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Detective Comics was the final publication of the entrepreneur Major Malcolm Wheeler-Nicholson, whose comics company, National Allied Publications, would evolve into DC Comics, one of the world's two largest comic book publishers, though long after its founder had left it. Wheeler-Nicholson's first two titles were the landmark New Fun: The Big Comic Magazine #1 (cover dated February 1935), colloquially called New Fun Comics #1 and the first such early comic book to contain all-original content, rather than a mix of newspaper comic strips and comic-strip-style new material. His second effort, New Comics #1, would be retitled twice to become Adventure Comics, another seminal series that ran for decades until issue #503 in 1983, and was later revived in 2009.
The third and final title published under his aegis would be Detective Comics, advertised with a cover illustration dated December 1936, but eventually premiering three months later, with a March 1937 cover date. Wheeler-Nicholson was in debt to printing-plant owner and magazine distributor Harry Donenfeld, who was as well a pulp-magazine publisher and a principal in the magazine distributorship Independent News. Wheeler-Nicholson took Donenfeld on as a partner in order to publish Detective Comics #1 through the newly formed Detective Comics, Inc., with Wheeler-Nicholson and Jack S. Liebowitz, Donenfeld's accountant, listed as owners. Wheeler-Nicholson was forced out a year later.
Originally an anthology comic, in the manner of the times, Detective Comics #1 (March 1937) featured stories in the "hard-boiled detective" genre, with such stars as Ching Lung (a Fu Manchu-style "yellow peril" villain); Slam Bradley (created by Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster before their character Superman saw print two years later); and Speed Saunders, among others. Its first editor, Vin Sullivan, also drew the debut issue's cover. The Crimson Avenger debuted in issue #20 (October 1938).
Detective Comics #27 (May 1939) featured the first appearance of Batman. That superhero would eventually become the star of the title, the cover logo of which is often written as "Detective Comics featuring Batman". Because of its significance, issue #27 is widely considered one of the most valuable comic books in existence, with one copy selling for $1,075,000 in a February 2010 auction. Batman's origin is first revealed in a two-page story in issue #33 (November 1939). Batman became the main cover feature of the title beginning with issue #35 (January 1940). Issue #38 (April 1940) introduced Batman's sidekick Robin, billed as "The Sensational Character Find of 1940" on the cover and the first of several characters that would make up the "Batman Family". Robin's appearance and the subsequent increase in sales of the book soon led to the trend of superheroes and young sidekicks that characterize the era fans and historians call the Golden Age of Comic Books. Several of Batman's best known villains debuted in the pages of Detective Comics during this era including the Penguin in issue #58, Two-Face in issue #66, and the Riddler in issue #140.
Batwoman first appeared in Detective Comics #233 (July 1956) Since the family formula had proven very successful for the Superman franchise, editor Jack Schiff suggested to Batman creator, Bob Kane, that he create one for the Batman. A female was chosen first, to offset the charges made by Fredric Wertham that Batman and Robin were homosexual. Writer Bill Finger and artist Sheldon Moldoff introduced Bat-Mite in issue #267 (May 1959).