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DC Comics

Entry updated 1 July 2024. Tagged: Comics, Publisher.


US Comic-book publishing company, based in New York, owing much of its commercial success to its ownership of the copyrights in the Superheroes Batman, who it has been argued is not perhaps quite an sf figure, and Superman, who undoubtedly is.

In February 1935 Major Malcolm Wheeler-Nicholson published the first US comic book to contain all-new material rather than reprints from newspaper comics sections. His comic book, New Fun, ran for five issues February-October 1935, and was reborn in 1936 as More Fun (June 1936-December 1947). By 1938 Nicholson was publishing New Adventure Comics and Detective Comics; these were the first comic books to feature regular characters in a series of adventures. However, they didn't pay the bills, and Nicholson eventually settled his debts by handing his company, National Comics, over to his printers, Harry Donenfeld and Jack Leibowitz. Its next publication was Action Comics, #1 of which (June 1938) featured the first appearance of the character Superman, created by Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster (1914-1992). In May 1939 Detective Comics #27 saw the debut of The Batman, created and drawn by Bob Kane (whom see) and written by Bill Finger (1914-1974). The future of the company was assured.

Detective Comics was the first all-new comic book of which each issue was devoted to a single theme. This approach was an instant success, and so the company adopted the initials DC as a trademark, featuring it boldly on (eventually) all of its covers. It bought up Max Gaines's All American Comics in 1945. Donenfeld pioneered the distribution of comic books in the USA, and his efforts were backed up by those of National's stable of editors, writers and artists, who included Alfred Bester, Otto Binder (see Eando Binder), Gardner Fox, Edmond Hamilton and Mort Weisinger. These produced a flood of memorable characters and series including The Flash, Green Lantern, Hawkman, and Wonder Woman.

The 1950s saw a change of name to National Periodical Publications and the introduction of romance titles (Girls Love), sf (Strange Adventures), Westerns (Hopalong Cassidy) and licenced character humour (Bob Hope, Jackie Gleason and Dean Martin & Jerry Lewis). In the mid-1950s there was a resurgence in the popularity of superheroes, and many characters abandoned in the previous decade were revived and revamped; new ones were introduced, such as the Martian Manhunter. This popularity burgeoned in the 1960s and 1970s, and such material constituted a substantial proportion of the company's output, even though there were new titles in the horror, gothic romance and Sword-and-Sorcery genres. Superhero characters introduced in the 1960s include The Atom in 1961 (whose 1940s namesake had been a different and nonfantastic character) and the Robot team Metal Men in 1962. In 1968 the company was taken over by Warner Bros, and in the early 1980s its official name finally became DC Comics Inc.

The 1980s saw a great expansion of new publishing formats, including limited-series books, softcover and hardcover collections, and Graphic-Novel adaptations of the works of leading sf writers such as Larry Niven and Robert Silverberg.

Buoyed by the success of its "sophisticated suspense" horror title Swamp Thing by writer Alan Moore, DC launched its adult-themed Vertigo imprint in 1993. The imprint focused on sf-, fantasy- and horror-related material unencumbered by the self-censoring Comics Code of America. Key titles published by Vertigo included the hugely popular Neil Gaiman-scripted The Sandman; The Invisibles by writer Grant Morrison, which outdid The X-Files (1993-2002) for sheer density of conflated conspiracy theories, Urban Legends and general Paranoia; and Y: The Last Man (see Last Man) by writer Brian K Vaughan and artist Pia Guerra. Vertigo deserves credit for furthering the publication of creator-owned material, long an exception in the comics industry.

DC also had a short-lived sf imprint from 1996 to 1998: Helix, which published several innovative titles during its short run. Its most successful title was the grittily Dystopian future-City saga Transmetropolitan by writer Warren Ellis and artist Darick Robertson. Transmetropolitan continued at Vertigo after the Helix imprint was discontinued. Other noteworthy Helix titles included Michael Moorcock's Multiverse by Michael Moorcock and artist Walt Simonson, Star Crossed by Matt Howarth and Vermillion by writer Lucius Shepard and a rotating team of artists.

In September 2011, with the "New 52" reboot, DC revamped its entire comics line, with fifty-two titles – some of them new, others being older titles starting over with new first issues and simplified backstories unencumbered by sixty years of publication history.

A major contributing factor to the company's continuing success has been its exploitations of The Batman (now usually known just as Batman), allowing artists and writers – including Frank Miller, and Alan Moore and Brian Bolland – to evolve a number of highly individual interpretations of his character and milieu. Batman's popularity has, of course, benefited from the films Batman (1966), Batman (1989), Batman Returns (1992), Batman Forever (1995), Batman & Robin, (1997), Batman Begins (2005) and The Dark Knight (2008), for all of which see Batman Films. For later developments, see DC Extended Universe, which claims to integrate both comics and film versions of various ongoing story-arcs consistent with the "New 52" reboot. [RT/SW/JP/DRL]

see also: Charlton Comics.

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