I hope today’s release of Flash vol.2 #2-6 on ComiXology signals the beginning of a complete digital release of the Wally West Flash series. This brings the total to 63 issues scattered around the 249-issue series (including #0 and #1,000,000, both already available), mostly from the Waid and Johns runs, but there are still a lot of gaps…and most of the material is out of print.
The Mike Baron (#1-14) and William Messner-Loebs (#15-61) runs on The Flash have never been reprinted in trade paperback, and only the highlights of the extensive Mark Waid/Brian Augustyn run (#62-162, minus a year off for Morrison/Millar) have been collected. A lot of that is due to the changing market during the 1990s. When Waid started, collected editions were rare. Vertigo was seeing some success, but the idea that people would shell out for a whole series in graphic novel form hadn’t yet sunk in. (These were the days when studios weren’t sure there was a market for complete TV seasons on home video, either.) By the time Geoff Johns took over the title, DC was collecting full runs of a few high-profile series, but not all, or even most of their books.
Now, of course, everyone expects most comic books will be collected, and waiting for the trade is actually a workable strategy. But it’s not often that DC Comics goes back to fill in the gaps in their library — at least, not in print.
Gold and Bronze
With any luck, digital releases will also be the way we’ll finally get the Bronze Age and the Golden Age re-released. I’ve grumbled on a number of occasions that DC seems to keep reprinting the same early years of the Silver Age every time they come up with a new format, and never seem to get past the early/mid-1960s on Barry Allen’s series. (Even the upcoming Flash Archives vol.6 brings that series up to…1964.)
I’d really like to see more Golden Age Flash Archives. DC has only gotten as far as issue #24 out of 104, and the first super-villain (The Shade, as it turns out) doesn’t appear until #33…but these volumes seem to come out so rarely that I expect to die of old age before DC finishes collecting the series. In print, anyway. This is one of the reasons I went forward with my effort to hunt down the original comics, or at least as many of the key issues as I could find in my price range.
The challenge with the Golden Age material is that DC didn’t keep copies of the original art, which means that they need to scan and restore a copy of the comic book. In the old days, they actually had to bleach the colors out of an original copy of the comic book, re-photograph the line art, and re-color the whole thing. The process has to be a lot easier (and less destructive!) now that it’s done with computers, but it still takes more effort to restore the artwork on these books than on the Silver Age material that’s seeing its 25th printing.
So what are they using now?
The one issue of Flash Comics that’s available digitally right now (added for last summer’s Flash 101 sale) looks like it’s the fully-restored version from the Golden Age Flash Archives.
Spot-checking a few of the later Barry Allen and early Wally West books suggests that they’re taking a simpler approach with the older books that haven’t already been restored. It looks like they’re just scanning them and running them through filters to adjust the color balance. Flash v.1 #155, which has appeared in several reprints over the last few years and runs $1.99, has clean, solid colors. Flash #215, which hasn’t, is being offered for $0.99, and the dots, printing imperfections and bleed-through are all clearly visible.
That means all DC needs to do to release the rest of the original Barry Allen series is scan it and break it into panels for the guided reading.
And they could do this with the Golden Age books!
Sure, it’s harder to find copies in good condition, but I’d bet DC has a full set in their library. And in my own collecting, I’ve occasionally stumbled across a copy where the colors are still bright, even after 70 years. They won’t look as nice as the issues they’ve restored already for the Archives series, but they’ll be comparable to what DC is putting out from the 1980s. (They’ll also be comparable in quality to the bootleg scans floating around the net, but they’ll be legal, and if DC prices them right, there will be a market for them.)
It’s going to be a lot cheaper for DC to do this than to fully restore 200 pages’ worth of Golden Age comics and do a hardcover print run, which means it’ll take a lot less for them to turn a profit, which makes it a much less risky proposition. And who knows? If they do this, and it’s successful, maybe they’ll decide there’s a market for that Golden Age Flash Archives vol.3 after all.
So what do you think? Will we start seeing DC fill in the entire 70-year history of the Flash in their digital storefront over the next few years?