DC Comic Book Superheroes

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In the world of Film Franchises there are several recent examples “Harry Potter”, “Jason Bourne” and “Star Wars” that generally benefit from wonderful storytelling. They have flourished over the recent decades thrilling audience young and old. The Grandparents of these comparative youngsters, have transcented formats and generations.

Two competing comic book publishers have wrestled for audiences attention and have, in recent years, flourished thanks to the explosion in the capabilities of the special effects departments telling their timeless morality plays of Good conquering Evil. Now owned by competing media giants, Time Warner and Disney the duel continues. Contemporaries founded 83 years and 78 years ago respectively, they are DC and Marvel.

For me, DC Comics (“DC” deriving from a popular early series “Detective Comics”) is the clear winner. The home of iconic heroes including Superman, Batman, Wonder Woman, the Justice League and Suicide Squad and equally nasty villains The Joker and Lex Luther. The value of these heroic characters has been carefully realised over the years in print, on film, via gaming and merchandising.

DC Comics was founded in Manhattan (432 Fourth Street, New York City) as “National Allied Publications” by Major Malcolm Wheeler-Nicholson in 1934. His mother was a journalist who hosted the likes of Theodore Roosevelt and Rudyard Kipling at the family’s home. A known writer on military matters Wheeler-Nicholson saw a gap in the comic market and published a tabloid format “New Fun – The Big Comic Magazine” in February 1935 that become the first comic book containing all-original material and advertising.

By March 1937 the first Detective Comic was published and become very popular. Batman was introduced in issue 27 in May 1939.

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Cash flow problem saw Major Wheeler-Nicholson leave having been compelled to hand the business over to his creditor and fellow publisher, Harry Donenfeld and his accountant Jack Leibowitz.

DC’s fourth title “Action Comics” Issue 1, which introduced “Superman”, was published in June 1938 – in 2010 a copy of this publication achieve $1m at auction.

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The late 1940’s saw a waning in the popularity of DC’s Comic Book Superheros but with some re-imagining in the mid-1950’s The Green Lantern and Justice League of America were launched.

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In 1966, the now iconic Batman TV show first aired on ABC in the US, driving comic book sales and appealing to a new generation of young teens – and fans of the Lincoln Futura used as the platform for his “Batmobile”.

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1953 saw DC launch the satirical, excellent and still published “Mad” magazine. In 1967, then owner National Periodical Publications was purchased by Kinney National Company an early incarnation of Warner Communications.

In late 1976 Jeanette Kahn, DC’s newly appointed Publisher commissioned graphic designer Milton Glaser – I ❤️ NY – to design a new logo. Known as the “DC bullet”, the logo premiered in February 1977 and was used until 2005.

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1978 saw the release of the first Superman movie – culminating in “Superman Returns” in 2006. Batman has had seven outings in his own right between 1989 and 2012. In 2016, Batman was pitted against Superman in “Batman v Superman – Dawn of Justice”. “Wonder Woman” was released in the US on 2nd June 2017.

Images courtesy of DC Comics and Time Warner

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There are only a few times in business life when you can genuinely say that you were there at – or about – the beginning of a global phenomenon.

In 2000/01 together with a group of colleagues with various depths of experience in media investments I founded a group called the “Music Business Angels” (MBA) -indeed we joked that our MBA business cards would be as near as we’d ever get to putting the initials “MBA” on our business cards!

We had a number of detailed connections in the entertainments and technology sectors and I cannot remember how the meeting came about but we were contacted by the enterprising, Shazam Entertainment Limited, which had been founded in 1999 by Chris Barton, Philip Inghelbrecht, Avery Wang, and Dhiraj Mukherjee.

I cannot precisely remember but I think it was either Chris Barton or current CEO, Rich Riley, who came in to see us seeking our assistance to direct them towards various sources geared to making media/technology investments.

The unique points of the Shazam system were explained to us and a rough test demonstrated the underlying science of the solution that Shazam was proposing to the frustrating problem of hearing a track played in a club, not knowing anything about the song and wanting more information. It was recognised buy these far sighted engineers/entrepreneurs that a phone contained the ability to use its handset to “listen” to a track played through a loud speaker.

Remember this is long before we all become overly familiar with apps and at its inception Shazam was a technology that “listened” to the digital form of a recording, analysing the captured sound and matching  it with an acoustic fingerprint – called a “spectrogram” – held in its audio database.

The Shazam service launched in 2002 in the UK only was known as a “2580” phone service, being the short-code that users were required to dial into their phones to get the music recognised. After 30 second of “listening” to the track with the handset being held up to the sound source, the phone would hang up and a text would be received containing the song title and artist name.

In July 2008, Shazam for iPhone 2.0 was launched as a free app that connected with  iTunes allowing tracks to be purchased.

It is possible for Shazam to identify pre-recorded music being broadcast from any source provided always that the background noise level is not too high so as to corrupt the signal being assessed. Once a match is identified it sends back to the user’s smart phone information such as the artist, song title and album title from which the song comes.

The “listening” recognition app is the basic version – with limited monthly free uses. Other iterations have included a premium service allowing unlimited use for a monthly fee and the ability for the Shazam system to sit on the users Mac to detect – without being prompted – and report on screen what is playing in the soundbed of a TV show or commercial.

Staggeringly by October 2016, Shazam announced that its mobile apps had been downloaded more than 1 bn times, and that over 30 bn “Shazams” have been downloaded since launch. Its audio database now contains more than 11 m songs.

My MBA colleagues and I were hugely impressed by the commercial opportunity presented by Shazam. However, stimulating potential funders to commit to this newly developed software proved more difficult. 20/20 hindsight is, of course, a marvellous thing, but the road paved by the likes of the Shazam founding team have made media and tech funding more accessible for today’s entrepreneurs.

Image from Shazam