Digital Comics, Wally West, and the Forgotten Gold & Bronze Flash Archives

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.

»Flash comics at ComiXology.

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.

Restoration

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?

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14 thoughts on “Digital Comics, Wally West, and the Forgotten Gold & Bronze Flash Archives

  1. Jason West

    I really hope so. I wanna fill in my gaps for both Wally’s Flash & Impulse and I’d love to do it digitally. 🙂

    Reply
  2. Ken O.

    I would love to see more Archives. I really felt the fact they included issue 104 at the end of the first Golden Archive they were pretty much telling us to not expect another one.

    Reply
    1. Kelson Post author

      Flash Comics #104 was actually at the beginning of the first Silver Age Flash Archives volume, which came out about 3 years before the first Golden Age Flash Archives. If anything, it may have been a test to see if readers liked the idea.

      Reply
  3. Aaron Poehler

    The issues regarding reprinting and collections often have less to do with availability of print-ready materials than royalty negotiations with the original creators. That said, given time and the ‘unlimited bookshelves’ available via digital, there’s no reason complete runs of all major books (and many minor ones) shouldn’t eventually be available.

    Reply
    1. Kelson Post author

      Hmm, good point. I remember there was an issue with some of the planned Showcase books from the late 1970s/early 1980s, due to a change in DC’s standard contracts at the time.

      Reply
  4. Kyer

    I get the ‘endless bookshelf’ idea, but would be much happier once a)people aren’t complaining about the purchasing hassles and b) I can store images on my own external hard drives.

    But, oh, oh, man, do I ever want to read these old stories. Yes, that includes Jay. In fact, wasn’t Max Mercury also a character in comics before Waid brought him into the Flash books?

    Reply
    1. Kelson Post author

      Yeah, Max was originally a Quality Comics character named Quicksilver. He never really had a backstory, and didn’t get any sort of revival after DC bought the characters. But one of his stories got reprinted in an issue of The Flash, which is probably where Mark Waid read about him.

      Reply
      1. Kyer

        See, I’m not all down on the new 52 (save mostly for Wally and the Kents), but I have always been a fan of history and that’s something the 52 just dumped like old bathwater…accept for where they kept continuity…not that they seem anything like sure what IS continuity…

        Well, going BACK rather than forwards sound even more interesting to me right now, you know? I want to know how Jay met Shade, what those silly clouds Barry fought were up to. Stuff that the 52 claims no longer exists.

        The past is our foundation. Maybe that’s why I feel so lost on DC’s site.

        Reply
  5. kcflash

    As I have mentioned before, there is probably no DC Archive I want more than Golden Age Flash #3! DC has been putting out several new DC Archives and has been releasing them at about a one per month ratio for a few months now, with many new ones being solicited. Let’s keep those fingers crossed and maybe we will see more of Jay Garrick’s stories in print!

    Reply

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