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DC Comics, Inc. is one of the largest American companies in comic books and related media publishing. It is the comics publishing branch of DC Entertainment, Inc., a subsidiary of WarnerMedia (formerly Time Warner), a publishing conglomerate owned by AT&T. 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 the 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. In 2015, the entire operation was moved to Burbank, California.
The corporation is an amalgamation of several companies. National Allied Publications was founded by Major Malcolm Wheeler-Nicholson in 1934 to publish New Fun: The Big Comic Magazine #1 (Feb. 1935), later known as 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. Liebowitz then consolidated National Comics, Independent News, and related firms into National Periodical Publications, the direct precursor of DC. Later that decade, Gaines was bought out and left to form Educational Comics, Inc., better known as EC. 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.
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.
In light of this spectacular success, the company began to aggressively move against imitators for copyright violations by other companies. Among these was Fox Publications, whose character Wonderman was purposefully created as a blatant copy of Superman. This extended to the company suing Fawcett Comics for their top selling character, Captain Marvel, for copying Superman, 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 publication of their comics.
When the superhero genre faded in the late 1940s, the company focused on other genres, such as science fiction, Westerns, humor, and romance. They largely avoided the crime and horror trends of the time, thus avoiding the backlash against crime and horror comics in the 1950s. 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 decided that, even though they weren't publishing superheroes much anymore, the trademarks needed to be maintained. They directed editor Julius Schwartz to come up with a new Flash story to be printed as a one-shot in issue #4 (Oct. 1956) of the experimental title Showcase. Instead of reviving the old character, Schwartz had writers Gardner Fox and Robert Kanigher, penciler Carmine Infantino and inker Joe Kubert update and modernize the concept. The Flash's civilian identity, costume, and origin were all changed for a modern audience. Much to the publishers' surprise the issue sold, and more stories were scheduled. The new treatment proved popular enough that it soon led to similar revamping of Green Lantern, and the introduction of an updating of the Justice Society of America superhero team as the modern all-star team Justice League of America. Showcase #4 heralded what is commonly referred to as the Silver Age of comic books.
National's other characters, who had not been cancelled, were similarly spruced up. Mort Weisinger oversaw the Superman family of titles and introduced many new characters, such as Supergirl, Bizarro and Brainiac that established many of the elements that still influence the feature to this day. Jack Schiff was somewhat less successful with Batman, introducing Batwoman, Bat-Girl and Bat-Mite, and attempting to modernize the strip with science fiction elements. Eventually the book was given to Julius Schwartz who brought in a new look and an emphasis on Batman as a detective. Meanwhile, editor Robert Kanigher successfully reimagined Wonder Woman as a title aimed at young girls, featuring a whole family of Wonder Woman characters having fantastic adventures in a mythological context.
The Batman TV show sparked a tremendous increase in comic sales, but afterwards, sales began to decline. In 1967, Batman artist Carmine Infantino became the company's editorial director. Faced with declining sales, in part because of the growing popularity of Marvel Comics, he attempted to remedy the situation with an infusion of new titles and characters, and recruited major talents such as Steve Ditko and promising newcomers such as Neal Adams. DC comics went from being writer driven to artist driven as all new editors hired were artists: Joe Kubert, Dick Giordano, Mike Sekowsky, Jack Kirby.
The new editors tried to capture the youth market by only using writers under the age of thirty. Yet while the new employees strove for sophisticated storytelling and characters, they had little experience in the industry, and their work's relative lack of professionalism hampered their efforts. Some new talent, however, 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. The new comics, aimed specifically at the fan market, failed to sell. One theory as to the cause of this, is that local comic distributors, who did not want to handle the low profit items anyway, were simply giving the books to speculators who were stockpiling them for the back issue market. Thus, the more popular a book, the lower its sales. In addition, the talent involved often tended to leave established titles after a few issues considering they had little incentive to stay with their creations since they were largely paid per page regardless of the sales performance of their books.
In 1970, Jack Kirby defected from Marvel to create his most artistically ambitious creation, The Fourth World titles, in which he attempted to create an original sophisticated sub imprint that could appeal to a loyal fan audience. However, sales did not meet management's expectations, and as they had little faith in the concept, the venture was prematurely cancelled, although the characters and concepts would become integral to the DC Multiverse. Kirby went on to create the successful series Kamandi, when he was directed by the publisher to come up with something resembling Planet of the Apes.
In addition, Captain Marvel was also revived in the 1970s as an initially licensed property under the title, Shazam!. However, the property could not recapture its old popularity, although a Saturday morning live action television adaptation was popular and the character would largely retain a noted place in the DC Universe to this day.
Kinney National Company, a company that provided parking and cleaning services, acquired National in 1967 and film studio Warner Bros.-Seven Arts in 1969. Kinney then spun off its non-entertainment assets in 1972 and renamed itself Warner Communications, putting National under Warner's leadership. The new corporate management replaced Infantino with Jenette Kahn, a former children's magazine publisher, in January 1976. National was renamed DC Comics, Inc. in 1977.
During this time, DC attempted to compete with Marvel by dramatically increasing its output, a move the company called the "DC Explosion". This included series featuring new characters, such as Firestorm and Shade, the Changing Man, and several non-superhero titles. Afterward, however, Warner pulled the plug and dramatically cut back on 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 Dick 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 addition, the company created the publishing concept of the limited series that allowed flexible arrangements for storylines that could be successful without the pressure of immediately following them up on an indefinite basis.
These policy changes immediately paid off with the success of 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 emulated the character based ensemble series structure of Marvel's X-Men in its own way, earned significant sales in part due to the stability of the team, who kept with the title for years. In addition, the team took advantage of the limited-series option to create a spin off title, Tales of the New Teen Titans, to present the origins of their original characters without having to break the narrative flow of their main series or obliging them to double their work load with another ongoing title.
This successful revitalization of a minor title led the editorship to look at doing the same to their entire line comics. 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. Yet DC did not abandon their history completely. In 1989, they began publication of the DC Archive Editions, a series created to collect their early, rare issues into a permanent hardback format.
Meanwhile, British writer Alan Moore had re-energized the minor horror series Swamp Thing|Saga of the Swamp Thing, and his highly acclaimed work sparked a comic book equivalent of rock's British Invasion, in which numerous British talents, including Neil Gaiman and Grant Morrison, came to work 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 by those talents, but also to the later establishment in 1993 of the Vertigo imprint for mature readers.
Acclaimed limited series such as Batman: The Dark Knight Returns by Frank Miller and Alan Moore's Watchmen, also drew attention to changes at DC. This new creative freedom and the attendant publicity allowed DC to seriously challenge the dominance of Marvel.
The late 1980s also saw the dying out of many successful DC war genre titles, including venerable series that had been in print since the 1960s. These titles, all with over 100 issues and none of which survived past 1985, included Sgt. Rock, G.I. Combat, The Unknown Soldier, and Weird War Tales.
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. They also increased publication of trade paperbacks, including both collections of serial comics and original graphic novels.
The Vertigo line was aimed at an older and more literary audience, largely free of the "kid stuff" stigma its main superhero line still held. DC entered into a publishing agreement with Milestone Media, which gave the company a line of comics featuring a more culturally and racially diverse range of superhero characters. Although the Milestone line ceased publication, it yielded the popular animated series Static Shock. Paradox Press was established to publish material that would be considered "mainstream" in the book trade - including the large-format Big Book of... series, and crime fiction such as Road to Perdition - but paradoxically remained a niche in the comics industry. DC purchased Wildstorm Comics from Jim Lee and maintained it as a separate imprint with its own style and audience. Likewise, they added the Wildstorm imprint America's Best Comics, created by Alan Moore, including the titles Tom Strong and Promethea.
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 Jonni DC.
Starting in 2004, DC began laying groundwork for a "sequel" to Crisis on Infinite Earths, promising substantial changes to the DCU. In 2005, the company published several limited series establishing increasing conflicts between the heroes of the DCU, 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 and existing in an alternate universe without the long and convoluted continuity of the DCU. All-Star Batman & Robin the Boy Wonder launched in July 2005 (one month after the release of DC's highly successful cinematic rebirth with Batman Begins), 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.
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, Geoff Johns as Chief Creative Officer, John Rood as EVP of Sales, Marketing and Business Development, and Patrick Caldon as EVP of Finance and Administration.
In May 2011, DC announced it would become the first comic-book publisher to begin releasing digital versions of their comics on the same day as paper versions. DC also announced a massive reboot on their DC Universe following their Flashpoint event.
- See Also: DC Logos/Gallery
DC's first logo appeared on the March 1940 issues of their titles. The letters "DC" stood for Detective Comics, the name the company used at the time. The logo was small and did not have a background. It simply said, "A DC Publication".
The November 1941 DC titles introduced an updated DC logo. This version was almost twice the size of the first one, and also was the first version with a white background. The name of Superman was added to "A DC Publication", effectively acknowledging both Superman (star of "Action Comics") and Batman (star of "Detective Comics"). This logo was also the first version to occupy the top left corner of the cover, where the logo has usually resided ever since. The company referred to itself in its advertising as "Superman-DC".
In November 1949, the logo was modified, incorporating the company's current name (National Comics Publications) into the logo. 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 (i.e. many issues of Action Comics said "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 House of Mystery or 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 their 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, the logo was modified, by surrounding the letters "DC" with the words "The Line of 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", the logo first appeared on the February 1977 DC 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.
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 to see if using Superman would boost sales. 
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 Batman Begins, Smallville, Justice League Unlimited, collectibles, and other merchandise. The logo, which some have dubbed the "DC spin", was designed by Josh Beatman of Brainchild Studios.
A new logo was introduced in 2012, shortly after the start of the publication of The New 52. This logo was dubbed the "DC Peel", as its design features the letter "D" overlapping the letter "C", but seemingly peeling off downwards. The letter was was usually blue and the "C" was often switched between black and white, for better contrast. The logo was often used along with the "DC Comics TM" slogan on the bottom.
As part of the DC Rebirth effort, DC created a new logo in partnership with design company Pentagram. The minimalist approach of the new logo was inspired by the DC Logo used in the 70's, in order to keep the consistency of the "DC Rebirth" titles and their effort to retain some of the company's legacy.
Links and References
- Jones, Gerard. Men of Tomorrow: Geeks, Gangsters, and the Birth of the Comic Book (Basic Books, 2004; trade paperback ISBN 9780465036578), p. 223
- During the 1960's, the trademark on the name "Captain Marvel" has lapsed, and was subsequently snatched up by Marvel Comics for their own "Captain Marvel" character.