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Into The Hive Mind: Tackling The DC Comics Universe

Christine Bancroft |
May 2, 2013 | 2:03 p.m. PDT

Columnist

The Justice League of America (Tumblr)
The Justice League of America (Tumblr)
DC Comics is one of the most recognized comic book chains in history, featuring steadily popular characters such as Batman, Wonder Woman and Superman. The company not only had a large hand in defining superheroes and comic books as we now know them, but continues to attract readers, young and old, to its continuing universe. 

With a nearly 80-year history behind it, DC Comics is one of the major fandoms, and one of the two comic book heavyweights, alongside long time rival Marvel Comics. 

Subject: The DC universe and its fandom

DC Comics, Inc. was founded in 1934, first named National Allied Publications. Owned by entrepreneur and pulp magazine writer Major Malcolm Wheeler-Nicholson. The name was changed in 1937 to "Detective Comics" (the origin of the initials DC), and introduced Batman in issue #27 in 1939. Major Wheeler-NIcholson had left the company in 1937 after facing cash flow issues. 

A fourth title, "Action Comics", premiered Superman and was the first to feature the now-familiar "superhero" archetype, and superheroes then became immensely popular.

Although National Allied Publications, Nicholson-Wheeler's larger publication company, merged with Detective Comics Inc. in 1944 and absorbed affiliated All-American Publications, forming National Comics and later, National Periodical Publications, it was colloquially known as DC Comics until the official adoption of the title in 1977. 

Superman first debuted in 1938. A copy of Issue #1, pictured above, recently sold for $2.16 million at an auction. (Twitter)
Superman first debuted in 1938. A copy of Issue #1, pictured above, recently sold for $2.16 million at an auction. (Twitter)
When the popularity of comics declined in the late 1940s, the focus was shifted from superheroes to crime and science-fiction stories, although Detective Comics and Action Comics were retained. 

In the mid-1950s, DC overhauled several characters (Batman, Wonderwoman, Superman, and introduced the different "families" of each characters, including Supergirl, Bat-girl and Batwoman, among others), or recreated others, such as the Flash and the Green Lantern. The Justice League of America (JLA) was also introduced during this time, in the "silver age" of comic books. 

During this time, especially in the late 60s, DC recruited Marvel superstars, including Jack Kirby, Dennis O'Neil and Steve Ditko (creator of Spider-Man) and attempted to target older teens and young adults as a new facet of the audience. In the 1970s, several darker themes appeared in the "Bronze Age" of comic books, when the Comics Code Authority updated its code in response to the featuring of illegal drug use in Marvel's "The Amazing Spider-Man" in 1971. In the late 70s, DC also began to bring in new writers and established a sort of "miniseries" format to have finite storylines with less likelihood to fizzle out after a handful of issues.

In 1980, DC introduced "The New Teen Titans" as origin stories of characters, which lead to similar revitalizations of the DC Universe, called "Crisis of Infinite Earths", and also established "The History of the DC Universe", which streamlined the DC canon. This also merged parallel universes into one "multiverse"; because the DC Universe is revised and rewritten every decade ("Zero Hour" in 1994, "Infinite Crisis" in 2005, "The New 52" in 2011), the canon can be updated and modernized as needed with no set future. Canon history is now described as "Before Crisis" or "After Crisis".

Fandom name: Not really one specific term, most fans just say that they are "fans of DC

Like Marvel fans, DC fans do not have one specific fandom name, or any that has been agreed upon. Certain subsets of the fandom, or fans of specific titles, may have a title that is somewhat-commonly used, such as "Batmaniacs" for fans of "Batman" or "Wingnuts" for fans of "Nightwing", but these are neither common nor universally agreed upon. 

Additionally, there is no one typical fan. The age range is vast, international (although largely based in America), and may be fans of specific characters, universes, ensembles or story arcs, or even subsidiary lines, as different publishing lines (Helix, Vertigo, Fables) are intended towards different audiences and age groups.

Fandom activity: Convention, cosplay, forum activity, consuming media

Harley Quinn, who was first introduced in the DC animated universe, was added to canon due to her overwhelming popularity with viewers. (Tumblr)
Harley Quinn, who was first introduced in the DC animated universe, was added to canon due to her overwhelming popularity with viewers. (Tumblr)
Conventions are the typical meet-up point for fans, where cosplayers can be seen up the wazoo. According to my source Anna (who also helped with the Marvel comic last week), cosplaying may be more popular in DC than for Marvel, possibly by virtue of the fact that there are more well-known characters and because extra-comic material, such as films and TV shows, have also been very popular throughout time. While DC has seen an upsurge in popularity in the recent decade, the popularity of major characters has remained stable over the years. 

The animated tie-ins to the DC Universe (or, the DCAU, for animated universe) has been closely related to the canon universe. "Teen Titans," "Batman: The Animated Series", "The Justice League of America" and animated movies reflect comic stories or cover specific comic story arcs. Even when the shows diverge from canonical material, some characters prove to be so popular that they are written into the comics. For example, Harley Quinn from "Batman: The Animated Series" was an original character later included into the canon because of her popularity. (You can read an interesting article about the way television has influenced comics in relation to Harley Quinn here, from Wicked Cool Comics at Wordpress.)

For individuals wanting to jump into the comics, DC recently relaunched all 52 titles, called "The New 52." Several of these feature around single popular characters or universe, such as the "Batman" universe, including "Nightwing," "Detective Comics," "Batman and Robin" and others; however, this reboot includes more obscure characters like "Animal Man" and "Swamp Thing," which are less known but equally enjoyable. 

Meet the League (or "good people to know"): Grant Morrison (writer of numerous "Batman" and "Flash" 'verse runs), Alan Moore ("British writer of "The Killing Joke", a "Batman" one-shot, as well as "V for Vendetta" and "Watchmen", which are part of DC Comics imprint Vertigo), Geoff Jones (known for "Flash" and "The Green Lantern"), Frank Miller (various famous "Batman" titles, "Weird War Tales"), Mark Waid ("Kingdom Come" and "The Kingdom", an eight-year run as "The Flash" writer in 1992) and Jim Lee (illustrator for much of the "The New 52", and has Executive Creative Director of the 2006 "DC Universe Online" MMORPG)

Relevant resources: DC Wikia, DC Comics TV Tropes (with subcategories taking you to individual stories' pages), this forum on DC Comics (Comic Book Resources), The Comic Board, Superhero Hype, DCU Wiki, the official DC Comics website

General miscellany: 

Anthony Misiano, one of the Gods of Cosplay. (Tumblr)
Anthony Misiano, one of the Gods of Cosplay. (Tumblr)
Check out Anthony Misiano. He's recently become famous online for his absolutely amazing Joker cosplay. He says he's "just a geek with an evil grin and a lot of drive to create", but his is one of the best cosplays I've seen in a very, very long time. 

"DC Universe Online" is one of several DC games for fans to play. While it initially cost $14.99/month to play, it now has three levels, one of which is free for all users. For at least $5, users can play "Premium" level, or can play at "Legendary", which requires an ongoing subscription. You can play as either a hero or villain, complete quests and takes place in Metropolis following the deaths of several well-known DC superheroes. 

Vertigo is an imprint of DC Comics, and marketed toward a more mature audience. It features shorelines that are more graphic, contain sexuality, profanity and controversy and are largely in horror and fantasy genre. It contains some of the most critically acclaimed comics, including "The Sandman," "Fables," "V for Vendetta" and "Hellblazer."

DC Comics has a variety of what Anna calls "What If?" worlds. There are worlds that discuss what would happen if a baby Superman was found by the Wayne family instead of the Kents, or if Bruce Wayne died instead of his parents, so Martha Wayne is Batman. 

IGN's Top 100 Comic Book Heroes of All Time placed Superman as the number one and Batman as the second best superheroes. 

For some collections of random facts, you can check out this MTV article, "6 Surprising Facts About DC Comics" or this list of DC moments gone wrong. Here's a list from USA Today about the DC Comics' "The New 52", for those who are interested in the reboot. 

And here you can see what Cracked.com has to say about that whole "Marvel vs. DC" debate. 

Thank you to Anna, my source for both comic book fandom articles. Into the Hive Mind will be taking a break for the summer, but will return in the fall with more content, and until then, keep on keeping' on. 

Columnist Christine Bancroft can be reached here or found on Twitter here. If you have suggestions, corrections or comments during the summer hiatus, please feel free to shoot a message.



 

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