The History of DC Comics

I wrote this essay during my freshman year of college and thought that it fit perfectly with the ideas expressed in my blog.

“One of the key characteristics of the comic book medium is that it is not brought to life by just one voice”.   -Jim Lee, artist for DC Comics

DC Comics Inc. is an American comic book publisher and a publishing unit of DC Entertainment, a company belonging to Warner Brothers Entertainment which itself is owned by Time Warner (DC Comics). DC comics was founded by Malcolm Wheeler Nicholson in 1934, under the name of National Allied Publications (Cowsill 12) . National Allied Publications published their first comic, New Fun: The Big Comic Magazine in February, 1935 (DC Comics). Because of his tight budget, Wheeler Nicholson could not afford to purchase reprints of old comic strips from newspapers, as was the norm with comics at the time (12). Instead, Wheeler Nicholson’s comics introduced entirely new material, allowing his original storytelling to flourish.

Unfortunately for Wheeler Nicholson, his comics had yet to reach a large and consistent audience, and newsstand returns on comic books were high (16). Poor cash flow made the intervals between issues unpredictable, eventually forcing a cash strapped Wheeler Nicholson to move his publication over to magazine publisher, Henry Donenfeld of Donny’s Press (16). Along with his business advisor, Jack Liebowitz, Donenfeld founded Detective Comics, Inc, (named after the company’s long running and successful stories entitled “Detective Comics”)and quickly moved to take control of Wheeler Nicholson’s assets (20).Financial problems eventually forced Wheeler Nicholson to pull out from the company, leaving DC Comics, Inc entirely in the hands of Donenfeld and Liebowitz (20).

By 1940, emboldened by the success of characters like Superman, Batman, and Wonder Woman, Liebowitz and Donenfeld partnered with publisher MC Gains to launch a new line of comics under the All American Publications banner, which existed side by side with DC Comics (24). In 1944, DC absorbed All American Publications, thus creating a single corporate entity, National Periodical Publications (24). In 1967, ten years before they would officially become known once again as DC comics, National Periodical Publications was purchased by Kinney National Company (Kinney). This company was first formed in 1966, when Kinney Parking Company and the National Cleaning Company merged. After expanding its business model to include an entertainment sector, Kinney National acquired National Periodical Publications (Kinney). Due to the company’s financial difficulties in 1971, Kinney National spun off its non entertainment assets as the National Kinney Corporation and changed its own name to Warner Communications Inc (Kinney). Warner Communications Inc served as the parent company for Warner Bros. Pictures and Warner Music Group, until in 1987, when it merged with Time Inc, thus becoming known as Time Warner (Warner). Time Warner is known for launching digital versions of DC’s top comic book and graphic novel titles, making them available for download on digital platforms (Time). Along with it’s DC company, Time Warner also parents HBO, Cartoon Network, Sports Illustrated, and and People Magazine (Columbia). Today, DC comics runs alongside DC Universe, DC universe Online, MAD Magazine, Vertigo, Wildstorm, and Milestone, and all still belong to the parent company of Warner’s Entertainment which also owns Flixster, New Line Cinema, and various other entertainment companies (Columbia).

Warner Brothers Entertainment has recently stated that they have eleven DC comic movies in development including a sequel to Zack Snyder’s Man of Steel, a live action Justice League film, Batman vs. Superman and a sequel, Batman vs. Superman: Dawn of Justice, Wonder Woman, and several other films and television shows that will form together to create the DC comic movie universe (Warner Bros). Some critics have stated that DC is trying to capitalize on the success of Marvel’s movies and the movie universe that Marvel has created. Some critics, like Molly Freeman of Hollywood.com believe that it’s too late for DC to try and pull together a movie universe and combine the television shows and movies. She says specifically about the television show Arrow and Zack Snyder’s Man of Steel:

“Marvel Studios has been testing the waters of the shared universe with their cinematic universe along with Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. and their yet-to-be released Netflix shows. Although it’s working for the Disney-affiliated company, it might not be so easy for DC. The first season of Arrow was already over — and season two production had already begun — when Man of Steel hit theaters. There has, thus far, been no mention in Arrow of Superman, Metropolis, or the events that took place in Man of Steel. To weave those separate stories together in the third season of Arrow wouldn’t make sense, and would weigh down what has been a fun and entertaining superhero series (Should).

According to DC Comic’s Geoff Johns,

“For us, creatively, it’s about allowing everyone to make the best possible product, to tell the best story, to do the best world. Everyone has a vision and you really want to let the visions shine through. I think the characters are iconic enough. I like [Marvel’s Agents of] S.H.I.E.L.D. a lot. I love what Marvel does. I’m a huge fan. It’s just a different approach (Fanside).”

Marvel’s The Avengers has sold over $1.5 billion dollars in ticket sales globally in 2012, making it the third highest grossing movie of all time (Marvel). Combined, the Marvel movie universe has brought in over 7 billion dollars in revenue worldwide, and that’s only taking into account the movies, not the various television shows, based around the created universe (List). Meanwhile, the DC movies have paled in comparison to the Marvel universe, only pulling in a revenue of 2 billion dollars worldwide (DC List). It is also important to note that the success of the Marvel movies have prompted the Marvel comic book writers to bend their stories to fit the movies continuity. An example of this can be seen with Marvel’s recent announcement that Agent Phil Coulson, a popular character introduced in the movies, would be making his way to appear in upcoming comic books (Marvel Agent).

There have also been numerous occasions in the DC universe where characters, ideas, or storylines would be introduced in a movie or television show and then brought into comics books, and vice versa. Harley Quinn is a fan favorite character created specifically for the Batman animated television show who proved to be so popular that she was brought into the comics continuity, appearing in various issues starting with “Batman Almost Got Him” to the critically acclaimed 1994 comic “Mad Love” (Harly). The long running show Smallville, which followed the adventures of Clark Kent before he became Superman, ended after ten seasons, but it’s popularity led writers to create a comic series entitled “Smallville: Season 11”. These examples have proven that the DC comics are strongly influenced by the movies and television series created by Warner Brothers, not to mention the competition from Marvel to outsell at the box office and book stores.

I have always had a love for DC. The comics, movies, and television shows have provided me with endless hours of entertainment, and have allowed my own creative thought process to flourish when it comes to writing my own stories or completing special projects. In my opinion, DC comics was created for people of all ages to read and be transported to worlds that only exist in the imagination. Over the past couple of weeks, I have learned a lot about the history, and the future, of DC comics. I have enjoyed what I have learned, but I also am a little worried about the future of DC. My research has caused me to realize that like all companies, DC cares about profits, and if that means capitalizing off the success of the Marvel movie universe, then that is what they are going to do. I fear the DC’s need to create their own shared universe will lead to a decline in original and interesting storylines. I think that the shared universe will be confusing, and will be full of convoluted storylines that will only ruin the countless stories that have come before this new age of DC. I do understand that I will have to wait and see how the movies, comics, and television shows will connect to form the universe. I can only hope that going forward, DC Comics Inc will remember that it was created to entertain and will stay true to the dreams of original storytelling that Malcolm Wheeler Nicholson had when he created DC many years ago.

I will continue to read the comic books and novels that DC publishes, and I will continue to go to the movies. I am a little nervous but also excited to see the new direction that DC is going in. The future of DC promises new stories and new characters, and I believe that in time, DC will create a universe that is more complex and exciting, and I sincerely look forward to that time.
Works Cited
Carroll, Ed. “DC Universe Will Cross Over In TV Shows And Movies.” Fanside. 1 Oct. 2014. Web. 1 Nov. 2014. <http://fansided.com/2014/10/28/dc-comics-tv-movie-universes-coexist/&gt;.

Cowsill, Allan. DC Comics Year by Year: A Visual Chronicle. New York: DK, 2010. 352. Print.

“DC Comics.” Comic Vine. Ed. Bob Harras. 3 Oct. 2013. Web. 1 Nov. 2014. <http://www.comicvine.com/dc-comics/4010-10/&gt;.

DeForrest, Tim. “DC Comics.” Encyclopedia Britannica. 1 Jan. 2014. Web. 1 Nov. 2014. <http://www.britannica.com/EBchecked/topic/1527740/DC-Comics&gt;.

Freeman, Molly. “Should DC Comics Merge Its Film and TV Universes?” WTVB. 18 May 2014. Web. 1 Nov. 2014. <http://wtvbam.com/news/articles/2014/may/15/should-dc-comics-merge-its-film-and-tv-univers

“Kinney National Company.” Wikipedia. 10 Nov. 2013. Web. 1 Nov. 2014. <http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Kinney_National_Company&gt;.

“Warner Communications.” Wikipedia. 26 Nov. 2014. Web. 1 Nov. 2014. <http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Warner_Communications&gt;.

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