Famous Funnies a carnival of comics, a 36-page one-issue-only comic book published in 1933 by Eastern Color Printing and Dell Comics and distributed by Woolworth's department stores. Famous Funnies is considered by historians to be the first true American comic book.
Before Famous Funnies most "comic books" were similar to Sunday newspaper comic pages, without the newspaper. Some of the early comic books published original material, but most were a repackaging of material previously published by newspapers, and often given away as promotional items.
It is uncertain as to whether Famous Funnies was sold or given away by Woolworth's, but when the first newsstand issue appeared in July, 1934, the now 68-page comic sold for 10 cents.
New Fun the Big Comic Magazine (Feb. 1935), a tabloid-sized glossy comics magazine was published a few years after the introduction of Famous Funnies. Unlike its predecessors that often reprinted previously published materials, New Fun the Big Comic Magazine was comprised completely of original material.
Initially New Fun the Big Comic Magazine would feature a broad spectrum of genres, but eventually the title was shortened to More Fun Comics and become home to many of National Periodical's superhero characters. Among the characters introduced in the pages of New Fun Comics would be Aquaman, Dr. Fate, Green Arrow, the Spectre, and Superboy.
Action Comics #1 (June, 1938) featured the first appearance of Superman, an alien from the fictitious planet of Krypton, who possessed powers and abilities beyond that of mere mortal men.
The invention of writer Jerry Siegel and artist Joe Shuster, Superman first appeared in a self-published fanzine Science Fiction #3 (June, 1933) as a bald-headed telepathic villain in a short story titled "The Reign of the Super-Man."
Reworking the character, Siegel and Shuster tried for five years to find a publisher for their superhuman character. After creating the two-fisted detective Slam Bradley for Detective Comics #1 (March, 1937), the creative duo were able to convince National Allied Publications (the predecessor to DC Comics) to publish Superman. The duo earned $130 (accounting for inflation, roughly $2200 in 2015 dollars) for their first Superman story.
After the successful publication of Action Comics #1, Superman branched into other forms of media, including newspaper comic strips, radio, and eventually motion pictures and television. Superman was very lucrative for the publisher, and after Siegel and Shuster's 10-year contract ended, the duo took their employer to court seeking what they felt was adequate compensation. Although the publisher settled after the court ruled against them, further lawsuits occurred in the ensuing decades, eventually settled or ruled upon years after the deaths of both of Superman's creators.
Although newspaper-strip reprints of the masked jungle adventurer, the Phantom appeared in Ace Comic #11 four months before Superman's debut, the "Man of Steel" is considered the first costumed superhero and the template for a multitude of comic book superheroes that would later be created. Publication of Action Comics is considered the beginning of the Golden Age of comic books.
Motion Picture Funnies Weekly #1, (April, 1939) a black and white promotional give-away intended to be distributed at movie theaters by the Funnies Incorporated studio featured the first appearance of the Sub-Mariner. The project was aborted before publication, and the seven of only eight samples created to be sent to theater owners were discovered decades later in the estate of publisher Lloyd Jacquet in 1974.
Detective Comics #27 (May, 1939) featured the first appearance of Batman, who as a child witnessed the back-alley murder of his parents. Swearing a childhood oath, he dedicates his mind, body and family's fortune to the eradication of crime.
After the success of Superman, National Allied Publications requested more superheroes from their creators.
In response to the publisher's request, Bill Finger and Bob Kane collaborated to create the antithesis of Superman, a man with no superpowers who's obsession compelled him to dress as a bat to exploit the fear and superstition of the criminals he battled.
In many of the Dark Knight's early adventures, the Batman had no compunction against killing members of the criminal underworld, or in the case of Doctor Death, standing by as the villain was consumed by the flames of his burning laboratory, leaving the Batman to watch and coldly comment "Death... to Doctor Death!"
Marvel Comics #1 (October, 1939) featured the first appearance of the android Human Torch, the aquatic prince of Atlantis Namor the Sub-Mariner, the costumed private investigator known as the Angel, the jungle lord Ka-Zar, and the western gun slinger called the Black Raider.
Marvel Comics was retitled Marvel Mystery Comics with the second issue.
Whiz Comics #2 (February, 1940) featured the first appearance of Captain Marvel, an orphan boy named Billy Batson, who, when he utters the magic word "SHAZAM!" is transformed into an adult with the powers of the ancient gods.
Although Captain Marvel was intended to appear in issue #1 of Whiz Comics, the first four issues of this title are mis-numbered, resulting in the first issue being #2.
National Periodicals (DC Comics) sued Fawcett Publications in the 1940's, claiming Captain Marvel, infringed upon National's copyright for the character Superman. By the time the trials and appeals had played themselves out in the courts, the comics market had taken a downturn and Fawcett was forced to settle. Fawcett agreed to cease publishing Captain Marvel and sold their remaining characters to Charlton Comics. Decades later DC Comics would lease and eventually purchase the rights to Captain Marvel. Eventually it would also acquire the other Fawcett characters when it purchased Charlton Comics.
All Star Comics #3 (Winter, 1940) featured the first appearance of the Justice Society of America, initially an anthology collection showcasing some of National Periodicals premier characters outside of their respective titles.
Captain America Comics #1 (March, 1941) featured the first appearance of Captain America. The first issue of Captain America Comics depicted the star-spangled superhero landing a punch on the face of Nazi dictator, Adolph Hitler, nine months before the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor, Hawaii and America's entry into World War II.
Although not the first patriotic hero of the World War II era, Captain America has lasted longer than any of the others, thanks mostly to his appearances in the Avengers beginning in 1964.
Captain America was created by writer Joe Simon and artist Jack Kirby. Kirby would eventually partner with writer and editor Stan Lee in the 1960s, co-creating most of Marvel Comic's most famous and popular characters.
All Star Comics #8 (Winter, 1941) featured the first appearance of Wonder Woman.
Although not the first female superhero, Wonder Woman is the most popular of the early female superheroes. She was created by psychologist Dr. William Moulton Marston, a feminist who is also credited for his contributions to the invention of the polygraph, or as it is commonly known, the lie detector. One of the powers Marston bequeathed to Wonder Woman was the ability to force others to tell the truth when bound with her magic lasso.
Founded in 1944, Educational Comics published comics about science, history, and the Bible primarily marketed to schools.
After the death of EC Comics' founder Max Gaines in a boating accident, his son Bill Gaines inherited the publishing business. Educational Comics had been losing money, so Bill Gaines changed the focus of the publisher's content to science fiction, crime, horror, and political satire. Changing the company's name to Entertaining Comics, Gaines allowed his writers and artists greater freedom, eventually leading to controversy involving the Congress of the United States.
Tales Calculated to Drive You MAD (Aug. 1952) focusing on satire, parody, and social commentary in a humorous fashion was initially published in the traditional comic's format. After twenty-four issues of Tales Calculated to Drive You MAD, EC Comics changed the format to a traditional glossy magazine to avoid regulation by the recently created Comics Code Authority, an industry sponsored censorship board created in response to congressional hearings in the 1950s on the link between comic books and juvenile delinquency.
Seduction of the Innocent, (1954) by psychiatrist Dr. Fredric Wertham, claimed that comic books were a primary contributor to juvenile delinquency and crime in America. Dr. Wertham claimed that comics contained subtext of homosexuality and fascism. His assertions caused a moral panic resulting in congressional hearings and the comics publishing industry creating a self-censorship board known as the Comics Code Authority, which mostly followed standards established by the 1930 Hollywood Production Code.
Comics approved by the Comics Code Authority carried a seal of approval prominently printed on the cover. The Comics Code broadly prohibited unflattering depictions of public and moral authorities, gruesome crime, drug and alcohol use, and "sexual perversion," and specifically prohibited vampires, werewolves, ghouls, zombies, and the use of the words "horror" or "terror" in the titles, and placed numerous restrictions upon the use of the word "crime." It also required that heroes and villains be clearly identified and that good always triumphed over evil. Essentially, the Comics Code Authority's restrictions were designed to put EC Comics out of business, resulting in the publisher refocusing its efforts into MAD Magazine, which due to its magazine format was exempt from CCA censorship.
A notorious charge against the Comics Code Authority was that it was racist, supported by an incident in which a story titled "Judgement Day"; which had been previously published in 1953 before the CCA's formation was not approved by the CCA in reprint because the protagonist was an astronaut who in the last panel was revealed to be a black man.
Other less insidious, but equally ridiculous incidents involved the potential censorship of comic author Marv Wolfman's last name because it happened to be "Wolfman," and the disapproval of a story involving the dangers of drug addiction. The second incident occurred when Marvel Editor-in-Chief Stan Lee was approached by the US Department of Health, Education and Welfare about publishing a comic on the dangers of drug abuse. Stan Lee wrote a three-part story for Amazing Spider-Man in which a friend of Peter Parker (Spider-Man's true identity) became addicted to prescription drugs. The CCA refused to approve the story, prompting Lee to publish Amazing Spider-Man #96-98 (May-July, 1971) without the Comics Code seal.
Although the Comics Code Authority has been revised numerous times over the decades to allow greater creativity, many independent publishers never sought the CCA's approval and eventually the two largest publishers, Marvel and DC Comics, abandoned the code, with Archie Comics following suit as the last comics company to carry the seal, effectively ending the Comics Code Authority's half-century of censorship.
Showcase #4 (Sept-Oct. 1956) featured the first appearance of the Silver-Age Flash.
After World War II, comics began to take a downturn in popularity and many publishers went out of business before the 1950s. In a constant quest to stay viable, remaining publishers turned to genres other than superheroes; printing comics about crime, cowboys, monsters, romance and war. Whatever was popular at the moment.
DC Comics mainstays, Superman and Batman took on a more science-fiction tone than two-fisted superhero action. Timely Comics attempted to revive Golden-Age characters Captain America, the Human Torch and the Sub-Mariner, but none lasted more than a few issues. It was not until 1956 that superheroes would return to prominence when a new take on the golden-age speedster the Flash was introduced.
Showcase #22 (Sept-Oct. 1959) featured the first appearance of the Silver-Age Green Lantern.
Three years after the introduction of a new version of the Flash, DC Comics reintroduced the Green Lantern, as an intergalactic police officer, establishing superheroes stories with a science-fiction sensibility as the new norm.
The Brave and The Bold #28 (March, 1960) featured the first appearance of the Justice League of America.
Modeled after the Justice Society of America from the 1940's, the JLA initially featured some of DC Comics' popular second-string characters, eventually adopting the publisher's two most popular characters, Batman and Superman.
The Fantastic Four #1 (Nov. 1961) featured the first appearance of the Fantastic Four, an unusual group of heroes who not only fought against villains, but just as often fought amongst themselves.
The stated goal of Marvel Comic's head writer and Editor-in-Chief, Stan Lee, was to create comics with heroes that were human and had human frailties, the kind of comics that he not only would enjoy writing, but also reading.
The cast was comprised of the elastic scientist Dr. Reed Richards who often was tone deaf to the needs of his fellow teammates, including his fiancée, Susan Storm, who was often figuratively and literally an Invisible Woman. Amongst the team members were the hot-headed and irresponsible teen-aged Human Torch and the perpetually grumpy Thing who harbors resentments against his teammates because he was transformed into a creature of rock that can never look like a normal human again.
The initial villains hearkened back to the genres of the 1950's. The first two issues featured monsters and aliens, with later issues re-introducing the Golden-Age hero the Sub-Mariner as a foil for Reed Richards and a potential suitor for the attentions of Susan Storm. The most iconic of the villains introduced was the sinister scientist and sorcerer Dr. Doom, who became the team's chief adversary.
The Incredible Hulk #1 (May 1962) featured the first appearance of the Hulk, an atomic-spawned monster who was secretly a mild-mannered nuclear physicist that was exposed to gamma radiation from the very bomb he created in America's quest to battle against the Soviet Union.
Not since Frankenstein's monster had a protagonist been a monster. Both a hero and villain the Hulk is considered a menace by the public and the government, which often hunts and hounds the jade giant with the full force of the military.
Although The Incredible Hulk was canceled after six issues, the character eventually returned a few years later as a featured character in the pages of Tales to Astonish, a comic that was retitled The Incredible Hulk with issue #102, leaving an obvious gap in the numbering of the title. The Hulk would prove popular enough to become the subject of a critically acclaimed prime-time live-action television series from 1978-1982.
Amazing Fantasy #15 (Aug. 1962) featured the first appearance of Spider-Man, a scientifically brilliant high school student who gains the abilities of a spider when he is bitten by an arachnid that was exposed to radiation at a laboratory demonstration of nuclear power.
Marvel Comic's head writer and Editor-in-Chief, Stan Lee, proposed the character idea of Spider-Man to his publisher, Martin Goodman, but the idea was not approved because Goodman believed spiders were icky and no one would buy the comic. Knowing a winner when he had one, Lee put Spider-Man's origin story in the final issue of a comic that was scheduled to be canceled, Amazing Fantasy.
Spider-Man is the most widely recognized character that is published by Marvel Comics.
Journey into Mystery #83 (Aug. 1962) featured the first comic book appearance of Thor, the Norse god of thunder.
Marvel Comic's head writer and Editor-in-Chief, Stan Lee, reasoned that many comic book superheroes possessed god-like abilities, so it would be logical to transform an actual god from ancient mythology into a superhero.
Thor spoke in Shakespearian prose and battled against aliens, criminals and other gods, particularly his adopted brother, the trickster god Loki.
Tales of Suspense #39 (March, 1963) featured the first comic book appearance of Iron Man, a genius industrialist and weapons designer who is injured and captured in a foreign war, and resorts to building a transistor-powered armor to both preserve his life as well as escape his captors.
When creating Iron Man, Marvel Comic's head writer and Editor-in-Chief, Stan Lee, picked an unlikely hero for the Vietnam War era of the 1960's, a war profiteer. The Iron Man's greatest weapons were his genius for designing weapons and utilizing the power of transistorized gadgets, a relatively new technology for the decade.
The Avengers #1 (Sept. 1963) featured the teaming of Marvel's less high-profile headliners of the 1960's. Chief among the heroes were Thor, the Norse god of thunder, the Invincible Iron Man, the Incredible Hulk, and the size-changing couple, Ant-Man and the Wasp.
Much like writer Stan Lee and artist Jack Kirby's early creation the Fantastic Four, the Avengers interacted with one another in a way that played off of personality conflicts among the heroes. The Hulk defected from and turned against his teammates out of feelings of persecution, because he felt the rest of the team viewed him as a monster. The roster of the title changed early in its run re-introducing Captain America after almost a decade absence from comics, and integrating characters such as Hawkeye the outlaw archer, and the mutants Quicksilver and the Scarlet Witch, both formerly members of Magneto's Brotherhood of Evil Mutants.
X-Men #1 (Sept. 1963) featured the first comic book appearance of the X-Men, the "Strangest Superheroes of All!"
Marvel Comic's head writer and Editor-in-Chief, Stan Lee, fashioned the stories around the X-Men to be allegorical of race relations in America during the 1960s. The heroes and villains of the title were all mutants, who had different philosophies about the future and purpose of mutant-kind and how they would live with humans, either as their equal or their masters.
Whether intentional or not, Lee's characterizations of Professor X and Magneto paralleled that of civil rights activists Martin Luther King Jr. and Malcolm X. After the fashion of Dr. King, Professor X believed that mutants and humans must learn to live in harmony with one another, while Magneto, based his philosophy on his experiences as a Jew in Nazi Germany, concluding that humans and mutants would never live together in harmony, and that mutants either needed a nation of their own or become the masters of humans by any means necessary.
Daredevil the Man Without Fear! #1 (April, 1964) featured the first comic book appearance of Daredevil, a blind attorney who battles crime in the courts by day and in the streets by night.
Young Matt Murdock was blinded by a radioactive isotope that fell from a truck that was illegally transporting the substance through his New York City "Hell's Kitchen" neighborhood. Pushing to safety a blind man crossing in front of the truck, Murdock was blinded by the radiation, but it granted him heightened senses and a form of radar which allows him to perceive objects in a 360-degree radius.
Murdock's father was a professional boxer who insisted that his son use his mind instead of his fists. Despite his "disability" the young Murdock became an attorney not long before his father was killed by mobsters for refusing to throw a boxing match. Donning a costume similar to a boxer, Murdock uses his abilities for retribution and justice.
Beginning in the mid-1960s and becoming obsolete by the mid-1970s, after a loosening of the Comic Code freed American publishers to exercise greater creativity as well as more explicit material from Europe becoming available in titles like Heavy Metal, Underground "comix" were small press or self-published comics which addressed issues that the Comics Code Authority restricted, not to mention they were often violent, sexually explicit and depicted drug use... lots and lots of drug use.
The tradition of the underground comic goes back to "Tijuana bibles," pornographic parodies of famous comic-strip characters first seen in the 1920s, that were falsely rumored to have been manufactured and smuggled from Mexico and typically sold in an "under the counter" manner. Underground comic books were sold primarily to young people who frequented "head shops," businesses that sold drug paraphernalia, primarily to users of marijuana.
The first underground comix were produced in the early 1960's as a counter-culture response to mainstream comic books. The comic, which is considered by many collectors to be the first underground comic, was a compilation of The Adventures of Jesus published by University of Texas art graduate Frank Stack under the pseudonym Foolbert Sturgeon. Others would follow, the most famous among them: Fritz the Cat, Mr. Natural, The Fabulously Furry Freak Brothers and Zap Comix.
Fantastic Four #52 (July, 1966) featured the first comic book appearance of the Black Panther, the king of a technologically advanced African nation, who was granted cat-like abilities from a traditional herbal potion.
The Black Panther was the first costumed superhero of color, and his creation apparently has no correlation to, nor was he the inspiration for the naming of the militant self-defense organization the Black Panther Party (BPP), which was founded in Oakland California by Huey P. Newton and Bobby Seale in October of 1966.
The first black non-costumed superhero, Waku: Prince of the Bantu, first appeared in Jungle Tales #1 (Sept. 1954) published by Atlas Comics, the precursor to Marvel Comics. During the decade preceding Waku's debut, most comic characters of color were buffoonish. Black and African American characters in particular were depicted with stereotypes common to minstrel shows from the 19th Century, where white performers would imitate black people by coloring themselves in "black face" with dark makeup. The Black Panther was depicted as a man of regal bearing who commanded a society that was both ancient in its traditions and modern in its advancements. Black Panther became a supporting character in the Fantastic Four, and a regular member of the Avengers.
Conan the Barbarian #1 (Oct. 1970) featured the first comic book appearance of Conan the Barbarian, a warrior from the mythical Hyborian Age, who would one day be made king by his own hand.
Conan is the most famous creation of 1930's era pulp fiction writer Robert E. Howard. The epic tales of the barbarian from the mythical land of Cimmeria were first published in Weird Tales (Dec. 1932). Conan would see print an additional twenty-five times until the death of the character's creator by suicide in 1936. Although there were a handful of stories printed posthumously, Conan's story would not continue until Marvel Comics' writer Roy Thomas brought him to the pages of a comic book. Conan proved successful enough that the publisher added two more mature black-and-white magazines titled Savage Tales (May, 1971) and Savage Sword of Conan (Aug. 1974), as well as another comic titled King Conan (March, 1980).
Maus: A Survivor's Tale (1972) told the story of the author's parents' survival of the Holocaust in Nazi occupied Poland during World War II.
Art Spiegelman used "funny animals" as a means to relate the story of his parents' struggle for survival during World War II. The Jews were mice and the Nazis cats, with other animals representing different nationalities. Published through multiple independent comics and magazines, the tale was collected into two volumes starting in 1986. Maus has been nominated for and won multiple literary awards since being collected into book form.
Tomb of Dracula #1 (April, 1972) featured the first long-running comic book appearance of Count Dracula, the vampire created by 19th Century Irish novelist Bram Stoker.
Dracula had made a previous appearance in Suspense #7 (March, 1951), before the prohibition by the Comics Code Authority on vampires, werewolves and other monsters went into effect in 1954. When the CCA relaxed its prohibition on monsters in 1971, it didn't take long for classic Hollywood versions of the creatures to appear in the pages of comic books.
The "DC Implosion" is a mocking appellation attached to the mid-1970's marketing campaign to recapture market share from the publisher's chief rival Marvel Comics.
The strategy marketed as the "DC Explosion" increased the number of comics being published an additional 57 titles by reviving comics that had been canceled in the late 1960's and early 1970's as well as creating a multitude of new books. The increase in variety was also coupled with an increase in the number of pages with backup stories, and an increase in cover prices; some to as much as $1 (a small fortune to children of the 1970s). Marvel Comics had exercised a strategy of market dominance by publishing a multitude of comics in different genres, and DC sought to battle against their competitor by using similar tactics, but the results were disastrous.
Increases in production costs due to inflation and a national economic recession, coupled with lagging readership, and the winter snow blizzards of 1977 and 1978 caused the entire industry to take a downturn. DC's executives decided the only course of action would be to cancel under-performing titles. Sixty-five titles were canceled by 1978, including the company's flagship title and its namesake Detective Comics. To rescue Detective Comics, which at this point was only being published six times a year on a bi-monthly schedule, the comic was re-branded with the sub-title "Starring the Batman Family". To save Detective Comics, a title which had be waning for years, the more popular and better selling Batman Family had to be sacrificed.
In the aftermath of the cancellations, the DC staff collected the material of unpublished issues and distributed them to the creators as two black-and-white photocopy editions titled Canceled Comic Cavalcade, as proof of ownership to the U.S. copyright office.
Heavy Metal Magazine #1 (April, 1977) introduced American readers to comics from Europe.
First published in France in December, 1974 under the title Métal Hurlant, translated as "Howling Metal," the glossy magazine with an emphasis on science fiction, fantasy and erotica was brought to the United States under the title Heavy Metal. Oriented towards older readers, Heavy Metal was primarily sold on magazine racks and its popularity spawned imitations from other publishers during the 1970's.
Cerebus the Aardvark #1 (Dec. 1977) featured the first comic book appearance of Cerebus the Aardvark, an anthropomorphic barbarian aardvark.
Created and self-published by Dave Sim, Cerebus was initially intended to be a Conan the Barbarian parody, but the comic evolved into a commentary on politics, religion, gender relations, art and literature.
Cerebus the Aardvark was published in black-and-white for 300 issues from 1977 until 2004, earning the record for the longest published independent comic.
Every issue of Cerebus the Aardvark can be obtained in paperback volumes, affectionately known as "phone books" because of their voluminous size and newsprint-quality paper.
A Contract With God, and Other Tenement Stories (Oct. 1978) introduced what many consider to be the first graphic novel.
Written by Will Eisner, one of the masters of graphic storytelling, the 196 page A Contract With God, and Other Tenement Stories consist of four short stories that explore issues of life, death, faith and failure in a Bronx tenement, starting in the 1930's.
Semi-autobiographical, Eisner drew heavily from his childhood and experiences in New York City during the Great Depression.
DC Comics acquired the rights to publish A Contract With God reprinting the book beginning in 2001.
Hadashi no Gen translated into English as Barefoot Gen is considered to be the first attempt at bringing Japanese comics to the United States. The story is an autobiographical account of the author's survival of the atomic bombing of Hiroshima, Japan on August 6, 1945, which is estimated to have killed up to 166,000 people.
The tradition of comics, or as it is known in Japan "manga," goes back to the first manga magazine Eshinbun Nipponchi published in 1874. Manga became more Americanized after World War II, when American comics were imported by American soldiers during the United States' occupation of Japan after the war. First among the post-war manga was Osamu Tezuka (Astro Boy), which remains popular both in Japan and abroad.
In Japan, manga is serialized in black-and-white magazines. Beginning in the 1970's manga began showing up in America, mostly in comic shops near college campuses. As word spread and comics' readers showed interest, mostly American small publishers, such as Eclipse Comics and Dark Horse Comics, began reprinting manga titles translated into English in a traditional American comics format during the mid-1980's. Epic Comics, an imprint of Marvel Comics, published a prestige format colorized translation of Akira, considered a classic of the manga art form. Epic Comics was shut down when its parent company Marvel Comics experienced financial difficulties and the series was completed by independent publisher Dark Horse.
Dreadstar #1 (Nov. 1982) was the first comic published under the Epic Comics imprint, a subsidiary of Marvel Comics, which allowed creators to be published and maintain the copyright to their characters and stories.
Epic Comics was a spinoff of Epic Illustrated, a science fiction magazine similar to Heavy Metal. The Epic Comics imprint sold comics only through the direct market of comic book shops, which allowed it to circumvent the Comics Code Authority, and therefore provide a greater scope of liberty for the creators.
Because Epic Comics was oriented toward a more mature readership, the comics were produced on higher quality paper and carried a higher cover price than other titles published by Marvel Comics. Many titles were printed in a book bound "prestige format" such as the Japanese manga classic Akira.
Epic Comics fell victim to the comics market crash of the mid-1990's, caused primarily by overproduction and speculation by collectors on titles with multiple or gimmick covers. In December, 1996 Epic's parent company, Marvel Comics, was forced into bankruptcy due largely to glutting the market with too many versions of the same product via alternate covers of the same issue, forays into the card collecting market, and bad distribution deals.
Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles #1 (May, 1984) featured the first comic book appearance of the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, a quartet of anthropomorphic turtles, named after four European Renaissance artists, trained in the assassins' art of Ninjitsu, by an anthropomorphic rat sensei named Splinter.
A one-shot independent comic created by friends Kevin Eastman and Peter Laird over the dinner table; the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles were intended to parody elements of popular comics of the early 1980's. Using money from their tax refunds and a loan from Eastman's uncle the two creators were able to self-publish a single comic.
Eastman and Laird saw commercial success when they were approached by a licensing agent, who marketed their characters for action figures and a cartoon to help sell the toys. The Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles have appeared in multiple syndicated cartoons and several feature films.
Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles is considered by many to be the most successful independent comic in history.
Crisis on Infinite Earths #1 (April, 1985) was the beginning of the end of the DC Universe that many longtime comics' fans knew.
The Crisis on Infinite Earths was both an economic and artistic decision designed to breathe new life into the characters of the DC universe, as well as relieve the creative and editorial staff of a burdensome and conflicting continuity accumulated over 45 years.
The concept of a multi-dimensional universe had been established by writers at DC Comics as early as the 1960's to explain how the publisher could have multiple characters with the same name and powers. The respective planets on which these heroes lived were dubbed Earth-1 and Earth-2. As time progressed new dimensions were introduced into continuity and often the storytelling became convoluted and messy, especially for longtime fans who may have read decades worth of comics' stories. After the "Crisis," many characters were altered, eliminated or amalgamated into a new continuity, which was intended to simplify the task of writing characters that had existed for almost half a century, hopefully satisfying old fans as well as attracting new fans to the DC Universe.
Watchmen #1 (Sept, 1986) introduced readers to a universe that realistically depicted a world with costumed vigilantes and superhumans.
A twelve-issue limited series, intended to both critique American culture in the 1980's as well as the superhero genre itself; Watchmen explores the consequences of a world where masked vigilantes and one immensely powerful superhuman have existed since the 1940s. The characters were dark and damaged; and exhibited traits of sadism, self-loathing and doubt. The most powerful among the heroes is Dr. Manhattan, a man who was destroyed by nuclear science, and rebuilds himself an atom at a time until he achieves godhood but slowly loses his humanity.
Most of the characters in the Watchmen were analogous to characters once owned by defunct comics' publisher Charlton Comics, which DC Comics had purchased in 1983. Writer, Alan Moore wanted to use Charlton's characters, but because of the dystopian conclusion of the story, DC's editorial staff and management believed that the characters would be deemed damaged merchandise and unusable for future stories. Moore instead created new characters with similar abilities and motifs to those from Charlton.
Image Comics is an independent comic book publisher founded primarily by freelance artists who defected from Marvel Comics when they became dissatisfied by the publisher capitalizing on their creative works without paying them royalties.
Image Comics is an umbrella organization for several artists' studios, operating with the understanding that each creator retains ownership of their creations and have total editorial control of the comics they publish.
Although some of the original studios split from Image Comics, the publisher has obtained new creators and continues to be a viable publisher decades after its founding.
Vertigo Comics is a publishing imprint of DC Comics that was created to attract older readers with mature stories typically in the horror and fantasy genres.
In many regards, Vertigo Comics filled the void left by Epic Comics when Marvel discontinued the imprint due to financial troubles. Similar to Epic, many of the titles published by Vertigo Comics allow creators to tell darker stories with existing characters owned by the publisher, as well as have a distribution mechanism for creator-owned projects.
Marvel Comics goes bankrupt.
Marvel Comics' desire to keep up with its fledgling rival Image Comics lead it to imitate many of its competitor's styles and marketing techniques, resulting in a glut of multiple versions of the same comic, containing the same content, but a different, often gimmicky cover carrying a higher price than the normal cover. Speculators, flush with cash during the good economic times of the 1990's, were willing to invest in comics for a time, but the gimmicks eventually turned comics' readers off. Coupled with forays into trading cards featuring comic book characters, and bad distribution deals, the excessive gimmicks eventually caught up with the publisher and it was forced to reorganize under Chapter 11 bankruptcy in 1996.
Ironically one of the contributing factors in Marvel's bankruptcy was a failed project with Image Studios, titled the "Onslaught Project." After an initial sales bump, due to long-running comics' titles carrying a new #1 on the cover, sales quickly declined due to reader dissatisfaction with the quality of most of the comics being produced. The project only lasted a year, and the original numbering of the titles was eventually resumed.
After emerging from bankruptcy less than a year later, Marvel diversified its comic book offering to attract new readers, and aggressively licensed its characters to movie studios, resulting in multiple successful film franchises.
Marvel goes digital.
Soon after the rapid expansion of the Internet in the mid-1990's, Marvel Comics attempted a foray into the digital comics market, but the offerings were meager and Marvel's main website was often plagued by code errors and low quality images.
Re-launching the endeavor in November of 2007, Marvel Digital Comics Unlimited offered a yearly subscription for a flat fee. Thousands of titles that span from current comics all the way back to the publisher's origins in 1939 are available. To entice readers to subscribe, Marvel offers a weekly sampling of free digital comics both contemporary and classic.
Marvel eventually made it possible to read digital comics on mobile devices instead of just on a computer.
The Walt Disney Corporation announced its intent to purchase Marvel Comics for $4 billion, on August 31, 2009.
This was not the first instance of a comic book publisher attracting the attention of a larger company. DC Comics had been owned by a company that, through a series of mergers and acquisitions dating back to 1967, would eventually become the media empire Time Warner. DC Comics was originally acquired by the Kinney National Company, a merger created when Kinney Parking Company, a New Jersey parking lot company with ties to the mafia, and National Cleaning Company combined. Kinney set its sights on several movie studios including Warner Brothers-Seven Arts, which would later be known as Warner Communications and then eventually Time Warner.
In the late 1990's Marvel Comic's movie studio, Marvel Studios, had aggressively licensed its properties to larger movie producers, including Sony who produced a trilogy of Spider-Man movies, and 20th Century Fox who produced a trilogy of X-Men movies. With the cinematic successes of their characters well established, Marvel Studios began producing movies on its own, beginning with Iron Man and The Incredible Hulk in 2008. Marvel's new found profitability in movie production attracted the Walt Disney Corporation, which could offer the fledgling studio greater distribution, marketing and access to cash for movie projects.
It's befitting that the foundation for DC Comics' "The New 52" should be introduced by the same character that heralded the return of superhero comics at the publisher in 1956 with Showcase #4. The Flash, in the pages of the limited series Flashpoint (May, 2011), encounters events that rewrite the history of the DC Universe and sweep away most of the continuity of the previous decades.
Why the reboot?
Losing market share to Marvel Comics, both in print and the digital comics market, and spurred to action by Marvel's recent acquisition by the Walt Disney Corporation, DC Comics needed to grab readers' attentions. Hoping to attract young readers who had not been purchasing comics for decades due to growing competition from other media and a general decline in youth reading, DC Comics chose a radical course; cancel every title published and reintroduce its characters with new #1 issues as though the previous continuity did not exist, and couple each issues' sale date with a digital copy available to download for a fee.
Offering a digital copy during the same month as the print version going on sale, worried and upset many comic shop owners. What this move by DC Comics will eventually mean for an industry soon to mature into its first century, only the future knows, but hopefully for the publisher and the industry at large, it will not be another implosion on the magnitude of the failed "DC Explosion" of the 1970s.
Mainstream comics acknowledge same-sex marriage.
When comics were published during the Golden Age of the 1940's, social issues were rarely tackled. In general comics served as government propaganda supporting the war overseas against the Nazi's and Imperialist Japanese. Due to the Comics Code Authority, after 1954 comics were censored, ensuring government and moral authority was never challenged without dire economic consequences for the publisher.
As society changed, comics changed with it, introducing diversity that reflected a culture beyond that of a white Christian mainstream. In a market dominated by Caucasian male characters, starting in the 1960's comics introduced more female lead characters other than Wonder Woman and Supergirl, and introduced noble heroes of color such as the Black Panther, but mainstream comics still refrained from controversies such as the prevailing drug culture and the war in Vietnam.
With the introduction of "Underground Comix" in the 1960's, readers could find protest and counter-culture in comics, but only if they were willing to look beyond their drugstore spinner rack or sidewalk newsstand. By the 1980's comics had matured and imprints were created by mainstream publishers to cater to an older comics' reading public. Mature-imprint comics adopted themes of sex and violence formerly only found in black-and-white magazines such as Heavy Metal. These imprints allowed writers greater creativity and an ability to explore taboo themes formerly censored by publishers.
Marvel comics formally introduced its first homosexual character in 1992 in the pages of Alpha Flight #106. There were insinuations by Alpha Flight creator John Byrne that the Canadian hero, Northstar, was gay, but due to censorship fears from the Comics Code Authority, Marvel's editor-in-chief during the 1980's would not allow the character to be explicitly gay. Despite typically low sales for Alpha Flight, issue #106 sold out in a week. Stories from some comics retailers implied anti-gay activists had purchased every issue of the comic in an effort to prevent it being read by the public. Not much was made of Northstar's sexuality after Alpha Flight #106.
Gay marriage and the adoption of a child by a gay couple was first depicted in The Authority #29 (July, 2002), a mature readers comic published by DC Comic's Wildstorm imprint. The comic was noted for pushing the boundaries during a time when the publisher was afraid of media scrutiny in the wake of terrorist attacks on September 11, 2001. Despite the marriage of Apollo and Midnighter, analogs for Superman and Batman, the comic did not attract overt media scrutiny, but rampant censorship by DC Comic's editorial and management created a rift with the comic's creators leading to delays in publication, which created a rift with fans, leading to its eventual cancellation.
Roughly a decade later Marvel would reveal another character as gay, the old-west gunslinger Rawhide Kid. Contrary to the Johnny Bart's established personality in comics published decades previous, the story depicted the Rawhide Kid as a flamboyant and slightly swishy gunslinger and fighter, capably dealing with rough cowboys and bandits that weren't quite sure what to make of him. The comic was played primarily for laughs and stirred a minor media storm. The most interesting revelation to come out of the Rawhide Kid controversy was made by long-time Marvel Comics writer and editor Stan Lee, when he revealed in a CNN interview that Howling Commandos' platoon member Percy "Pinky" Pinkerton, from the 1960's war comic Sgt. Fury and his Howling Commandos was also gay.
DC Comics moves from Manhattan, New York City, New York to Burbank, California.
The American comic-book industry was born in New York City in 1935 when Malcolm Wheeler-Nicholson's National Allied Publications published New Fun the Big Comic Magazine. From this first foray into a new form of printed media DC Comics was born; creating iconic comic-book characters such as Superman, Batman, Wonder Woman, Flash, and Green Lantern. Dozens of imitators would rise and fall in the newly created industry, their chief competitor Timely Comics, later renamed Marvel Comics, is the only competing publisher to last a long as DC Comics.
Through a series of corporate acquisitions, DC Comics would eventually become part of the media conglomerate Warner Brothers Entertainment, a movie studio based in Burbank, California. Warner Brothers created the DC Entertainment division also based in Burbank in 2009 to manage various media capitalizing on the characters of the DC Universe and other intellectual property managed by the Manhattan-based publisher.
Warner announced in 2013 that DC Comics would be relocating from its 1700 Broadway address in New York to the DC Entertainment offices in Burbank to bring the publishing division closer to its animation, television, and movie divisions. On April 10, 2015 DC Comics officially closed its east-coast offices in the heart of the "Big Apple" and moved from the city of its birth 80 years prior to the west-coast sunshine of the Hollywood Hills.
The Walt Disney Corporation announced its intent to purchase the majority of 21st Century Fox's assets for $52.4 billion, on December 14, 2017.
The $52.4 billion all-stock deal to acquire the assets of 21st Century Fox (formerly 20th Century Fox); would regain the movie rights to Daredevil, the X-Men and related characters, including Deadpool a character which earned over $783 million worldwide in his first staring feature in 2016.
Disney would also acquire the rights to the original theatrical version of Star Wars: A New Hope. The Star Wars franchise was acquired by Disney for $4 billion in 2014, but the distribution rights to the original Star Wars film were owned by 21st Century Fox.
The movie rights to the Fantastic Four are more complicated because the franchise is owned by German film production company Constantin Film, who has had the rights since 1986 and maintained the rights by hiring B-movie director Roger Corman to produce a low-budget unreleased film in 1992. Constantin Film partnered with 21st Century Fox for distribution of new Fantastic Four films starting in 2005, complicating the movie-rights for Marvel's first family of superheroes.
The telecommunications company AT&T announced its intent to purchase DC Comics' parent company Time Warner for $85 billion, on October 22, 2016. The merger would allow AT&T to not only be a media content provider, but also a media content producer.
After the merger was approved by Time Warner shareholders on February 15, 2017, the merger only needed government approval in the nations that Time Warner had a presence. The only holdout was the United States Federal Communications Commission, which refused to review the merger, instead leaving the United States Department of Justice to eventually file an antitrust lawsuit on November 20, 2017.
Suspicion within the press and the public was that President of the United States, Donald J. Trump, instructed the FCC and the Justice Department to block the merger, because Time Warner is the parent company of cable television news network CNN, which Trump claimed had a bias against his presidential campaign and administration.
After the merger agreement deadline was extended and District Court for the District of Columbia ruled in favor of AT&T on June 12, 2018 the merger was finalized two days later on June 14, 2018. District Judge Richard J. Leon, a George W. Bush appointee, warned the government against attempting a stay or appeal the decision. "The Government here has taken its best shot to block the merger based on the law and facts, and within the time allowed. The defendants did their best to oppose it. The Court has spoken. To use a stay to accomplish indirectly what could not be done directly - especially when it would cause certain irreparable harm to the defendants - simply would be unjust. I hope and trust that the Government will have the good judgment, wisdom, and courage to avoid such a manifest injustice. To do otherwise, I fear, would undermine the faith in our system of justice; not only the defendants, but their millions of shareholders and the business community at large."
A common opinion of the result of this case is that there will be other vertical mergers between media content providers and media content producers, placing more of the characters and stories that generations of readers have enjoyed into the ownership of fewer and fewer corporations. What this may mean for a comics industry that has seen its share of ups and down over the past 85 years, only a time traveler could know for certain.