"Up, up and away."
- W.J. Flywheel, Webporium
Comics, Inc. (founded in 1934 as National Allied Publications) is
one of the largest and most successful companies operating in the
market for American comic books and related media. It is the
publishing unit of DC Entertainment, a company of Warner Bros.
Entertainment, which itself is owned by Time Warner. DC Comics
produces material featuring a large number of well-known characters,
including Superman, Batman, Wonder Woman, Green Lantern, the Flash,
Aquaman, Hawkman, Hawkgirl, Green Arrow, Black Canary, and the
Martian Manhunter, along with such superhero teams as the Justice
League and the Teen Titans, as well as antagonists such as Lex
Luthor, the Joker, Darkseid, the Riddler, Catwoman, Brainiac, and the Penguin.
The initials "DC"
came from the company's popular series Detective Comics, which
featured Batman's debut and subsequently became part of the company's
name. Originally in Manhattan at 432 Fourth Avenue, the DC Comics
offices have been located at 480 and later 575 Lexington Avenue; 909
Third Avenue; 75 Rockefeller Plaza; 666 Fifth Avenue; and 1325 Avenue
of the Americas. DC has its headquarters at 1700 Broadway, Midtown
Manhattan, New York City.
Random House distributes DC
Comics' books to the bookstore market, while Diamond Comic
Distributors supplies the comics shop specialty market. DC Comics and
its major, longtime competitor Marvel Comics (owned by Time Warner's
main rival The Walt Disney Company since 2009) together shared over
80% of the American comic-book market in 2008.
Major Malcolm Wheeler-Nicholson's National Allied Publications
debuted with the tabloid-sized New Fun: The Big Comic Magazine #1
with a cover date of February 1934. The company's second title, New
Comics #1 (Dec. 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. In 2009 DC revived it with its original numbering.
and final title, Detective Comics, advertised with a cover
illustration dated December 1936, eventually premiered 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 also published pulp magazines and operated as a principal in the
magazine distributorship Independent News - Wheeler-Nicholson had to
take Donenfeld on as a partner in order to publish Detective Comics
#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. soon
launched a fourth title, Action Comics, and 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.
On February 22, 2010, a
copy of Action Comics #1 (June 1938) sold at auction from an
anonymous seller to an anonymous buyer for $1 million, besting the
$317,000 record for a comic book set by a different copy, in lesser
condition, the previous year.
Allied Publications soon merged with Detective Comics Inc. to form
National Comics, which in 1944 absorbed an affiliated concern, Max
Gaines' and Liebowitz' 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 (the DC logo could be seen on their covers and ads as
early as 1940), and the company became known colloquially as DC
Comics for years before the official adoption of that name in 1977.
company began to move aggressively against what it saw as
copyright-violating imitations from other companies, such as Fox
Comics' Wonder Man, which (according to court testimony) Fox started
as a copy of Superman. This extended to DC suing Fawcett Comics over
Captain Marvel, at the time comics' top-selling character. Despite
the fact that parallels between Captain Marvel and Superman seemed
more tenuous (Captain Marvel's powers came from magic, unlike
Superman's), the courts ruled that substantial and deliberate copying
of copyrighted material had occurred. Faced with declining sales and
the prospect of bankruptcy if it lost, Fawcett capitulated in 1955
and ceased comics publication. Years later, Fawcett ironically sold
the rights for Captain Marvel to DC - which in 1974 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 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 writers
Robert Kanigher and John Broome, penciler 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 (JLA), and many more superheroes,
heralding what historians and fans call the Silver Age of comic books.
National did not reimagine
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
Jack Schiff, introduced the successful Batwoman, Bat-Girl, Ace the
Bat-Hound, and Bat-Mite in an attempt to modernize the strip with
non-science-fiction elements. Schwartz, together with artist
Infantino, then revitalized Batman in what the company promoted as
the "New Look", re-emphasizing Batman as a detective.
Meanwhile, editor Kanigher successfully introduced a whole family of
Wonder Woman characters having fantastic adventures in a mythological context.
introduction of the reimagined superheroes did not go unnoticed by
other comics companies. In 1961, with DC's JLA as the specific spur,
Marvel Comics writer-editor Stan Lee and legendary creator 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"
by fans. With the story "Flash of Two Worlds", in Flash
#123 (September 1961), editor Schwartz (with writer Gardner Fox and
artists 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 other-dimensional
"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.
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. DC significantly lightened the tone of many DC comics
particularly Batman and Detective Comics 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."
1967, Batman artist Infantino (who had designed popular Silver Age
characters Batgirl and the 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 position in the comics industry, 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.
In 1967, National
Periodical Publications was purchased by Kinney National Company,
which later purchased Warner Bros.-Seven Arts and became Warner Communications
1970, Jack Kirby moved 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
Superman's Pal 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 were respectable, they
did not meet DC management's initially high expectations, and also
suffered from a lack of comprehension and internal support from
Infantino. By 1973 the "Fourth World" was all cancelled,
although Kirby's conceptions would soon become integral to the
broadening of the DC Universe. Kirby went on to create other
"daring and different" series for DC, including Kamandi,
about a teenaged boy in a post-apocalyptic world of anthropomorphic
talking animals, when directed by the publisher to come up with
something resembling Planet of the Apes.
the science-fiction innovations of the Silver Age, the comics of the
1970s and 1980s would become 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.
Kahn, a former children's magazine publisher, replaced Infantino as
editorial director in January 1976. DC had attempted 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 and 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.
new ways to boost market share, the new team 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, giving talent a financial incentive tied to
the success of their work. In addition, emulating the era's new
television form, the miniseries while addressing the matter of an
excessive number of ongoing titles fizzling out within a few issues
of their start, DC created the industry concept of the comic book
limited series. This publishing format allowed for the deliberate
creation of finite storylines within a more flexible publishing
format that could showcase creations without forcing the talent into
unsustainable openended commitments.
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. In November 1980 DC launched 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, 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.
successful revitalization of the Silver Age Teen Titans into The New
Teen Titans led DC's editors to seek the same for the entire line and
for the wider DC Universe. The result, the Wolfman/Pérez
12-issue limited series Crisis on Infinite Earths, 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 publication
in the new prestige format, two volumes 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 had started 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.
titles in the subtle shift towards the Modern Age include the two
DC-published limited series Batman: The Dark Knight Returns by Frank
Miller and Watchmen by Moore and artist Dave Gibbons. These titles
drew attention to changes at DC for their 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 alternate history
allowed DC to challenge Marvel's industry lead. These titles also
paved the way for comics to be more widely accepted in
literary-criticism circles as suitable reading for adults, and to
make inroads into the book industry, with collected editions of these
key series selling particularly well as trade paperbacks.
Conversely, while the
mainstream DC Universe 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 March 1989, Warner
Communications merged with Time Inc., making DC Comics a subsidiary
of Time Warner. In June, the first non-camp Batman movie was
released, and 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 Archive Editions 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.
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 superhero
Green Lantern turned into the supervillain Parallax resulted in
dramatically increased sales, but the increases were as temporary as
the hero's replacements. Sales dropped off as the industry went into
a major slump, while manufactured "collectibles" numbering
in the millions replaced quality with quantity until fans and
speculators alike deserted the medium in droves.
DC's Piranha Press and
other imprints (including the mature readers line Vertigo, and Helix,
a short-lived science fiction imprint) 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 projects, 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-store friendly formats, including trade paperback collections of
individual serial comics, as well as original graphic novels.
of the other imprints was Impact Comics from 1991 to 1992 in which
the Archie Comics superheroes were licensed and revamped. The stories
in the line were part of its own shared universe.
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 years, it yielded the popular animated series Static Shock. DC
established Paradox Press to publish material such as 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, continuing it for many years
as a wholly separate imprint - and fictional 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 created by Alan Moore,
including The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen, Tom Strong, and
Promethea. Moore strongly contested this situation, and DC eventually
stopped publishing 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 another non-DC title, Tower Comics' series
T.H.U.N.D.E.R. Agents, in collection into DC Archive Editions. 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.
In 2004, DC began laying
the 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, the critically lauded
Batman Begins film was released; also, 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 Siegel used a
provision of the 1976 revision to the copyright law to regain ownership.
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, and were 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. Adam Hughes, who was initially announced as the
writer/artist on All Star Wonder Woman in 2006, explained at the 2010
San Diego Comic-Con International that that project was "in the
freezer" for the time being, due to the difficulty involved in
both writing and illustrating himself.
DC licensed the Red Circle
characters by 2007. They were launched as the Red Circle line based
in the DC Universe, with a series of one-shots then a mini-series
which lead into two ongoing titles, each lasting only ten issues.
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 newly formed company and DC Comics
President and Publisher Paul Levitz moving to the position of
Contributing Editor and Overall Consultant there. On February 18,
2010, DC Entertainment named Jim Lee and Dan DiDio as Co-Publishers
of DC Comics.
DC licensed pulp characters
including Doc Savage and the Spirit which it then used, along with
some DC heroes, as part the First Wave comics line launched in 2010
and lastting through fall 2011. In May 2011, DC announced it would
begin releasing digital versions of their comics on the same day as
June 1, 2011, DC announced that it would end all ongoing series set
in the DC Universe in August and relaunch its comic line with 52
issue #1s, starting with Justice League on August 31, 2011 (written
by Geoff Johns and drawn by Jim Lee), with the rest to follow later
on in September.
On June 4, 2013, DC
unveiled two new digital comic inovations to enhance interactivity:
DC2 and DC2 Multiverse. DC2 layers dynamic artwork onto digital comic
panels, adding a new level of dimension to digital storytelling,
while DC2 Multiverse allows readers to determine a specific story
outcome by selecting individual characters, storylines and plot
developments while reading the comic, meaning one digital comic has
multiple outcomes. DC2 will first appear in the upcoming
digital-first title, Batman '66, based on the 1960s television series
and DC2 Multiverse will first appear in Batman: Arkham Origins, an
upcoming digital-first title based on the video game of the same name.
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