Zero Hour -- Unofficial History of DC Comics
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The Unofficial History of DC Comics


The first comic books published by DC were the first modern comics published, though DC was known as National Periodicals at the time (it would later take the initials of its first truly successful title, Detective Comics). In February, 1935, DC published New Fun Comics #1, an anthology title featuring new material and continuing characters, rather than reprints of newspaper strips and the like. The book was a success, and in December, DC started a second title, New Comics, in the same format. These books survived for years as More Fun Comics and Adventure Comics respectively. The books did not feature superheroes, but did feature more pulpish characters, like Siegel and Shuster's Doctor Occult.

The next year, DC published the first two annuals in comics, under the titles Big Book of Fun Comics and New Book of Comics reprinting popular stories from More Fun (it was renamed that year) and New Comics. Both were 100 pages in length. In 1937, New Comics became New Adventure Comics, and a new title was added to the DC line: Detective Comics. Detective has since gone on to have the longest uninterrupted run in comics history. The first issue featured a group of pulp stories, the most notable being the introduction of Siegel and Schuster's Slam Bradley.

In 1938, DC changed comics forever, inaugurating the Golden Age of comics with Action Comics #1, featuring the debut of Superman, comics' first superhero, by Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster. That title's incredible success spurred a number of other publishers to enter the comics field (Centaur and Dell notable among them), and led to DC introducing costumed heroes into a number of its titles, starting four months later with Detective Comics, and the introduction of the Crimson Avenger. The company divided into two divisions: National Publications and All-American Publications, the latter to print reprint material under the auspices of Sheldon Mayer (though that distinction would quickly erode).

Sheldon Mayer's first new title debuted in 1939. All-American comics was primarily a reprint book, though Mayer already began to include new material to back it up, including his own strip, Scribbly, which ran for 10 years. Also this year, Quality Comics began publishing new material in earnest, attempting to catch the rising tide of comics sales, with the first issue of Smash Comics, and the first appearance of Doll Man in Feature Comics #27. Three major landmarks for DC took place in this year, the first being the publication of New York World's Fair Comics, which would become World's Best Comics, and finally World's Finest Comics in coming years. The second is, of course, the debut of one of that title's eventual co-stars, the Batman by Bob Kane, in Detective Comics #27. The final major event was the introduction of the Sandman in Adventure Comics, a character whose transformation from pulp detective to Kirby superhero would mirror the transformation of the comics publishing industry. By the Summer of 1939, Superman's success in Action Comics had brought him his own quarterly title. Superman #1 featured a mixture of original stories and reprinted strips from action, and began a process which would later include the majority of DC's stars, and though Superman featured several stories per issue, it was the first ongoing title of new material with a single star (non-anthology). Meanwhile, a small company called Timely published Marvel Comics #1.

1940 brought further expansion, as well as more competition, as the comics market boomed. Fox Publishing brought out the second title to focus on only one hero with The Blue Beetle #1. DC added a new book to its slate with Flash Comics, an anthology featuring the Flash, Hawkman, and others, and narrowly beating to the presses a book from Fawcett Publishing by the same title, which then was published under the title of Whiz Comics. Whiz Comics, in its second issue, gave us the first appearance of Captain Marvel, the most unique and lasting of the long list of 'super-clones' to come out in the wake of Superman's success. Whiz actually outsold Superman at some points in the Golden Age, leading to a string of lawsuits from DC. Also on the front of competition, a couple of guys named Joe Simon and Jack Kirby got together to produce Crash Comics for Holyoke publishing, and then Blue Bolt for Novelty. Quality also introduced the Ray, Uncle Sam, and, in the aptly named Crack Comics, both Black Condor, a man raised by birds in Central Asia ala Tarzan, and Madame Fatal, a man who dressed as a woman to fight crime.

DC's slate of heroes grew by leaps and bounds with the additions of both the Spectre, created by Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster after Jerry was mugged in New York and Dr. Fate in the pages of, ironically, More Fun Comics. In Adventure Comics, Hourman was added as a feature, and in All-American, Bill Finger and Martin Nodell created The Green Lantern, and the Atom, a hero for short people, was introduced. Also this year, Batman recieved his own quarterly title, and a new anthology featuring DC's stars characters, All-Star Comics, came into being, and, at the beginning of 1941, the third issue of that series featured something entirely new: the superhero team. What started as DC's stars gathering to relate stories over dinner became the Justice Society of America, which would run in the title for its duration.

In 1941, DC added more stars to its lineup, beginning with Starman, who almost immediately joined the Justice Society, as did the second, and most important character introduced in this period: Wonder Woman. Wonder Woman was the first independent superheroine and, after debuting in a backup feature of All-Star Comics, joined the team as its secretary. Another major trend-setting first came in Detective Comics #38, with the introduction of Robin, the Boy Wonder, and the first of many teen sidekicks to major superheroes. During this year both Green Lantern and Flash recieved their own quarterlies, with the Flash's being titled All-Flash, to distinguish it from the ongoing Flash Comics anthology. Star-Spangled Comics was also introduced, featuring the Star-Spangled Kid, and his adult sidekick, Stripesy. This title would also later introduce the Guardian and the Newsboy Legion, bringing Simon and Kirby to DC. World's Finest also became a regular feature of the line, featuring Superman and Batman tales. At Quality, Jack Cole introduced Plastic Man in the first issue of Police Comics.

DC added still more titles to its line in 1942, including its first outright flop, Leading Comics. Leading was an anthology title featuring DC's second-tier heroes as a poor-man's All-Star, and ultimately became a 'funny animal' book before being cancelled. Wonder Woman's popularity in All-Star, however, led to her recieving two titles in that year, the first being Sensation Comics, an anthology which also featured the debuts of Wildcat and Mr. Terrific, the second being her own quarterly only months after her debut. Meanwhile, as a backup in Detective Comics, Simon and Kirby introduced the Boy Commandoes, a tougher, rougher Newsboy Legion. The Boy Commandoes received their own title in 1943, and a new anthology, Comics Cavalcade, was introduced, featuring Wonder Woman, Flash, and Green Lantern stories to parallel World's Finest's treatment of Superman and Batman. After this, only a handful of new characters were introduced, the most lasting being Aquaman and Green Arrow, in More Fun, as well as Johnny Quick and Robotman, and Black Canary, created at the tale end of the Golden Age in the Johnny Thunder feature of Flash Comics, and who eclipsed that star to take over the feature in the final issues of the original run.

The Golden Age was a boom for comics, but it led to a bust. As the forties ended and the fifties began, the majority of the titles and characters featured above began to fold into one another. By the earlier part of the fifties, nearly all of DC's superhero line had ceased to exist, but for Superman, Action, Batman, Detective, Adventure, World's Finest, and Wonder Woman. World's Finest was priting teamups of Superman and Batman, while Adventure began to publish the adventures of Superboy, Superman as a boy. DC's line was rounded out by funny animal books, a few science fiction titles such as Mystery in Space and My Greatest Adventure, a few horror titles like House of Secrets and House of Mystery, and popular humor titles like Jerry Lewis and Bob Hope.

DC's new characters in the early fifties consisted of the likes of Comet Man, in the newly concieved Strange Adventures, the Phantom Stranger, a character more horror host than hero, and the Challengers of the Unknown, a team who battled bizarre monsters. Focus was on expanding around the Superman and Batman titles, and in addition to the new team-ups in World Finest, Jimmy Olsen received his own series. Brave and the Bold was introduced in 1955, and featured adventure stories with characters like the Viking Prince. Later in 1955, DC introduced J'Onn J'Onnz, the Manhunter from Mars, in the pages of House of Mystery. This feature, based on an earlier green-skinned martian detective in a Batman story of two years previous, combined elements of both pulp and science fiction, and laid the groundwork for the resurgance of superheroes, which would be accomplished through another title, Showcase, introduced in 1956.

In the fourth issue of Showcase, DC took a gamble, and introduced a new Flash, Barry Allen. The sales success of this series led to the introduction of other characters, like new Green Lantern Hal Jordan and Adam Strange, who combined the pulpy aspect of mystery men with science fiction elements. These features took off, leading to Green Lantern recieving his own new series, and the Flash taking up with issue #105, where Flash Comics left off. Adam Strange moved over into Mystery in Space, and through Showcase, Lois Lane recieved her own title as well. Later, a new Atom and Hawkman were introduced as well as old characters, like Aquaman and Green Arrow, being brought back into the newly burgeoning Silver Age of Comics. In 1960, Wonder Woman, the Flash, Green Lantern, Aquaman, and the Martian Manhunter were reteamed in Brave and the Bold #28 as the Justice League of America, joined by part-time members Superman and Batman and later additions Atom, Hawkman, and Green Arrow in DC's new premiere super-team. Later in Brave and the Bold, another team, the Teen Titans, was introduced, teaming the kid sidekicks of Batman, the Flash, Green Arrow, Wonder Woman, and Aquaman. The oddest of DC's super-teams was introduced in My Greatest Adventure, with Elasti-Girl, Negative Man, Robot Man, and the Chief, along with later additions Beast-Boy and Mento, formed the Doom Patrol to face menaces similar to those faced by the Challengers a decade earlier. The most unique element of the Doom Patrol was the fact that the entire team was killed in the final issue of their title, #121.

DC's new competition over the next ten years became Marvel Comics, formed from the remains of Timely Comics after a run of monster comics through the fifties by Stan Lee and Jack Kirby, soon joined by pros like Dick Ayers and Steve Ditko. Over the next years, DC bought up the rights to the greater body of its earlier competition, like Quality and Fawcett Comics. Charlton Comics also sprung into exist in the latter part of this period after Steve Ditko left Marvel, bringing back old characters like the Blue Beetle, and introducing new ones like Captain Atom, Nightshade, and the Question.

DC during this period invented the concept of Infinite Earths in order to explain the differences between the then already classic characters of the 40's and those of the then present. Beginning with the 'Flash of Two Worlds' story in Flash #123, the brainchild of editor Julius Schwartz, the force behind DC's Silver Age. Jay Garrick, the Flash of the 40's, teamed with new Flash Barry Allen, and it was revealed that the heroes of the 40's lived on 'Earth-Two', while the current adventures in DC Comics were taking place on 'Earth-One'. In the pages of the Justice League's new title, these crossovers became a mainstay as once a year, the Justice League and Justice Society teamed together to battle a common foe. It was through one of these stories that Black Canary was returned to continuity (later revealed to be her own daughter) and joined the Justice League.

By the end of the 60's, much of the energy of the early Silver Age had begun to die out, and another editor at DC, Denny O'Neil, stepped in to reenergize the company's major properties. Denny began in the early seventies with Superman, Batman, and Wonder Woman, recruiting top talent and changing directions to update the characters for the times. With Neal Adams, O'Neil transformed Batman from the frivolity of the sixties in the Adam West period to the dark avenger he had been under Kane's pen. On Wonder Woman, Denny hired Mike Sekowsky to transform Diana from a 'female Superman' to a trendier, Emma Peel-style adventurer. On Superman, he updated Clark Kent's wardrobe, got him a job in TV, disposed of the all-too-convenient Kryptonite, and cut Superman's by then lofty power levels by a third. The biggest changes in Superman, however, would come due to the influence of another O'Neil hiree, Jack Kirby.

By 1970, Jack Kirby had left Marvel in pursuit of more creative freedom. In return for taking over the reigns on Superman's Pal Jimmy Olsen, Kirby was given unparalleled freedom both within the Superman mythos, where he brought back Guardian and the Newsboy Legion while introducing new ideas like the Hairies, Intergang, the Project (Cadmus), and the Fear Factory, and within his newly created Fourth World. Kirby concieved the Fourth World as an epic, running between three titles: The New Gods, Mister Miracle, and the Forever People. Unfortunately, due to low sales, both New Gods and Forever People were cancelled before the epic was complete with their eleventh issues, though Mister Miracle went on to issue eighteen. Though the tale was unfinished, Kirby went on through the seventies to continue to introduce new titles and concepts, including the Demon, OMAC, and Kamandi.

This insurgence of energy pushed DC to expand its line once again in the mid-seventies, termed by DC in house ads "The DC Explosion". DC experienced a rapid influx of money and sales due to the success of both the Superman movies, and the Wonder Woman television show. Several new titles were added, including revivals of Mister Miracle and the New Gods, Freedom Fighters, which featured the heroes purchased from Quality Comics, and new series' featuring the Captain Marvel characters, now known more popularly by the name 'Shazam' due to a Marvel Comics injunction. The explosion resulted in what is now known as the 'Implosion' of the late seventies, so called because all of the new series, as well as a few longer standing ones were cancelled, paring down the DC line to the smallest it had been since the pre-Silver Age fifties. Several unpublished issues of the cancelled titles were bound into a pair of books known as Cancelled Comics Cavalcade.

DC went into the 80's in a period of low growth, but growth nonetheless. New series were added, like Roy Thomas' All-Star Squadron, exploring Earth-Two in addition to Earth-One. Overall, however, DC moved toward their 50th year of comics publishing trailing its rival Marvel significantly in sales and energy. What was concieved was the most ambitious event thus far attempted in comics, The Crisis on Infinite Earths. Marv Wolfman and George Perez were given 12 issues, and innumerable crossovers, to tell the sweeping story of the destruction of the Infinite Earths of previous DC continuity. The story revolved around the conflict between the Monitor, a positive being, and the Anti-Monitor, his antimatter universe counterpart, for the fate of the universe. In the process, heroes, like Supergirl and the Flash, perished, worlds were destroyed, and the result, in 1986, was a new, combined, DC Universe with one world, with both a rich future and a rich history to be explored. Also incorporate were the recently purchased heroes of Charlton Comics.

In the wake of Crisis, the industry's top creators were brought in to revamp the DC line for the new Earth. John Byrne was given control of Superman, Frank Miller of Batman, George Perez of Wonder Woman, Keith Giffen of the Justice League, Mike Grell of Green Arrow, Steve Englehart of the Green Lantern Corps, Roger Stern of the Atom, and Mike Baron of the Flash. Other revamps occured later, such as Mindy Newell's revamps of Lois Lane and Catwoman, and the John Ostrander/Tim Truman reboot of Hawkman. Crossovers became the norm, and the universe was nit into one, more tightly woven fabric. After many notable runs on many titles, in 1994, ten years after Crisis began, DC's Zero Hour served to fill gaps and remove errors in the new continuity, paving the way for the DC books of today.


This web page was last updated on: June 16, 1998.

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