book to feature the new character archetype — soon known as "superheroes" — proved a major sales hit. The company quickly introduced such other popular characters as the Sandman and Batman.
The Golden AgeEdit
National Allied Publications soon merged with Detective Comics, Inc. to form National Comics, which in 1944 absorbed an affiliated concern, Max Gaines' and Liebowitz's All-American Publications. That year, Gaines let Liebowitz buy him out, and kept only Picture Stories from the Bible as the foundation of his own new company, EC Comics. At that point, "Liebowitz promptly orchestrated the merger of All-American and Detective Comics into National Comics.... Next he took charge of organizing National Comics, [the self-distributorship] Independent News, and their affiliated firms into a single corporate entity, National Periodical Publications". National Periodical Publications became publicly traded on the stock market in 1961.
Despite the official names "National Comics" and "National Periodical Publications", the line used the logo "Superman-DC" throughout, and the company became known colloquially as DC Comics for years before the official adoption of that name.
The company began to move aggressively against imitators for copyright violations by other companies, such as Fox Comics' Wonder Man, which according to court testimony Fox created as a copy of Superman. This extended to DC suing Fawcett Comics for Captain Marvel, at the time comics' top-selling character. Despite the fact that parallels between Captain Marvel and Superman were more tenuous, the courts ruled that there had been substantial and deliberate copying of copyrighted material. Faced with declining sales and the prospect of bankruptcy if they lost, Fawcett capitulated in 1955 and ceased comics publication. Years later, Fawcett ironically sold the rights to Captain Marvel to DC — which in 1973 revived Captain Marvel in the new title Shazam!. featuring artwork by his creator, C. C. Beck. In the meantime, the abandoned trademark had been seized by Marvel Comics in 1967, disallowing the DC comic itself to be called that. While Captain Marvel did not recapture his old popularity, he later appeared in a Saturday morning live action TV adaptation and gained a prominent place in the mainstream continuity DC calls the DC Universe.
When the popularity of superheroes faded in the late 1940s, the company focused on such genres as science fiction, Westerns, humor and romance. DC also published crime and horror titles, but relatively tame ones, and thus avoided the mid-1950s backlash against such comics. A handful of the most popular superhero-titles (most notably Action Comics and Detective Comics, the medium's two longest-running titles) continued publication.
The Silver AgeEdit
In the mid-1950s, editorial director Irwin Donenfeld and publisher Liebowitz directed editor Julius Schwartz (whose roots lay in the Science Fiction book market) to produce a one-shot Flash story in the try-out title Showcase. Instead of reviving the old character, Schwartz had writer Robert Kanigher and John Broome,penciller Carmine Infantino and inker Joe Kubert create an entirely new super-speedster, updating and modernizing the Flash's civilian identity, costume, and origin with a science-fiction bent. The Flash's reimagining in Showcase #4 (October 1956) proved sufficiently popular that it soon led to a similar revamping of the Green Lantern character, the introduction of the modern all-star team Justice League of America, and many more superheroes, heralding what historians and fans call the Silver Age of comic books.
National did not re-imagine its continuing characters (primarily Superman, Batman, and Wonder Woman) but radically overhauled them. The Superman family of titles, under editor Mort Weisinger, introduced such enduring characters as Supergirl, Bizarro, and Brainiac. The Batman titles, under editor Jordan Stewart, introduced the successful Batwoman, Bat-Girl and Bat-Mite in an attempt to modernize the strip with non-science-fiction elements. Schiff's successor, Schwartz, together with artist Infantino, then revitalized Batman in what the company promoted as the "New Look", reemphasizing Batman as a detective. Meanwhile, editor Kanigher successfully introduced a whole family of Wonder Woman characters having fantastic adventures in a mythological context.
DC's introduction of the reimagined superheroes did not go unnoticed by other comics companies. In 1961, with DC's superhero team the Justice League of America as the specific spur, Marvel Comics writer-editor Stan Lee and the legendary Jack Kirby ushered in the sub-Silver Age "Marvel Age" of comics with the debut issue of The Fantastic Four.
Since the 1940s, when Superman, Batman, and many of the company's other heroes began appearing in stories together, DC's characters inhabited a shared continuity that, decades later, was dubbed the DC Universe. With the story "Flash of Two Worlds", in Flash #123 (September 1961), editor Schwartz (with writer Gardner Fox and artists Carmine Infantino and Joe Giella) introduced a concept that allowed slotting the 1930s and 1940s Golden Age heroes into this continuity via the explanation that they lived on an otherdimensional "Earth 2", as opposed to the modern heroes' Earth 1 — in the process creating the foundation for what would later be called the DC Multiverse.
A 1966 Batman TV show on the ABC network sparked a temporary spike in comic book sales, and a brief fad for superheroes in Saturday morning animation (Filmation created most of DC's initial cartoons) and other media. The tone of many DC comics - and particularly Batman and Detective Comics was significantly lightened to better complement the "camp" tone of the TV series. This tone coincided with the famous "Go-Go Checks" checkerboard cover-dress which featured a black-and-white checkerboard strip at the top of each comic, a misguided attempt by then-managing editor Irwin Donenfeld to make DC's output "stand out on the newsracks."
In 1967, Batman artist Infantino (who designed popular Silver Age characters Batgirl and Phantom Stranger) rose from art director to become DC's editorial director. With the growing popularity of upstart rival Marvel Comics threatening to topple DC from its longtime number-one industry position, he attempted to infuse the company with new titles and characters, also recruiting major talents such as ex-Marvel artist and Spider-Man co-creator Steve Ditko and promising newcomer Neal Adams. He also replaced some existing DC editors with artist-editors, including Joe Kubert and Dick Giordano, to give DC's output a more artistic critical eye.
These new editors recruited youthful new creators, in part in an effort to capture a market which had grown from being dominated by children, to include older teens and even college students. Some new talent, such as Dennis O'Neil, who had worked for both Marvel and Charlton, gained critical and popular acclaim on titles including Batman and Green Lantern (his Green Lantern run with artist Neal Adams became a key title in the burgeoning 1970s Bronze Age, and the move away from the Comics Code Authority). Nevertheless, the period was plagued by short-lived series that started out strong but petered out rapidly.
The Fourth WorldEdit
In 1969, National Comics merged with Warner Bros/7 Arts. The following year, Infantino convinced Jack Kirby to defect from Marvel Comics to DC, at the end of the Silver Age of Comics, in which Kirby's contributions to Marvel played a large, integral role. Given carte blanche to write and illustrate his own stories, he created a handful of thematically linked series he called collectively The Fourth World. In the existing series Jimmy Olsen and in his own, newly launched series New Gods, Mister Miracle, and The Forever People, Kirby introduced such enduring characters and concepts as archvillain Darkseid and the otherdimensional realm Apokolips. While sales did not meet management's expectations, Kirby's conceptions would become integral to the broadening of the DC Universe. Kirby went on to create the series Kamandi, about a teenaged boy in a post-apocalyptic world of militaristic talking animals, when directed by the publisher to come up with something resembling Planet of the Apes.
The Bronze AgeEdit
Following the science-fiction innovations of the Silver Age, the comics of the 1970s and 1980s would come to be known as the Bronze Age, as fantasy gave way to more naturalistic and sometimes darker themes. Illegal drug use, banned by the Comics Code Authority, explicitly appeared in comics for the first time in Marvel Comics' The Amazing Spider-Man in early 1971, and after the Code's updating in response, DC offered a drug-fueled storyline in writer Dennis O'Neil and artist Neal Adams' Green Lantern, beginning with the story "Snowbirds Don't Fly" in the retitled Green Lantern / Green Arrow #85 (September 1971), which depicted Speedy, the teen sidekick of superhero archer Green Arrow, as having become a heroin addict.
Jenette Kahn, a former children's magazine publisher, replaced Infantino as editorial director in January 1976. DC had been attempting to compete with the now-surging Marvel by dramatically increasing its output and attempting to win the market by flooding it. This included launching series featuring such new characters as Firestorm and Shade, the Changing Man, as well as an increasing array of non-superhero titles, in an attempt to recapture the pre-Wertham days of post-War comicdom. In June 1978, five months before the release of the first Superman movie, Kahn expanded the line further, increasing the number of titles, story pages and raising the price from 35 cents to 50 cents. Most series received eight-page back-up features while some had full-length twenty-five page stories. This was a move the company called the "DC Explosion". The move was not successful, however, and corporate partner Warner dramatically cut back on these largely unsuccessful titles, firing many staffers in what industry watchers dubbed "the DC Implosion". In September 1978, the line was dramatically reduced and standard-size books returned to 17 story pages but for a still-increased 40 cents. By 1980, the books returned to 50 cents with a 25-page story count but the story pages replaced house ads in the books.
Seeking new ways to boost market share, the new management of publisher Kahn, vice-president Paul Levitz, and managing editor Giordano addressed the issue of talent instability. To that end — and following the example of Atlas/Seaboard Comics and such independent companies as Eclipse Comics — DC began to offer royalties in place of the industry-standard work-for-hire agreement in which creators worked for a flat fee and signed away all rights. In addition, emulating the era's new television form, the mini-series, DC created the industry concept of the comic book limited series, allowing for the deliberate creation of finite storylines within a more flexible publishing format.
These changes in policy shaped the future of the medium as a whole, and in the short term allowed DC to entice creators away from rival Marvel, and encourage stability on individual titles. The November 1980 launch of the ongoing series The New Teen Titans, was by writer Marv Wolfman and artist George Pérez, two popular talents with a history of success. Their superhero-team comic, superficially similar to Marvel's ensemble series X-Men, but rooted in DC history, earned significant sales in part due to the stability of the creative team, who both continued with the title for six full years. In addition, Wolfman and Pérez took advantage of the limited-series option to create a spin-off title, Tales of the New Teen Titans, to present origin stories of their original characters without having to break the narrative flow of the main series or oblige them to double their work load with another ongoing title.
This successful revitalization of a minor title led DC's editors to seek the same for the entire line and wider DC Universe. The result was the Wolfman/Pérez 12-issue limited series Crisis on Infinite Earths, which gave the company an opportunity to realign and jettison some of the "baggage" of its history, address "errors" in the characters' long histories and - particularly - revise, update and streamline major characters such as Superman and Wonder Woman. A companion two issues in the new prestige format entitled The History of the DC Universe set out briefly the revised history of the major DC characters, and set the scene for an effective reboot of all titles, while still rooted in the long tradition and history of the DC Universe. Effectively moving from the realism of the Bronze Age towards the era sometimes called the "Dark Age," Crisis featured many key and resonant deaths which would shape the DC Universe for the following decades, and separate the timeline of DC publications into pre- and post-"Crisis".
Meanwhile, a parallel revolution was afoot in the Non-superhero and Horror titles. Since the start of 1984, British writer Alan Moore had re-energized the horror series The Saga of the Swamp Thing, and his acclaimed work sparked the comic-book equivalent of rock music's British Invasion. Building on the dark naturalism of the Bronze Age, numerous British writers, including Neil Gaiman and Grant Morrison, subsequently began freelancing for the company. The resulting influx of sophisticated horror/fantasy material led not only to DC abandoning the Comics Code for particular titles scripted by those talents, but also to establishing in 1993 the Vertigo mature-readers imprint.
Key titles in the subtle shift towards the Modern Age are the two landmark DC-published limited series Batman: The Dark Knight Returns by Frank Miller and Watchmen by Moore and artist Dave Gibbons. These eye-opening titles drew attention to changes at DC for dark psychological complexity, and promotion of the antihero. The new creative freedom and attendant publicity that allowed Miller to produce a dark, future Batman and Moore to create a similarly dystopian future filled with pessimism allowed DC to challenge Marvel's industry lead, and also paved the way for comics to both be more widely accepted in literary-criticism circles as more than just for children, and to start making in-roads into the book industry, with collected editions of these key series selling particularly well as trade paperbacks.
Conversely, while the mainstream DCU got a shade darker, the mid-1980s also saw the end of many long-running DC war comics, including venerable series that had been in print since the 1960s. These titles, all with over 100 issues, included Sgt. Rock, G.I. Combat, The Unknown Soldier, and Weird War Tales.
In 1989, with the release of the first Batman movie, DC began publishing its hardcover series of DC Archive Editions, collections of many of their early, key comics series, featuring rare and expensive stories unseen by many modern fans. Restoration for many of the Archives was handled by Rick Keene with color restoration by DC's long-time resident colorist, Bob LeRose. These collections attempted to retroactively credit many of the writers and artists who had worked without much recognition for DC during the early period of comics, when individual credits were few and far between.
The comics industry experienced a brief boom in the early 1990s, thanks to a combination of speculative purchasing (mass purchase of the books as collectible items, with intent to resell at a higher value as the rising value of older issues was thought to imply that all comics would rise dramatically in price) and several storylines which gained attention from the mainstream media. DC's extended storylines in which Superman was killed, Batman was crippled and super-hero Green Lantern Hal Jordan turned into the super villain Parallax, resulted in dramatically increased sales, but the increases were as temporary as the substitutes, and sales dropped off as industry sales went into a major slump as manufactured "collectibles" numbering in their millions replaced quality with quantity until fans and speculators alike deserted the medium in droves.
DC's Piranha Press and other imprints (including Vertigo, the mature readers line pioneered in the British Horror work of the 1980s and Helix, a short-lived Science Fiction imprint) in the 1990s were introduced to facilitate compartmentalized diversification, and allow for specialized marketing of individual product lines. They increased the use of non-traditional contractual arrangements, including the dramatic rise of creator-owned contracts leading to a significant increase in critically lauded work (much of it for Vertigo) and the licensing of material from other companies. DC also increased publication of book-friendly formats, including trade paperback collections of individual serial comics, and original graphic novels.
DC entered into a publishing agreement with Milestone Media that gave DC a line of comics featuring a culturally and racially diverse range of superhero characters; although the Milestone line ceased publication after a few short years, it yielded the popular animated series Static Shock. Paradox Press was established to publish material ranging from the large-format Big Book of... series of multi-artist interpretations on individual themes, and such crime fiction as the graphic novel Road to Perdition. In 1998, DC purchased Wildstorm Comics, Jim Lee's imprint under the Image Comics banner, and absorbed it while continuing it for many years as a wholly separate imprint - and Universe - with its own style and audience. As part of this purchase, DC also began to publish titles under the fledgling WildStorm sub-imprint America's Best Comics (ABC), a series of titles from the mind of Alan Moore, including The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen, Tom Strong and Promethea. Moore strongly contested this situation, and DC no longer publishes ABC.
In March 2003, DC acquired publishing and merchandising rights to the long-running fantasy series Elfquest, previously self-published by creators Wendy and Richard Pini under their WaRP Graphics publication banner. This series then followed the Tower Comics series T.H.U.N.D.E.R. Agents in becoming non-DC titles published in the "DC Archives" format. In 2004, DC temporarily acquired the North American publishing rights to graphic novels from European publishers 2000 AD and Humanoids. It also rebranded its younger-audience titles with the mascot Johnny DC, and established the CMX imprint to reprint translated manga. In 2006, CMX took over from Dark Horse Comics publication of the webcomic Megatokyo in print form. DC also took advantage of the demise of Kitchen Sink Press and acquired the rights to much of the work of Will Eisner, such as his The Spirit series and his graphic novels.
Starting in 2004, DC began laying groundwork for a full continuity-reshuffling sequel to Crisis on Infinite Earths, promising substantial changes to the DC Universe (and side-stepping the 1994 Zero Hour event which similarly tried to ret-con the history of the DCU). In 2005, with the release of Batman Begins, the company published several limited series establishing increasingly escalated conflicts among DC's heroes, with events climaxing in the Infinite Crisis limited series. Immediately after this event, DC's ongoing series jumped forward a full year in their in-story continuity, as DC launched a weekly series, 52, to gradually fill in the missing time. Concurrently, DC lost the copyright to "Superboy" (while retaining the trademark) when the heirs of Jerry Seigel used a provision of the 1976 revision to the copyright law to regain ownership.
In 2005, DC launched a new "All-Star" line (evoking the title of the 1940s publication), designed to feature some of the company's best-known characters in stories that eschewed the long and convoluted continuity of the DC Universe, produced by "all star" creative teams. All-Star Batman & Robin the Boy Wonder launched in July 2005, with All-Star Superman beginning in November 2005. All-Star Wonder Woman and All Star Batgirl were announced in 2006, with the release of Superman Returns in movie theaters, but neither have been released or scheduled as of the end of 2009.
In September 2009, Warner Bros. announced that DC Comics would become a subsidiary of DC Entertainment Inc., with Diane Nelson, president of Warner Premiere, becoming president of the new company. DC Comics publisher Paul Levitz will step down and serve as a contributing editor and overall consultant.
DC's first logo appeared on the April 1940 issues of its titles. The letters "DC" stood for Detective Comics, the name of Batman's flagship title. The small logo, with no background, read simply, "A DC Publication".
The November 1941 DC titles introduced an updated logo. This version was almost twice the size of the previous one, and was the first version with a white background. The name "Superman" was added to "A DC Publication", effectively acknowledging both Superman and Batman. This logo was the first to occupy the top-left corner of the cover, where the logo has usually resided since. The company now referred to itself in its advertising as "Superman-DC".
In November 1949, the logo was modified to incorporate the company's formal name, National Comics Publications. This logo would also serve as the round body of Johnny DC, DC's mascot in the 1960s.
In October 1970, the circular logo was briefly retired in favor of a simple "DC" in a rectangle with the name of the title, or the star of the book; the logo on many issues of Action Comics, for example, read "DC Superman". An image of the lead character either appeared above or below the rectangle. For books that did not have a single star, such as anthologies like House of Mystery or team series such as Justice League of America, the title and "DC" appeared in a stylized logo, such as a bat for House of Mystery. This use of characters as logos helped to establish the likenesses as trademarks, and was similar to Marvel's contemporaneous use of characters as part of its cover branding.
DC's "100 Page Super-Spectacular" titles and later 100-page and "Giant" issues published from 1972 to 1974 featured a logo exclusive to these editions: the letters "DC" in a simple sans-serif typeface within a circle. A variant had the letters in a square.
The July 1972 DC titles featured a new circular logo. The letters "DC" were rendered in a block-like typeface that would remain through later logo revisions until 2005. The title of the book usually appeared inside the circle, either above or below the letters.
In December 1973, this logo was modified with the addition of the words "The Line of DC Super-Stars" and the star motif that would continue in later logos. This logo was placed in the top center of the cover from August 1975 to October 1976.When Jenette Kahn became DC's publisher in late 1976, she commissioned graphic designer Milton Glaser to design a new logo. Popularly referred to as the "DC bullet", this logo premiered on the February 1977 titles. Although it varied in size and color and was at times cropped by the edges of the cover, or briefly rotated 4 degrees, it remained essentially unchanged for nearly three decades.
In July 1987, DC released variant editions of Justice League #3 and The Fury of Firestorm #61 with a new DC logo. It featured a picture of Superman in a circle surrounded by the words "SUPERMAN COMICS". These variant covers were released to newsstands in certain markets as a marketing test.
On , a new logo was unveiled, debuting on DC titles starting in June 2005 with DC Special: The Return of Donna Troy #1 and the rest of the titles the following week. In addition to comics, it was designed for DC properties in other media, such as the movies Batman Begins and Superman Returns as well as the new Batman film The Dark Knight and the TV series Smallville, Justice League Unlimited and The Batman, as well as for collectibles and other merchandise. The logo was designed by Josh Beatman of Brainchild Studios and DC executive Richard Bruning.
- All Star (2005-present)
- Amalgam Comics (1996-1997; jointly with Marvel Comics)
- DC (1935-present)
- DC Archive Editions (1989-present)
- DC Focus (2004-2005; merged with main DC line)
- Elseworlds (1989-2004)
- Helix (1996-1998; merged with Vertigo)
- Impact Comics (1991-1993; licensed from Archie Comics)
- Johnny DC (2004-present)
- Mad Books (1992-present)
- Milestone Media (1993-1997)
- Minx (2007-2008)
- Paradox Press (1998-2003)
- Piranha Press (1989-1993; renamed Paradox Press)
- Tangent Comics (1997-1998)
- Vertigo (1993-present)
- WildStorm Productions (1999-present)
- Will Eisner Library (2000-present)
- Zuda Comics (2007-present)
Acquired Companies and StudiosEdit
- All-American Publications (merged 1944)
- Archie Comics (superhero properties licensed 1991-1993 as part of Impact Comics, properties later acquired 2008)
- Charlton Comics (some properties acquired 1983)
- Fawcett Comics (some properties licensed 1972, acquired early 1990s)
- Flex Comix (made investment in 2007; jointly owned with other companies)
- Mad Magazine (not owned, but assigned to DC's corporate control in the late 1990s. Both companies are part of Warner Bros. Entertainment)
- Quality Comics (some properties licensed 1956, later acquired)
- WaRP Graphics (properties licenced from 2003 to 2007)
- WildStorm Productions (properties acquired 1999)
- Will Eisner Library (some properties licensed 2000)