10 Fun Facts About DC Comics
DC Comics has grown to become one of the most recognizable names in pop culture today, with characters like Superman, Batman, and Wonder Woman appearing in countless comics, video games, TV shows, and movies. However, the storied legacy of DC spans nearly 100 years and includes a rich variety of creators, writers, illustrators, colorists, and confusing corporate mergers. Here are 10 facts about DC Comics that explore the history of the company.
1. DC Comics started as National Allied Publications in 1934.
In 1934, Major Malcolm Wheeler-Nicholson, a pulp writer and former cavalry officer, formed the company National Allied Publications to produce the series New Fun Comics—the first ongoing American comic book to feature completely new material. (Prior to New Fun, comic books consisted mostly of reprinted newspaper strips.)
By 1937, though, Wheeler-Nicholson was in debt to his printer, Harry Donenfeld, right as National Allied was looking to get a new book called Detective Comics off the ground. Donenfeld and his accountant, Jack Liebowitz, came on as partners so Wheeler-Nicholson could publish the new title—but to do so, they created a sister company, simply called Detective Comics, Inc.
Wheeler-Nicholson was soon pushed out altogether, and Donenfeld purchased National Allied’s assets during a bankruptcy auction. This gave Donenfeld and Leibowitz full control over National Allied and Detective Comics (including Superman's Action Comics), and in 1946, the two companies officially merged to form National Comics Publications. All-American Publications, which the two were also involved in, joined in the merger as well.
Despite the new National Comics Publications name, though, many of the company’s comics were stamped with an insignia that said “DC Comics” (or “A Superman-DC Publication”), leading many to just call the company “DC.” It wasn’t until 1977 that the company officially changed its name to DC Comics, Inc.
2. The original DC Universe was created in the 1940s with the debut of the Justice Society of America.
Before the official merger, National/DC and All-American Publications lived somewhat harmoniously for a time, and it made sense to release stories featuring the companies’ characters working together. So in 1940’s All-Star Comics #3, heroes from National (like The Spectre and The Sandman) met All-American's best (including Green Lantern, The Flash, and The Atom) to form The Justice Society of America, the first superhero team and a predecessor to the Justice League of America that was introduced in the early 1960s.
3. DC Comics bought the rights to Superman for $130.
Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster, the young cartoonists who created Superman and started the superhero comics craze, sold the character and all rights to the publisher for just $130 in 1938. The character, in turn, would go on to make billions for DC Comics and Warner Bros. through comics, movies, licensing, and more. In the decades after the character debuted, Siegel and Shuster filed multiple lawsuits against the company for proper royalties with little success. Though the duo would receive medical insurance and yearly stipends from the company later on in life, they never lived to see the type of money they had hoped.
4. DC Comics Finally gave Batman's co-creator his due in 2015.
For decades, artist Bob Kane was credited as the sole creator of Batman, one of the most famous superhero characters of all time. However, writer Bill Finger also played an important role in the character’s creation—a comic biography by Marc Tyler Nobleman reports that Finger designed Batman’s costume, wrote many of his early appearances, and devised his tragic origin story. But despite that, Finger, who passed away in 1974, never received proper credit or payment. Kane, on the other hand, negotiated a deal to be billed as Batman’s creator on every issue the character appeared in, whether or not he did any work on it.
Throughout much of his life, Kane was adamant that he was the man behind Batman and would openly deny Finger's contributions. But in his 1989 autobiography Batman and Me, he changed his tune.
"Now that my long-time friend and collaborator is gone, I must admit that Bill never received the fame and recognition he deserved," Kane wrote. "He was an unsung hero. I often tell my wife, if I could go back 15 years, before he died, I would like to say, 'I'll put your name on it now. You deserve it.'"
Following an agreement with his estate, DC and Warner Bros. finally gave Bill Finger co-creator credit on Batman movies, TV shows, and comic books starting in 2015, more than 75 years after Batman’s introduction.
5. The claim that Batman doesn’t kill is a myth.
In addition to being a millionaire and genius inventor, one of Batman's trademarks is that he never kills his enemies. It's a noble modus operandi, but it's also not entirely true, especially in the character's early days. Right from his first appearance in Detective Comics #27, the Caped Crusader willingly knocks a crook into a vat of acid before boasting, "A fitting end for his kind." A few issues later, in Detective Comics #30, Batman kicks a villain's neck so hard that it breaks under the weight of his boot. The no-killing rule would eventually start to take shape as the comics became more kid-friendly, but even in the 21st century, the character's movie appearances regularly involve him killing his foes (though the intention is up for debate).
6. Gloria Steinem took issue with one of DC Comics's Wonder Woman storylines.
Although Wonder Woman was a huge hit when she was introduced, the character's superpowers and costume were temporarily removed for a storyline in the late ‘60s, when DC turned the character into a contemporary working woman who moonlighted as a spy and embraced her ordinary identity as Diana Prince. However, famed feminist and activist Gloria Steinem was a huge fan of the Wonder Woman comics and was disheartened to see the character stripped of her position. She then began fiercely advocating for her powers and original costume to be restored, even going so far as to have the character on the cover of Ms. magazine in 1972 to drum up support. By 1973, the character's abilities and lasso were back.
"They said that I had taken the only powerful woman in comics and had taken her power away from her," the late Wonder Woman writer Denny O'Neil said about the controversy. "[I] absolutely see what they were talking about ... [It was] not one of the more glorious chapters in my comic book career."
7. Andy Warhol directed a Batman movie without the permission of DC Comics.
In 1964, American pop artist Andy Warhol created a black-and-white movie called Batman Dracula, a campy fan film that he considered an homage to the comics. He did not receive permission to create the film or use the Batman character. Experimental filmmaker Jack Smith played both the Dark Knight and the famed vampire; disappointingly, a complete print of the film has never been found.
8. Neil Gaiman’s The Sandman #19 was the first (and only) comic to win a World Fantasy Award for Best Short Story.
First presented in 1975, the World Fantasy Awards are prestigious prizes given to the best fantasy fiction with categories including novels, novellas, short fiction, and several special awards. In 1991, Neil Gaiman’s Sandman #19, published by DC Comics's imprint Vertigo, won for best short story, an award category that was never intended for graphic novels but didn't explicitly exclude them, either. While the win helped further legitimize comic books as an art form, some on the committee felt it shouldn't have even been considered in the first place. After the award was announced, comics and graphic novels were ruled ineligible from the category in the future. Instead, they were to be awarded in the Special Award—Professional category.
"It got the award on a Saturday night, and on a Sunday morning, they changed the rules to make sure it could never happen again," Gaiman recalled. "It was more than closing the stable door after the horse had gone; it was more like closing the stable door after the horse had gotten out and won the Kentucky Derby."
9. Comic Sans was inspired by the lettering in DC Comics like Dark Knight Returns and Watchmen.
When Microsoft engineer Vincent Connare was instructed to make a lighthearted font for a new Microsoft interface, he took inspiration from the lettering in DC titles like The Dark Knight Returns and Watchmen. Thus came Comic Sans, which bears its inspiration in its name and has since become one of the most despised fonts ever, with Watchmen artist and letterer Dave Gibbons calling it "a blight upon the Western world."
10. After a series of mergers, DC Comics is owned by Warner Bros. today.
In 1967, National Periodical Publications, which would soon officially be known as DC Comics, was purchased by Kinney National Services, Inc. That company would soon purchase Warner Bros. and was rebranded as Warner Communications. The company then joined Time Inc. in a 1989 merger. Today, DC Entertainment, which includes comics, licensing, and other related material, is a subsidiary of Warner Bros. within AT&T's WarnerMedia. In 2021, it was announced that yet another merger was planned, with DC and Warner Media heading to Discovery Media in the near future once the deal officially goes through.