FLASH Facts: The Assassination Of Iris West
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In comic books, heroes can do anything. They can travel through time, visit alternate realities, fly to alien worlds, and even come back from the dead. What they can’t seem to do is get married and stay married.
After the death of Jean Grey, Cyclops married a woman who looked just like old Jean. That woman ended up being an evil demon or something. I can’t quite remember and I don’t feel like going down that research rabbit hole. Peter Parker married his longtime girlfriend Mary Jane Watson, only to have the whole thing wiped out of reality by Mephisto in order to save Aunt May.
Sure you have your Reed Richards and Sue Storm, who have been married for ages, but the Fantastic Four is a book about family, so it fits the concept. Superman and Lois Lane married, but with New 52, that all went away, but now its back (and also my head hurts from that sentence). The point is, aside from the super rare occasion, superheroes don’t have relationships that end well.
For Barry Allen and Iris West, it seemed like their love was no exception.
I don’t know when Iris and Barry got engaged. The two were already an item by the time Barry got his powers, but I imagine that at some point between Showcase #4 and Flash #165, Barry presented Iris with a ring. Issue #165 was the big day; the wedding of Barry and Iris. This being a comic, things didn’t go smooth - Reverse Flash showed up and tried to take Barry’s place at the altar (I suppose in comics you don’t need a marriage license, whoever you say “I do” too becomes your spouse). Flash beat up Reverse Flash, and Iris and Barry had their day. For a decade, the couple lived in wedded bliss. Iris continued to cover the biggest stories in the world for the Central City Picture News while Barry split his time between police work and Flash work, but they always made time for one another. They were, basically, the symbol for love in the DC Universe. Well, the Earth One DC Universe. Earth-Two had some married heroes, including Jay and Joan Garrick. Point is, while Superman kept messing with Lois’ mind and Batman kept moving from one woman to the next, Flash and Iris were the go-to peeps for proof that love was real.
I’m going to admit to you that these pieces usually don’t take much research on my end. I’ve been researching Flash for 25 years, so I know most of the bits and bobs of the various characters, but this here… this I spent a lot of time looking into because I don’t know why writer Cary Bates decided to do what he did. I don’t know if the call came from editorial looking to boost sales. I don’t know if Bates just thought it would be a good story. I can’t find a single interview where anyone connected to Flash at the time talks about why they chose to kill Iris West.
It started, arguably, with issue #270 and the introduction of Clive Yorkin. Clive was a real piece of shit who was spending the rest of his days in solitary confinement in some prison when some science types who I guess figured it had been too long since science had created a homicidal madman, offered Clive the chance to be released from his cell if he agreed to be experimented on. Clive went for it and became the first and only test subject for the Nephron Process which, if things went to plan, would create an evil version of the great writer and director Nora Ephron. Or maybe it was named after the guy who created it, Dr. Nephron. I’ve heard it both ways.
Good old Clive Yorkin, who had been imprisoned for murder and arson, was strapped into a chair straight out of A Clockwork Orange and underwent the… well process I guess. The goal of turning Clive into a model citizen went about as bad as it could, and Clive came out of the experiment deformed and even more insane and filled with hate than before.
Oh yeah, it also gave Clive the ability to drain the life out of people with a single touch. Way to go, science!
Clive went about the streets of Central City randomly killing a few people before he stumbled onto Iris West. Clive became enamored with Iris and began to stalk her while Iris herself was stalking Barry. Iris was pretty sure that Barry was keeping something from her, and that the something he was keeping was another woman! Determined to catch Barry in the act, Iris hid a tracking device in Barry’s Flash ring where he kept his suit. Now, all fairness to Iris, Barry was indeed kind of seeing another woman, but not by his choice! This kooky lady had been showing up where Flash was for a while now, and she possessed the power to make Flash do whatever she wanted! What a love triangle! Or love square?
So Clive was following Iris, who was following Barry, who had tracked down the mystery woman to a local motel. Flash confronted the woman who, using her powers, made Flash take off his mask! The mystery woman wasn’t very happy with what she saw, claiming that Flash was just an ordinary guy “Just like John Travolta six months ago!”
As the mystery woman left the motel, Barry checked himself in the mirror, unable to believe that anyone would find him unattractive. At that moment, Iris busted in and accused Barry of cheating on her. Before Barry could act, Iris took off in her car. Barry chased after the distraught Iris who was driving like a madman, and it was a good thing too! Iris, in a state of shock and not wearing a seatbelt, drove into a fuel truck! As her face headed straight for the windshield, Barry grabbed Iris and vibrated her at a speed that let the love of his life escape harm.
After saving the driver of the truck, Barry explained to Iris what was happening and, seeing how confused Barry was that the mystery woman got all upset that he was “ordinary”, Iris knew that Barry was telling the truth. Their marriage saved, Barry and Iris decide that the time has come to have a baby, but there’s no time to get to the baby making, Barry and Iris have a costume party to get to!
Barry, being a serious bore, goes to the party in his Flash costume. Iris, being cool as hell, goes as Batgirl. Turns out when they get to the costume party, everyone is dressed like a superhero or supervillain, which would kinda be like if in this reality you showed up to a costume party dressed as Kobe Bryant and everyone there was also dressed like a famous sports figure even though the party wasn't costume specific. I do have to give credit to the guy who dressed like Earth Two Sandman and the dude way in the back left who appears to be The Phantom.
Meanwhile, outside the party, Clive Yorkin attacks another dude in a Flash costume thinking it's the real Flash. While Barry takes a call from his boss who just wanted to remind Barry that he has work in the morning, Iris, who just a few hours earlier was in tears thinking Barry was cheating on her starts making nice with some dude in a Green Lantern costume. Barry sees Iris dancing with the guy and rushes over to fight for his woman, only to learn that it is the real Green Lantern who has randomly crashed the party! Now that he’s gotten a chance to hit on his best friend’s wife, GL takes off. He literally flies out of the party. The party full of regular people. And none of them seem to care.
So Barry starts to feel dizzy and needs to sit down. Iris runs off to get him some water. After a moment, there’s some commotion in the kitchen and Barry gets up to see what happened. As he enters, he finds Iris on the floor with Clive Yorkin standing over her. Barry rushes to help his wife as Clive dives out the window. When Barry tries to pick Iris up, he collapses. Other party members come to the kitchen to find Barry passed out and Iris dead!
Flash is out of his mind and ends up on the Justice League satellite where he attacks his teammates. Obviously, Flash isn’t much of a match for the whole of the JLA and they take him down. Green Lantern used his ring to check his best buddy and finds that Flash is on PCP! FUCKING ANGEL DUST! Superman even double checks with his x-ray vision and confirms what GL’s ring found.
The Justice League, in their civilian identities, all show up for Iris’ funeral, which is nice, but didn’t anyone wonder why Bruce Wayne, one of the richest people in the world, showed up to the funeral of a local reporter?
The next day, Flash is supposed to show up at the Flash Museum for the opening of a new wing. Barry plans to show up and announced not only that he is Flash, but that he is retiring from the superhero life. Instead, seeing the people of Central City there to cheer him on, and a quick visit from that mystery woman, Barry chooses to keep fighting evil! His first mission will be to find the man who killed his wife!
Searching for Clive Yorkin, Barry ends up duking it out with some of his old enemies. Between fights, Barry hypnotizes himself to better recall the events of the night that Iris was killed, hoping to figure out who drugged him with PCP. Remember that dude dressed as Earth-Two Sandman? It was him! All night he was going around acting like he was shooting peeps with his sleep gun, and when he did it to Barry, he put the gun against his skin, injecting Barry with the drug. Barry realizes that it was the mob that tried to kill him to keep him from taking part in a drug case. The timing was just a coincidence… one that cost Iris her life.
With the help of the mystery woman, Flash tracks down Clive Yorkin, who apparently dies in the fight when a sinkhole opens up and swallows him. Believing that he had found justice for his wife, Barry is confident that he can move on. That confidence is shattered when the chief of police shows Barry the security footage from the party. Clive Yorkin was there when Iris died, but he never touched her… Iris saw Clive, but then she fell to the ground dead. The case was still unsolved, and Barry wouldn’t stand for that!
Reverse Flash, loving to antagonize Flash, showed up next. During their battle, Thawne revealed that he knew who killed Iris, explaining that in the future the killer was common knowledge. Flash, being a smart guy, decides to travel to the future and take a peek at the records. When he arrives, he finds the case file for Iris and learns that the case was never solved. Reverse Flash was just messing with him. What a stone cold jerk thing to do!
While Flash is in the future, Reverse Flash takes his place in the present. For some reason, Thawne solves the mob drug case - the chief of police was in on it the whole time! - then he fights Green Lantern. At the same time, Flash puts all the pieces together - he knows that it was Reverse Flash who killed Iris. Sure enough, RF admits to it all; his plan started the day before the party when he appeared to Iris to confess that he loved her. Thawne told Iris that she had twenty-four hours to make her choice, him or Barry, warning her that if she chose Barry, her husband would die. When Iris laughed at him, Reverse Flash erased her memory so she wouldn’t remember anything that just happened.
Reverse Flash showed up at the party, wearing his Reverse Flash costume, and blended in. When Barry went to take the call from the chief of police, Thawne asked Iris who she chose, him or Barry and Iris, who you should remember had no memory of their meeting the day before, smacked him. Reverse Flash quickly erased Iris’ memory again, just before Green Lantern showed up. GL thought Reverse Flash was just some drunk moron pawing at Iris, so he stepped in to help out his friend. GL is a good guy after all!
When Reverse Flash saw Iris going into the kitchen alone, he knew the moment had come. At a speed too fast to be seen on camera, Reverse Flash entered the kitchen and killed Iris by vibrating his hand through her brain. When the drugged Barry entered the kitchen, he was unable to use his speed, so he couldn’t see Thawne in the room. Still moving too quick to be seen, Reverse Flash then threw Clive Yorkin out the window.
Flash and Reverse Flash have a knockdown drag out fight across the planet, ending with Flash bashing Reverse Flash’s head into the concrete a few dozen times, knocking the killer unconscious. Using Reverse Flash’s Time Bubble, Flash plans to take the killer back to the future where he can stand trial. Instead, Reverse Flash’s Time Bubble starts going backward in time - the machine was set up to go to a point before the universe existed and blow up if anyone but Thawne ever used it! Of course, Flash can travel through time without a Time Bubble, so he just takes off, leaving Reverse Flash trapped in a moment before the Big Bang.
I rag on the Barry Allen Pre-Crisis comics a lot, mainly because Barry himself is so wooden, but this storyline is honestly one of the most interesting in comics. These days, a story like this would be a big event (see the not very good Identity Crisis for proof), but sadly, DC has never taken the time to collect these ten issues into a trade. Most of the issues can be found on Comixology, and they really are worth reading.