After only four years, DC Comics has changed its iconic logo. Or, more accurately, changed it back.
Even if you’ve never read a comic book (we’ve been told that a few of you exist, though I’ve never met one myself), chances are you’ve seen the DC logo if you’ve caught an episode of Gotham on Fox or The Flash, Arrow or Legends of Tomorrow on The CW.
Labeled by some as “the peel” for its stylized letter D graphically peeling away to reveal a letter C underneath, the logo was not a fan favorite – including this fan.
My preference is the logo that topped the DC comics I read as a kid – Milton Glaser’s iconic 1976 “DC Bullet” with its blue, star-spangled bull’s-eye encircling a rising D and C. The mere sight of it was enough to send my 10-year-old heart racing in anticipation of the heroic wonders waiting for me past the cover. Glaser’s bullet reigned for 30 years and, unlike the “peel,” had real history.
From its origin in 1940, the DC logo’s classic shape and structure remained recognizable, evolving and changing only slightly through the decades, serving as a steadfast emblem of the home of Superman, Batman, Wonder Woman and so many others.
All that changed when, in 2012, history was peeled away – literally. A few years earllier, the broader design community endured the graphic invasion of the peeling trompe l’oeil sticker (French for “deceive the eye”). Used mostly in the packaging industry, these design motifs were employed as holding devices for copy such as “new & improved” and “now with 50% more fiber” – not the kind of phrases you’d likely associate with the world’s greatest super-heroes. Far from a brand design evolution that moved forward with at least a modicum of awareness of what had come before, a design “revolution” was underway and it wasn’t pretty.
Evolutionary vs Revolutionary Design
When dealing with iconic brands (and whether one wants to admit it or not, DC is just such a brand), it’s important to practice Evolutionary rather than Revolutionary design. Designers must seek out that perfect balance between making small graphic updates that will keep a brand mark looking fresh, and protecting timeless, legacy-defining elements that ensure your brand is able to tell one continuous graphic story. Revolutionary design, by its nature, overwrites a brand’s history, killing any authenticity it had earned with its adherents. And those adherents – fans – are any brand’s most passionate and influential evangelists.
In re-embracing, rather than rejecting, DC’s 80-year history, the new DC logo design picks up where Glaser’s bullet left off, summoning brand-defining elements from the past, honoring those iconic DC symbols which came before, yet still moving forward. Some might see it as coming right at you.
In an Instagram post, DC Comics co-publisher Jim Lee gave some insight into the design nuances that make up the logo’s D and C letterforms, stating that “the nooks and angles are meant to evoke the Superman ‘S,’ the Wonder Woman ‘WW’ emblem and the Bat logo.”
It seems that not only historic cues are baked into this incarnation, but the essences of the heroes themselves.
So, it’s fitting then that this newest logo makes its comics debut on the cover of DC Universe Rebirth Special #1, a symbol rooted in history with an eye on the future. Here’s hoping it makes its mark.
Keith Manzella has graced Bonfire with his strategic design sensibilities, creative skills and pop culture passions since the agency’s founding. A veteran of Marvel’s Corporate Marketing & Promotions team, he currently serves as VP, Group Creative Director at Eastwest Marketing Group in New York.