Every week, I’m going to take a character from the fantastic TV series The Flash and give you a quick history lesson on their comic origins. Last week: Barry Allen. This week we’re looking at the first lady of the Flash Family, Iris West...
Barry Allen wasn’t the only important character to make his first appearance in Showcase #4; along with the fastest man alive came another in a long line of characters who would be Lois Lane rip-offs, but Iris West ended up being so much more.
A photojournalist for the Central City Citizen (though originally called Picture News), Iris West was already well into her relationship with Barry when they first showed up on the scene. Iris was a tough and cool reporter, never afraid of going after the story, and unlike Lois, almost never needing saving. She took care of herself, though mainly off panel.
As with all reporters in comics who date superheroes, Iris couldn’t figure out that Barry was Flash. She knew that Barry and Flash were friends, but had no clue that they were one and the same. Mark Waid, one of the truly great Flash writers, would explain this in his graphic novel The Life Story of the Flash by having Barry, when appearing as Flash, vibrate his face and change his voice by vibrating his vocal chords when coming into contact with people who know him as Barry - something that The Flash TV series is using to great effect. Iris discovered Barry’s secret on their honeymoon when Barry talked in his sleep. Think on that for a second - Barry was never planning on telling his fiancée turned wife that he was a superhero. Maybe I’m alone on this, but that kind of makes him the fastest prick alive in my book.
It was shortly after their marriage that Iris learned that she was from the future, sent back in time during the Earth East Earth West War of the 30th Century. Sadly, the war was not based around rappers or ventriloquist dummies.
As mentioned previously, Iris was killed by Reverse Flash in a most terrible way: he vibrated his fingers into her skull, whisking her brain. This being comics, Iris wasn’t dead for long - her essence had been snatched up by her biological parents in the future, where she hung out for a while before coming back to the present to help Barry with his murder trial.*
Barry only stayed with Iris in the 30th century for a few weeks before dying himself in The Crisis. Iris learned that she was pregnant, and soon gave birth to twins, Don and Dawn Allen. Don and Dawn inherited their father’s powers and became the Tornado Twins. Sadly, Don and Dawn would be killed by Dominators, an alien race that would invade Earth multiple times in DC Comics history, but not before having children of their own.
Dawn’s daughter, Jenni, would become a member of the Legion of Superheroes, an intergalactic team made up of teen superheroes. Don’s son, Bart, had a harder time. Bart was trapped in superspeed from birth, aging faster than a normal person - by the time he was 2, Bart looked 12. To help Bart, the Science Police raised him in a VR simulation so that his learning could keep up with his rapid aging. Knowing that Bart was looking at a short life stuck inside a virtual world, Iris took her grandson and brought him back in time to the only person she knew that could help, her nephew and the third Flash, Wally West. Bart would become the hero Impulse, then Kid Flash, then fourth Flash after Wally went missing. Then he would be killed, but come back and return to being Kid Flash. Hopefully, we’ll get to that in a future piece.
With Bart safe, Iris decided to stay in the present and restart her life. It was never made clear how they explained Iris' resurrection to the US government so that she could have a social security number and all that jazz again, but by this point, the world knew that Barry had been Flash, and people coming back from the dead isn’t all that uncommon in the DCU, so it isn’t rough to figure out.
Iris returned to her job at the Central City Citizen. She started up a friendship with a cop that had serious romantic undertones, and adopted the son of one of Flash’s greatest enemies, Weather Wizard. Once a month, the whole Flash Family would get together for dinner at Iris’ Keystone City home. Iris was settling nicely into her new life.
And then Barry came back. In one of the most annoying moments for readers of the comics, pretty much everything that was happening with Iris was forgotten. Weather Wizard’s kid? Fuck him, he was gone. The new cop boyfriend? Fuck him, never mentioned again. Iris being in her 50s/60s? Fuck that, she was in her 30s again.
But even that didn’t last long, as soon after Barry’s return, DC started the New 52. In this reality, Iris and Barry are just friends, though it is clear that she has feelings for him, and he for her. Personally, I like most of the way Iris has been treated in the New 52 stuff - she’s smart, she’s cool, and it is easier to believe that she doesn’t know Barry is Flash. What I don’t like are the changes to her family. In the previous version, Iris’ adoptive parents were Ira and Nadine West. Ira was a Nobel Prize-winning scientist who was a mentor to Barry in college (which is how he met Iris) and one of the few people who knew Barry was Flash. Iris’ brother, Rudolph, was not only the father of Wally, but a scumbag who tried to get his son to fight on the side of the Manhunters during the Millennium Event**, then sacrificed himself during the Invasion*** to atone for his sins (then showed up later not dead and dating a demon. Rudolph was a great character).
Now, in the New 52, Iris’ father was an alcoholic who was abusive to his children. Her brother is Daniel West, a loser criminal who became Reverse Flash and went back in time to kill his father in an attempt to save himself and his sister a lot of pain. Oh, and Iris has another brother who somehow wasn’t mentioned or seen in the Reverse Flash storyline where we see Iris as a kid with her family - a brother who is the deadbeat dad of Wally, who is a cynical hoodlum (we know he’s a hoodlum because when we first see him, he’s spray-painting a wall).
At this point, we don’t know if New 52 Iris is from the future or not.
Personally, I’m against this current need to make every character in comics have a tragic past. One of the beauties of the Flash books, to me, was that these were characters who were generally happy, and wanted to make others happy.
One thing that always separated Iris West from Lois Lane was that Iris was never in love with Flash. She loved Barry, and was interested in Flash in the same way any reporter would be. Iris was not used as a damsel in distress very often. Mainly she was used as a friend for Barry, and someone whom Barry felt bad letting down when his Flash duties would keep him from other appointments. Like Lois with Clark, Iris did ride Barry about his faults, mainly how he was always late.
On the CW series, Iris’ father is Joe West, a cop in Central City and an awesome character (my favorite on the show). We haven’t learned what happened to her mother yet. Wally is being brought in for season 2, so it seems like Iris may have a brother or sister that we don’t know about on the show, though I’m guessing he’ll be her cousin when introduced.
Iris is one hell of character on the show. I love that she has shown that she can handle herself, taking down both Girder and Clock King. Girder was super cool - she knocked him out after Flash failed to do so with a hypersonic punch! Iris is a better fighter than Flash! Now that Iris is firmly a part of Team Flash, I’m really looking forward to what the writers have in store for the character, and it’s been great seeing Candice Patton becoming more relaxed in the role, making Iris her own.
Next week, we’ll be looking at the history of the evil Flash Family, the Thawnes, and their leader, Professor Zoom, aka Reverse Flash!
*See the previous entry in this series about Barry Allen for more info on the trial.
**Millennium was a not very good mini-series event, in which an ancient robot cult called The Manhunters (created by the Guardians, the same small blue aliens who created the Green Lantern Corps), who were looking to stop the creation of a new immortal race of Guardians that would start on Earth. The Manhunters had implanted spies close to every superhero, believing that one or more of the heroes would be where the new race would begin.
***Invasion! was a fantastic mini-series event about the first time the Dominators attempted to invade Earth. In the series, the Dominators, concerned with the growing population of superpowered beings on Earth, form a coalition with other alien races to invade Earth and wipe out the metahuman gene. What the rest of the coalition didn’t know was that the Dominators really wanted to study the metagene so they could create their own superpowered race! Invasion! was collected into a trade a few years ago. I suggest you check it out.