When I was a kid growing up in a small town in Tennessee, I fell headfirst in love with the Golden Age of DC Comics courtesy of legendary comics writer Roy Thomas and his now famous “retroactive continuity” which he introduced in a series of new DC books that celebrated in various ways the stalwart companies first generation of superheroes (or “mystery men” as they were more commonly known during the 1930s and 1940s). Thomas would sometimes tease readers in titles he wrote for like All-Star Squadron, Infinity, Inc. and Secret Origins with some of the older artwork and homages from books such as All-Star Comics, Flash Comics and Comics Cavalcade that inspired some of his modern day work. This was pretty heady stuff for an eight year old, the notion of a long line of history for characters that stretched back for decades and I would dream of one day being able to see and read the actual original stories that so influenced one of my favorite writers and some of my favorite titles.
A lot of DC’s Golden Age material has been reprinted since the very early 1990s in a series of Archive or Omnibus editions; classy repro’s of the original books gussied and cleaned up and presented on slick acid free paper with page counts big enough to choke poor Mister Ed. Although some great Golden age books from DC still remain frustratingly elusive to readers on a budget who cannot afford the originals, to quote the Bard William Shakespeare himself, “‘tis enough, ‘twill serve.”
An alarming story, first brought to our attention over here at Vents from our good UK buddies over at Bleeding Cool News, has raised alarm bells for the comic preservationists among us. Ninety Seven bound volumes of original comic books ranging from the 1940s through the 60s that originate from DC Comics’ personal office archives have just been offered up for auction to the general public through the devices of Bodnar’s, a New Jersey auction house.
DC’s New York offices (before a move out to the West Coast) have long been fabled as a repository for the entirety of their publishing catalogue ranging from their first stab at comic books with New Fun Comics, the first appearance of Superman in the debut issue Action Comics all the way to the first look at Wonder Woman in All-Star Comics issue 8 and Batman in Detective Comics 27. These individual comics were collected by DC/National Periodical Publications and presented in a series of bound volumes where enterprising writers for the company could check on long forgotten story points from the older stories and perhaps use them as a sort of springboard for new story concepts in latter day comics. These were the original books, not reprints and the whole collection served as a library of their former triumphs.
Over the years, copies have been known to have slipped out of the DC offices (i.e. stolen) and disappear into the weird ether of illegal collectables that remain hidden and tucked away from anyone and everyone. Mark Evanier, a comic scribe and historian validates this as fact and no less of a comic book powerhouse (and all around good mensch) than Paul Levitz, former publisher of DC, has gone on record as stating that no bound volumes were ever legally sold on his watch.
So where did this plethora (97!!!) of bound volumes come from? In a statement, Bodnar’s states that the collection of over 800 individual comics were “unearthed” from a Staten Island estate and were discovered by a mystified wife who apparently had no idea her late spouse even had this historical collection. Bodnar’s goes on to say that “after much consideration” the widow settled upon their services as the proper means to “handle” these priceless artifacts of our shared American culture. How utterly generous of her and Bodnar Auctions.
The auction officially gets underway on February 8, 2020, but bidding has already begun on the bound volumes, leading this amateur comic book buff to ask if DC was ever approached about these volumes and given an opportunity to reclaim its heritage? To borrow and slightly paraphrase a line from River Phoenix in Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade, “Those books belong in a museum,” not on a public auction block destined to be broken apart and separated for all time as they are parceled out to the highest bidder. Has the exact letter of the law been observed for these potentially stolen books? I don’t think so and shame on the people allowing this dubious auction to proceed.
Vents will attempt to contact Bodnar and update its readers as we know more. Perhaps this is a job not for Superman, but DC legal? After all, the stories and the art that gave us our dreams are far more valuable than any monetary tune that an auction house would like to sing.