Entering the world of comic books can be daunting for any newcomer. While long-time super fans might spend hours embroiled in a Marvel vs. DC debate, new comic fans understandably might just wonder—just what does DC Comics stand for? Batman, Wonder Woman, and Superman might be part of the pop culture lexicon, but just because you’ve seen a movie from the DC cinematic universe doesn’t mean you know anything about its history. Whether you found DC through its animated projects, through reading comics online, or you’ve heard about the new DC Universe streaming service, there’s a story behind how DC comics got its name.
DC Comics was founded in 1934 by Major Malcolm Wheeler-Nicholson, following his departure from the army. Originally launched as National Allied Publications, the company pioneered the concept of a comics featuring entirely original content. Previously comic books sold in stories reprinted old strips from the newspaper. Its first title was New Fun: The Big Comic Magazine. It was released in February 1935, was a 10-inch by 15-inch anthology that bared little resemblance to the modern books it publishes today. New Fun became a launching pad for new talent, most famously Superman creators Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster. In 1935 they added another book Adventure Comics, which ultimately ended up running until 1983. However, it was Major Wheeler-Nicholson’s final title published with National Allied Publications that set the company on its true future path.
In 1937, NAP published Detective Comics #1, its first hard-boiled crime series. At the time, Major Wheeler-Nicholson was in major debt with his printing company. However, the company’s owner, Harry Donefeld, had another idea. The duo teamed up and formed a partnership called Detective Comics Inc. and published the first book. The Major ended up selling his share of the company to Donefeld—whether it was to pay off debts associated with the Great Depression or as part of a hostile takeover remains up for debate today. Detective Comics became the eventual birthplace of Batman in issue #27.
Even before the Detective Comics’ popularity skyrocketed, the series was known colloquially as DC Comics. However, National Comics didn’t officially rebrand as DC Comics until 1977. Technically this means DC Comics’ original name, unabbreviated, is “Detective Comics Comics.”
The term "DC Multiverse" refers to the collection of all continuities within DC Comics publications. Within the Multiverse, the main DC Universe has gone by many names, but in recent years has been referred to by "Prime Earth" (not to be confused with "Earth Prime") or "Earth 0". The main DC Universe, as well as the alternate realities related to it, were quickly adapted to other media such as film serials or radio dramas. In subsequent decades, the continuity between all of these media became increasingly complex with certain storylines and events designed to simplify or streamline the more confusing aspects of characters' histories.
The fact that DC Comics characters coexisted in the same world was first established in All Star Comics #3 (1940) where several superheroes (who starred in separate stories in the series up to that point) met each other in a group dubbed the Justice Society of America. Earth-Two was the primary world of this publication era, as established in "Flash of Two Worlds" and "Crisis on Earth-Two!"
In the Silver Age, the Justice Society was reimagined as the Justice League of America, which was founded with Major League Baseball's National League and American League as inspiration for the name. The comic book that introduced the Justice League was titled The Brave and the Bold. However, the majority of National/DC's publications continued to be written with little regard of maintaining continuity with each other for the first few decades.
In the 1950s and 1960s, DC has introduced different versions of its characters, sometimes presenting them as if the earlier version had never existed, including: Flash (Barry Allen), Green Lantern (Hal Jordan) and Hawkman (Katar Hol). These new versions of the characters had similar powers but different names and personal histories. Similarly, they had characters such as Batman whose early adventures set in the 1940s could not easily be reconciled with stories featuring a still-youthful man in the 1960s. To explain this, they introduced the idea of the Multiverse in Flash #123 (1961) where the Silver Age Flash met his Golden Age counterpart. In addition to allowing the conflicting stories to "co-exist", it allowed the differing versions of characters to meet, and even team up to combat cross-universe threats. The writers gave designations such as "Earth-One", "Earth-Two", and so forth, to certain universes, designations which at times were also used by the characters themselves. Earth-One was the primary world of this publication era, as established in "Flash of Two Worlds" and "Crisis on Earth-One!".
Over the years, as the number of titles published increased and the volume of past stories accumulated, it became increasingly difficult to maintain internal consistency. In the face of diminishing sales, maintaining the status quo of their most popular characters became attractive
Although retcons were used as a way to explain apparent inconsistencies in stories written, editors at DC came to consider the varied continuity of multiple Earths too difficult to keep track of, and feared that it was an obstacle to accessibility for new readers. To address this, they published the cross-universe miniseries Crisis on Infinite Earths in 1985, which merged universes and characters, reducing the Multiverse to a single unnamed universe with a single history.
However, not all the books rebooted post-Crisis. For example, the Legion of Superheroes book acted as if the Pre-Crisis Earth-1 history was still their past, a point driven home in the Cosmic Boy miniseries. It also removed the mechanism DC had been using to deal with continuity glitches or storylines that a later writer wanted to ignore (which is how Earths B and E came into existence) resulting in a convoluted explanation for characters like Hawkman.
The Zero Hour limited series (1994) gave them an opportunity to revise timelines and rewrite the DC Universe history. However, this failed right out of the gate as the writers had Waverider state all alternate histories had been wiped and yet have the Armageddon 2001 saga in the timeline which required multiple timelines to work.
As a result, almost once per decade since the 1980s, the DC Universe experiences a major crisis that allows any number of changes from new versions of characters to appear as a whole reboot of the universe, restarting nominally all the characters into a new and modernized version of their lives.
Meanwhile, DC has published occasional stories called Elseworlds, which often presented alternate versions of its characters. One told the story of Bruce Wayne as a Green Lantern. In another tale, Superman: Speeding Bullets, the rocket ship that brought the infant Superman to Earth was discovered by the Wayne family of Gotham City rather than the Kents.
In 1999, The Kingdom reintroduced a variant of the old Multiverse concept called which essentially allows for alternate versions of characters and worlds again. The entire process was possibly inspired by Alan Moore's meta-comic, Supreme: Story of the Year (1997).
The Convergence (2015) crossover officially retconned the events of Crisis after heroes in that series went back in time to prevent the collapse of the Multiverse. However, Brainiac states "Each world has evolved but they all still exist”. It has been confirmed that all previous worlds and timelines now exist, and that there are even multiple Multiverses now in existence, such as the Pre-Crisis infinite Multiverse, the collapsed Earth, and the Pre-New 52 52 worlds Multiverse.
The Infinite Crisis event (2005–2006) remade the DC Universe yet again, with new changes. The limited series 52 (2006–2007) established that a new multiverse now existed, with Earth-0 as the primary Earth.
The 2011 reboot of the DC Universe coincided with DC's publishing event The New 52, during which the publisher cancelled its ongoing titles and re-launched 52 new books, including a number of new books, set within a revised continuity. This follows the conclusion of the Flashpoint crossover storyline, which provided a jumping-off point for the existing continuity. A number of in-universe changes are intended to make characters more modern and accessible, though the scope of the changes varies from character to character. Some like Batman have their histories left largely intact, though compressed, while others were given wildly different histories and looks. DC stopped putting 'The New 52' logo on its publications in the summer of 2015, coinciding with the Convergence anniversary crossover event which celebrated the history of the DC Multiverse and its various incarnations.
In February 2016, DC announced its DC Rebirth initiative, a line-wide re-launch of its titles, to begin in June 2016. Beginning with an 80-page one-shot which was released on May 25, 2016, DC Rebirth also sees Action Comics and Detective Comics return to their previous numbering (#957 and #934 respectively), all books releasing at US$2.99, multiple books shifting to a twice-monthly release schedule, a number of existing titles relaunching with new #1s, and the release of several new titles. DC has used the Green Lantern: Rebirth and The Flash: Rebirth miniseries as examples of the basis for the initiative, which has been described as a rebirth of the DC Universe. The DC Rebirth initiative will reintroduce concepts from pre-Flashpoint continuity, such as legacy, that have been lost with The New 52 and build "on everything that's been published since Action Comics #1 up thru The New 52."
In October 2017, DC revealed that they would be discontinuing the Rebirth branding and logo from their titles in December 2017, releasing everything under a single umbrella title as the DC Universe. Coincided with the release of the New Age of Heroes imprint, DiDio explained, "We want to make it clear that this is all the DC Universe... Rebirth pretty much is the DCU now; while we're taking Rebirth off the books, we'll be following the direction that Rebirth established." Titles also received new trade dress, with those "that tie in clearly to our larger DC Universe" having a "DCU logo on them" in addition to corner boxes with icons of the characters to help identify the family of titles; titles outside the DCU, such as Injustice: Gods Among Us and DC Bombshells would simply have the DC logo on them. DiDio also added that the Young Animal imprint would continue as a separate line of titles.
In 2021, DC announced a line-wide relaunch of ongoing monthly superhero comic book titles. A number of miniseries and one-shots were also announced. It is the follow-up to the DC Rebirth relaunch.
Amity University, Kolkata
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