DC Comics is one of the most prolific and recognizable companies in the comic book market today.
DC Comics, as it would eventually be known, was formed in 1934 as a new branch of parent company, National Allied Publications, which was owned by Major Malcolm Wheeler-Nicholson. Originally there were three imprints under the comic book branch of National Allied Publications: New Fun: The Big Comic Magazine (February 1935), New Comics (December 1935), and Action Comics (1937). In 1937, due to financial issues, Wheeler-Nicholson partnered with Harry Donenfeld, who owned the printing plant that Wheeler-Nicholson used, to create Detective Comics.
There was drama behind the scenes during the first year of Detective Comics' existance, which led to Wheeler-Nicholson being forced out. Detective Comics, under the guidance of Donenfeld, purchased the remains of National Allied Publications in bankruptcy court. While the company was still originally known as National Allied Publications, the name was later changed to National Comics, and then later still to National Periodical Publications. Eventually it became known as DC Comics, the nickname for Detective Comics, its most popular comic book title.
Today DC Comics has many recognizable characters, but the first, which would come to define a generation, was Superman, who debuted in Action Comics #1 in 1937. He was the first character in the comic book universe to be termed a "superhero," and he proved to be so popular that DC Comics soon introduced new heroic characters, including Batman (1939), the Green Lantern (1940), the Flash (1940), Wonder Woman (1941), and Aquaman (1941). This period in the late-1930s through the 1940s is generally considered to be the Golden Age of Comics, as the ideas were new, fresh, and exceedingly popular.
In the 1950s, DC helped to usher in what is known as the Silver Age of Comics - a resurgance in comics popularity. While many of the characters that fueled this new age of comics were reimaginings of original Golden Age characters (including The Flash and The Green Lantern), one new character that was introduced was Martian Manhunter (1955). Another important moment in the DC Silver Age was the introduction of the Justice League of America (1960). Two other developments occurred during the DC Silver Age. First, comics as a whole took a more science fiction-y bent. Second, DC introduced the idea of a multi-verse, with all of the characters from the Golden Age living on "Earth-2" while the current reimaginings lived on "Earth-1."
The era of the 1970s-1980s is commonly known as the Bronze Age of Comics and was characterized by the comics moving away from the science fiction aspects that had previously defined them, and instead becoming more realistic and natural. Important introductions into the DC Comics arsenal included the New Teen Titans (1980), a title which was created to compete with Marvel's X-Men series.
The late 1980s ushered in the Modern Age of Comics, which truly began with Marv Wolfman and George Perez's Crisis on Infinite Earths, a 12-issue mini-series which completely upended the DC Universe. Two of the most well-recognized of the limited series' completed during this era include Frank Miller's Batman: The Dark Knight Returns and Alan Moore's Watchmen, named one of Time Magazine's 100 Greatest Novels in 2005, which were darker and grittier than anything DC had yet published.
During the 1990s, DC began to divide their publications into multiple imprints, including Vertigo, Wildstorm, and many others.
Over the years, aspects of DC's universe have been included in multiple movies (both live action and animated), TV series' (both live action and animated), video games, and spin-off novels. In 2008, Heath Ledger won an Academy Award for his portrayal of the Joker in Christopher Nolan's The Dark Knight, the first time a movie based on a comic book has been so highly awarded.