DC Comics is one of the largest American companies in comic book and related media publishing. A subsidiary of Time Warner (although its byline reads "A Warner Bros. Entertainment Company"), DC is responsible for some of comics' most famous characters, including Superman, Batman, Wonder Woman, the Flash, Green Lantern,Aquaman,Green Arrow, and their teammates in the Justice League of America. For decades, DC Comics has been one of the two largest American comic book companies, along with Marvel Comics.
The initials "DC" were originally an abbreviation for Detective Comics, and later became the company's official name.
Originally located in New York City at 432 Fourth Avenue, DC has been successively headquartered at 480 and later 575 Lexington Avenue; 909 Third Avenue; 75 Rockefeller Plaza; 666 Fifth Avenue; and 1325 Avenue of the Americas (in 1992). DC took over several floors when it moved to 1700 Broadway in the mid-1990s, relocating there with fellow Time Warner property MAD Magazine, which moved there from 485 Madison Avenue.
The corporation is an amalgamation of several companies. National Allied Publications was founded by Major Malcolm Wheeler-Nicholson in 1934 to publish Fun: The Big Comic Magazine #1 (Feb. 1935), later known as New Fun and More Fun. The first American comic book with solely original material rather than comic strip reprints, it was a tabloid-sized, 10-inch by 15-inch, 36-page magazine with a card-stock, non-glossy cover. Issue #6 (Oct. 1935) brought the comic-book debut of Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster, the future creators of Superman, who began their careers with the musketeer swashbuckler "Henri Duval" and, under the pseudonyms "Leger and Reuths", the supernatural-crimefighter adventure "Doctor Occult".
Wheeler-Nicholson added a second magazine, New Comics, which premiered with a Dec. 1935 cover date and at close to what would become the standard size of Golden Age 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.
His third and final title was Detective Comics, advertised with a cover illustration dated Dec. 1936, but 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 was 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. The major remained for a year, but cash-flow problems continued, and he was forced out.
Shortly afterward came the launch of what would have been his fourth title, National Allied Publications' Action Comics, the premiere of which introduced Superman (a character with which Wheeler-Nicholson was not directly involved; editor Vin Sullivan chose to run the feature after Sheldon Mayer rescued it from the slush pile).
National Allied Publications and Detective Comics, Inc., soon merged to form National Comics, which in 1944 absorbed an affiliated concern, Max (Charlie) 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 logo "Superman-DC" was used throughout the line, and the company known colloquially as DC Comics for years before the official adoption of that name.
Action Comics #1 (June 1938), the debut of Superman. Cover art by Joe Shuster.
Wheeler-Nicholson's company pioneered the American comic book, publishing the first such periodical consisting solely of original material rather than reprints of newspaper comic strips, starting with Fun: The Big Comic Magazine #1 (Feb. 1935), called New Fun after the first issue. The evolving company was also the first to feature superheroes, beginning with Action Comics #1 in 1938. When the sales of the title proved unexpectedly strong and market research confirmed that the character, Superman, was the major reason, a period called the Golden Age of comic books began. In reaction, the company introduced such other popular characters as Batman, and Wonder Woman, and the first superhero team, the Justice Society of America.
The company began to aggressively move against imitators for copyright violations by other companies such as Wonder Man, which according to court testimony was 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 the parallels were more tenuous. This started a years long court battle that ended in 1955 when Fawcett capitulated and largely ceased comics publication, selling its character-rights to DC — which in 1973 ironically revived Captain Marvel, and his creator, C. C. Beck, in the new title Shazam!. (The lapsed "Captain Marvel" 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, a Saturday morning live action TV adaptation was popular and the character would gain a noted place in the DC Universe.
When the popularity of superheros faded in the late 1940s, the company focused on such genres as science fiction, Westerns, humor and romance. DC largely avoided the crime and horror trends of the time, thus avoiding 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.
In the mid-1950s, editorial director Irwin Donenfeld and publisher Liebowitz directed editor Julius Schwartz to do a one-shot Flash story in the try-out title Showcase. Instead of reviving the old character, Schwartz had writers Gardner Fox and Robert Kanigher, penciler Carmine Infantino and inker Joe Kubert create a 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 (Oct. 1956) proved popular enough that it soon led to similar revamping of Green Lantern, the introduction of the modern all-star team Justice League of America, and many more superheros, heralded what historians and fans call the Silver Age of comic books.
National's continuing characters, primarily Batman, Superman, and Wonder Woman, were not reimagined but spruced up. The Superman family of titles, under editor Mort Weisinger, introduced such enduring characters as Supergirl, Bizarro, and Brainiac. The Batman titles, under editor Jack Schiff, introduced the less successful Batwoman, Bat-Girl and Bat-Mite in an attempt to modernize the strip with science-fiction elements. Schiff's successor, Schwartz, together with artist Infantino, then revitalized Batman in what was 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.
A 1960s Batman TV show on the ABC network sparked a temporary spike in comic-book sales, and a brief fad for superheros in Saturday morning animation and other media.
The New Gods #1 (February-March 1971) featuring Orion. Cover art by Jack Kirby and Don Heck.
In 1967, Batman artist Infantino became 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, and recruited major talents such as Steve Ditko and promising newcomers such as Neal Adams. He also replaced some existing editors with such artist-editors as Kubert and Dick Giordano.
The new editors recruited youthful new creators in an effort to capture a market that had grown from primarily children to now includee older teens and even college students. Some new talent, such as Dennis O'Neil, who worked on Green Lantern and Batman, became industry lights. Nevertheless, the period was plagued by short-lived series that started out strong, but petered out rapidly.
In 1969, National Comics merged with Warner Bros/7 Arts. The following year, Jack Kirby defected from Marvel to create a handful of thematically linked series he called collectively The Fourth World, introducing in his comics New Gods, Mister Miracle, and The Forever People 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 DC Multiverse. 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.
1970s and 1980s
Green Lantern vol. 2, #76 (April 1970). Cover art by Neal Adams.
Jenette Kahn, a former children's magazine publisher, replaced Infantino in January 1976. DC had been attempting to compete with the now-surging Marvel by dramatically increasing its output, a move the company called the "DC Explosion". This included series featuring such new characters as Firestorm and Shade, the Changing Man, and several non-superhero titles. Afterward, however, corporate partner Warner dramatically cut back on these largely unsuccessful titles, firing many staffers in what industry watchers dubbed "the DC Implosion".
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 miniseries, DC created the industry concept of comic book limited series that allowed flexible arrangements for storylines.
These policy changes paid off with the success of the ongoing series The New Teen Titans, by writer Marv Wolfman and artist George Pérez, two popular talents with a history of success. Their superhero-team comic, which was superficially similar to Marvel's ensemble series X-Men, earned significant sales in part due to the stability of the creative team, who kept with the title for 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.
The New Teen Titans #1 (November 1980), cover art by George Perez and Dick Giordano.
This successful revitalization of a minor title led the editorship to seek the same for DC's entire line. The result was the limited series Crisis on Infinite Earths, which gave the company an opportunity to dismiss some of the "baggage" of its history, and revise major characters such as Superman and Wonder Woman.
Meanwhile, British writer Alan Moore had re-energized the minor horror series Saga of the Swamp Thing, and his acclaimed work sparked the comic-book equivalent of rock music's British Invasion. Numerous British writers, including Neil Gaiman and Grant Morrison, began freelancing for the company. The resulting influx of sophisticated horror and dark 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.
Acclaimed limited series such as Batman: The Dark Knight Returns by Frank Miller and Watchmen by Moore and artist Dave Gibbons also drew attention to changes at DC. This new creative freedom and the attendant publicity allowed DC to challenge Marvel's industry lead.
Conversely, 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, DC began publishing its DC Archive Editions of hardcover collections of early, rare comics.
The Death of Superman: Superman #75 (Jan. 1993). Cover art by Dan Jurgens.
The comics industry experienced a brief boom in the early 1990s, thanks to a combination of speculative purchasing of the books as collectibles and several storylines which gained attention from the mainstream media. DC's extended storylines in which Superman was killed and Batman was crippled, 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.
DC's Piranha Press and other imprints in the 1990s were introduced to facilitate diversification and specialized marketing of its product line. They increased the use of nontraditional contractual arrangements, including creator-owned work and licensing material from other companies. DC also increased publication of trade paperbacks, including both collections of 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 the large-format Big Book of... series, and such crime fiction as the graphic novel Road to Perdition. DC purchased Wildstorm Comics, maintaining it as a separate imprint with its own style and audience. Likewise, DC added the Wildstorm imprint America's Best Comics, created by Alan Moore and including the series Tom Strong and Promethea.
Infinite Crisis #1 (Oct. 2005). Variant-cover art by George Pérez.
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 the Warp Graphics banner. The following year, DC established the CMX imprint to reprint translated manga, and 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.
Starting in 2004, DC began laying groundwork for a sequel to Crisis on Infinite Earths, promising substantial changes to the DC Universe. In 2005, the company published several limited series establishing increasing conflicts among DC's heroes, with events climaxing in the limited series Infinite Crisis. Afterward, DC's ongoing series jumped one year forward in their story continuity, with DC publishing a weekly series, 52, that would gradually fill in the gap.
Also in 2005, DC launched an "All-Star" line, featuring some of DC's best-known characters in stories that eschewed the long and convoluted continuity of the DC Universe. All-Star Batman & Robin the Boy Wonder launched in July 2005, with All-Star Superman beginning in November 2005 and All-Star Wonder Woman soon to follow. Warner Bros. released Batman Begins on June 15, 2005.
In 2006, affiliate CMX began publishing the webcomic Megatokyo' in print form, and Warner Bros. released the film Superman Returns.
DC's first logo appeared on the March 1940 issues of its titles. The letters "DC" stood for Detective Comics, the name of Batman's flagship titles. 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, and was the first version with a white background. The name "Superman" was added to "A DC Publication", effectively acknowledging both Superman (the company's most popular character) 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 that was exclusive to these editions, the letters "DC" in a simple sans-serif typeface, in 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 45 degrees, it remained essentially unchanged for nearly three decades.
1987 test logo.
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 May 8, 2005, 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 movie Batman Begins and the TV series Smallville and Justice League Unlimited, as well as for collectibles and other merchandise. The logo, which some have dubbed the "DC spin", was designed by Josh Beatman of Brainchild Studios.
Promotional art for Gotham Knights #20 cover featuring Batman and Superman, by Brian Bolland.