Sunday, July 31, 2011

No West, Young Man!

As mentioned in my previous post, I'm celebrating the marriage of my wingman, CobraMisfit, by discussing here some marriage-related fixes that DC's Universal Reboot is effecting. Last time, I took on the one people are paying attention to: the retconning away of Superman's marriage to Lois Lane. Today, we look at a more surprising, but even more welcome, turn of events:

returning Barry Allen to bachelorhood.

I'm sure it's puzzled a lot of younger readers, many of whom know Barry Allen mostly as Wally West's uncle by marriage. For them, Barry's pretty much always been defined by his marriage to Iris. In writing about Barry in the post-Crisis era, nostalgic authors have worn rose-colored glasses made of pure retcon. Not only has Barry been portrayed as "a saint" but he and his wife have been portrayed as "soulmates".

Which is, of course, patently ridiculous.

Later in this issue, self-absorbed Iris causes a major highway pile-up, demeans Barry, dresses up as Batgirl, and gets murdered. They don't write 'em like that any more, folks.

As I've reminded modern readers again and again and again and again, Iris West was a mean, unpleasant person, who berated and belittled Barry Allen virtually every time she appeared.

If you saw this couple in a department store,
"what a delightful couple" would not be your first thought.

Barry, in turn, took secret glee in outwitting Iris by playing innocent. So deceptive was Barry that never told her he was the Flash, even when they got married-- she figured it out herself only because Barry talked about it in his sleep. Then she kept the fact that she'd discovered it secret. Because the foundation of a solid marriage is mutual deception and lack of respect, apparently.

Charming woman. This is same night she died. Pity!

Now, I don't mind retcons; without them, DC's upcoming Universal Reboot wouldn't be possible. But I like my retcons "pure". I'm okay with "Event X never happened"; in the long-term, continuity almost requires the ability to decide in certain circumstances that something specific in an older story be redacted. The example that always comes to my mind is the original reason why Harvey Dent couldn't receive plastic surgery right after his accident: the only surgeon capable of performing the necessary procedures was trapped behind enemy lines in Nazi-occupied Europe. Changes in science and society often require 'tweaking' such aspects of older storylines.

In addition, there are times when, as the old Classical saying goes, "even Homer nods". Writers do err. When they get a name or someone's backstory wrong, a no-fuss retconning away of their error through consensus of reader and publisher does no harm and much good.

But it is not appropriate to "oops" away the entire history of a character's personality. Countries come and go, science is a moving target, and mores evolve. But Clark is always mild-mannered, Lois is a bit too adventurous for her own good, Alfred is faithful, and guns really aren't Batman's style. If characters are written too far distant from their defining characteristics, then you're actually using a different character entirely. Even Geoff Johns, who clearly likes Hal Jordan a lot, doesn't try to portray him as a rocket scientist. Sure, he may not show him whacking his head on every STOP sign he flies by, but it's still clear enough that Hal's not among the more intellectual leaders of the Justice League.

In the context of our current subject, my point becomes: Iris West was always a ball-busting shrew. In fact, she had virtually no other notes in her personality. Writing Iris West as some sort of wonderfully supportive working-wife exemplar is not a simple retcon, it's character assassination.

Oh, Barry. You're so vain, I bet you think this post is about you.

So, too, Barry Allen. What kids today probably don't know is that both Barry and Iris had other romantic connections crop up during their eons of dating and that less than a year after Iris died, Barry was major-league macking on his neighbor.

Apparently, Barry's new life-style involves removing
all furniture and breakables before having a date.
Not that I'm judging, mind you.

Well, either she walked out of a dream or a drag show.
Not that I'm judging, mind you.

Fiona and Barry. Now there is a perfect couple: he's fast, she's loose.
Is there anything LESS discreet than making out in a fricking hall of mirrors?
And, yeah, I am totally judging them.

That's a year of OUR time by the way. In comic book time that would probably be about, oh, a week, give or take an issue. Before you can say "Barry's yer uncle", this woman (Fiona Webb) was headed down the aisle for Barry as the next victim for the Reverse Flash (who never had an original idea is his life, by the way). It was for HER that Barry killed the Reverse Flash, not Iris.

Given all that, I'm pleasantly surprised that DC is ratcheting back to a point where Barry's still single and Iris is just an option. Frankly, I'm not interested in seeing another unrealistically idealized perfect power couple in Flash. Mercury knows, we suffered through decades of treacly pap about Linda "The Anchor" Park during the Wally West era.

However, I'd love to see a couple of decades of Barry "the Player" Allen versus Iris "Meanest Woman Alive" West. Now there's potential for some sparks! And for once their relationship -- the guy too fast to pin down and the woman who can cut him down to size -- would finally make some sort of sense.


Anonymous said...

It does me good to see the "yiyiyi!" panel again; thanks! Very Speedy Gonzalez.

Just so people are clear: you weren't joking about how Barry was dating a week after Iris died. Immediately after the story arc where Iris is murdered and Reverse Flash is "brought to justice" (yeah right), Barry was trying to figure out how to land a date with Fiona Webb. The very next issue.

I kind of like the revisionist view of Barry and Iris, much the way I like my Arthurian legends. Your Lancelots and Ladies of the Lake may make for fine romantic stories, but the reality of it (and that's a stretch) is that Arthur was nothing more than a war-leader who led a successful campaign against invading Saxons. I let myself buy into the former even though I understand the latter to be (closer to) the truth.

Anonymous said...

Prior to the "ordinary-looking" remark, IIRC a telepathic woman obsessed with the Flash had earlier controlled Flash's actions and forced him to unmask, and she had lost her fascination with him because she thought Barry was too "ordinary-looking." Iris, for whatever reason, had thought Barry was cheating on her with the telepath (IIRC her anger while driving is what causes the car accident mentioned), and when Flash rescues her and explains the situation, he's still sort of hurt about the "ordinary-looking" remark, a bit of insecurity that makes Iris realize Barry would never cheat on her (OSLT) and all is reconciled.

So Iris's remark becomes not an actual insult out of nowhere but a bit of harmless teasing between spouses. Context is everything.

Scipio said...

Yes, I know; I have the comic.

You could make the case that every time Iris makes some cutting remark to Barry that is somehow justified.

But she makes them nonetheless.

Love is kind; Iris is not.

Anonymous said...

It's actually not harmless teasing if she deliberately hurts his feelings, or even inadvertantly hurts his feelings but doesn't care enough to apologize. Unless, of course, being hurt and emasculated by a shrew is what turns him on. Which could explain why he can't express--in a comic children might read--why he stays with her.

ralphdibny said...

"The guy too fast to pin down and the woman who can cut him down to size" sounds great in the abstract, but do you really think the DC Comics would risk the wrath of its very vocal feminist fans by portraying Iris as the stereotype of the ball-busting shrew? Yes, they used to write her this way, but they used to do all sorts of sexist things to which I would not like them to return. Perhaps such a portrayal would be possible if DC contained a multitude of feminine types; that is, if DC could plausibly claim that Iris represented a realistic portrayal of a certain type of woman that complimented all their other nuanced portrayals of DC girlfriends and wives. This would require her to be written as a fully-formed character, not as a symbol (Saint, Refrigerator Bait) as DC is wont to do.

Jimmy said...

I like my Iris ball busting and I like that shes doesn't put up with crap. She does cut Barry some slack too, but those instances are cut out of context. It doesn't make her a one note shrew. For many times she berates him or teases him she also compliments him and makes him feel good about himself. That said I'd like them to mature further instead of being stuck in caricature. I also don't want her bad side glossed over to copy the Wally-Linda formula either.

People criticize Iris, Lois (and Jean Loring for that matter) for being mean (and psycho in Jean's case). Nobody likes mean significant others. It think we can all agree on that, but then why does The Queen Of Crazy Bitches Carol Ferris get a pass for her weak will and killing another superhero who was also someone's wife. Every bad quality of Carol gets swept under the rug. It's always 'poor Carol for putting up with Hal.' Now she's the face of female empowerment in The Green Lantern books and it is sickening.

Sorry Scipio if I'm diverting an Iris-centric post, but it's an observation I've noticed from reading a lot of blogs.

Beta Ray Steve said...

But Scip, Iris is making these remarks to a guy who can run faster than light. Who fights guys wielding boomerangs and cold guns! He would have been on time for all those dates with Iris if he didn't spend a half an hour figuring out a novel way of knocking the flute out of the hands of the Pied Piper.
Silver Age writers thought guys with godlike powers needed to be brought down to size by their significant others. and I have to agree with them.

Anonymous said...

When Carol Ferris was taken over by the Star Sapphire, she was taken over by it. Possessed. Not acting of her own volition. Un-sapphirized Carol was no treat, but neither was she a murderer.

There was a GL comic the other year where the Zamaronians were amazed that Carol is no longer overwhelmed by the violet energy, and can think with a clear head. It took her a long time to build to that, years of coping with otherworldy possession.

SallyP said...

Man, I thought that Jean was mean...but Iris is a bit of a harpy, isn't she?

Bryan L said...

Eh. If they're going to reboot, pair Barry up with Tina McGee, like in the old TV series. She's smarter than he is, and arguably more successful, so she can hold her own, but they share common interests (science, natch). Plus she can help Barry on cases. Putting them together makes a whole lot more sense than Iris. And bring back Julio, while you're at it.

Anonymous said...

I think they're going to have to pair Barry with Iris. There's still the whole Wally West thing, where Barry is "Uncle Barry" and not "some dude whose penile dimensions Aunt Iris mocks Barry".

Citizen Scribbler said...

I like Bryan's idea a lot- of giving Barry the supporting cast of the t.v. series. I recall Scipio mentioning that he liked the Julio character (or at least the fact that the actor portraying him was the most talented of the performers). I would even like it if they added in additional elements. You could tie Barry in the Sandman, who was represented on the program by the Nightshade character. Or, maybe even better, just include Nightshade wholesale. Sure, he's got a similar gimmick to Sandman, but he was more active in the 50s and 60s than the golden age.

-Citizen Scribbler

Anonymous said...

Do we know any more than just that Barry is single? Because that does not mean continuity has to go backwards.

Barry was in witness protection for years, enough that he would be declared legally dead and Iris would no longer be a married woman.

Now that Barry is back, he must re-romance Iris because so much time has passed that she has grown and they are not on the same page romantically anymore.

I hope that's how they handle it, anyway. If not, wouldn't this mean that Barry is being returned to his '60s status quo and all the marriage/death/murder/trial/Crisis stuff is void?

And is Iris still from the future or not?

(Oh gawd I am hating this more and more! It's frickin 1986 all over again!!! Gaahhhhhh!!!!!!!!!!!!)

Scipio said...

Important distinction, SallyP:

Iris is mean and demeaning.
Jean is a violent lunatic.

They are easy to confuse, as both can be quite embarrassing when you're out on a date.

dan said...

Too much is made of Iris's portrayal in the Flash comics. It is unfair to treat those old comics as if they were written today.

We're talking about stories meant for young boys--who absolutely DO NOT CARE for realistic romances in superhero comics.

Iris reflected what any young boy would think of a girlfriend or wife--a major drag. And just when we're thinking too highly of himself, there's Iris to knock him back to Earth (that's probably the only realism or depth allowed their relationship). There was no way Julius Schwartz was going to waste pages on showing any depth to her character or their relationship.

Iris was just a plot device--something to give an extra dimension to Flash's adventure = a ticking clock, and a personal hurdle that Flash had to overcome while trying to enjoy each adventure.

Scipio said himself that DC wasn't the place people go for characterization. And that's doubly true for any series under Julius Schwartz. Barry himself wasn't given room for much personality until the mid/late '70s.

Anonymous said...

So...are they eventually just going to declare there are no married superheroes?

That honestly seems to be the status quo they'd prefer.

Suzanne de Nimes (suedenim) said...

I've been listening to the "Tom vs. the Flash" podcast recently, and it seems like Iris mellowed out a bit once they were actually married.

Still, it'd be fun to see Barry playing the field a little, but if Iris is going to be the Designated Eventual Future Partner, that has almost all the supposed drawbacks of married characters.

Barry met a LOT of... basically "Cute Action Scientists from Other Dimensions" in the Silver Age. Personally, I'd like to see one of these CASODs as a long-term love interest! It'd be something they haven't done before, at least (or kinda Adam Strange in reverse, perhaps.)

Scipio said...

Dan -- I don't buy the 'Period Portrayal" excuse! There were a lot of OTHER girlfriends in the DCU pre-crisis; and it was IRIS who was the Mean One.

Arynne -- Not exactly; but I'm headed toward a picture on Marriage for the DCU Icons.

Sue - I would totally buy "Cute Action Scientists from Other Dimensions" if it were one of the new DCU titles!

Jimmy said...

Scipio as I've said before, Iris, Jean, Lois, Lana, Catwoman, and especially Carol were really mean. Only Sue Dibny and Alannah Strange were nice and I think it's because they were married off fast. As for the others they were going to be two-dimensional jerks until a status quo change like marriage.

As for Star Sapphire and Carol. I hate possessed characters. They are weak willed and don't take their actions into account and blame it on something else. When they were the ones with the capacity to do it and acted on it. If you disagree on that stance fine, but it's a sore subject that I hold against characters because it's a convenient excuse to murder and get away with it. At least before the Fear Bug Retcon Hal/Parallax had nothing to hide behind for his wicked actions but himself.

Scipio I look forward to your thoughts on the rest of DCU marriages.

Steve Mitchell said...

"Well, either she walked out of a dream or a drag show."

Aw, that's just the way Don Heck liked to draw women. You should have seen Avengers Mansion when he was drawing the Black Widow, the Scarlet Witch, and the Wasp.

Are Ralph and Sue Dibney in the Reboot-U? My son was asking me about that the other night, and we were wondering if (actually hoping that) the Doctor Light-and-Sue episode might have gone away.

Jimmy said...

Didio claims that Identity Crisis is still canon, but that would make less sense depending on if the superheroes were married before. Since that was the point of the motivation to attack superhero loved ones. I hope it's forgotten. No story milked continuity and the retcon and complications from it than that horrid story.

Bryan L said...

"Didio claims that Identity Crisis is still canon"

Figures. Hands-down the stupidest story in the last decade (and maybe ever throughout the history of comics) and THAT they choose to keep.

dan said...

It's not an excuse. It's a fact. Schwartz treated wives/girlfriends as plot devices not people.

Other editors might not have been so harsh with their wife/girlfriend characters, but none of DC's female supporting characters (who didn't wear costumes) were very pleasant.

To this day I don't understand Clark's interest in Lois. Maybe Batman's success is linked to his lack of stereotypical DC female baggage...

steve mitchell said...

Shayera Hol was more than just a plot device, I believe. And she was a pretty nice person. She didn't even get too upset with that impudent baggage Mavis Trent.

Jimmy said...

Shayera Hol was a costumed hero on equal footing and not a civilian girlfriend.

Scipio said...

Yes; she proves my point. Golden/Silver/Bronze Age girlfriends were not generic and certainly not generically "bad" by any means.

They were written with different personalities, and, on average, Iris was meaner than all of them.

Put together.

Gene Phillips said...

Oddly, though I don't think Fiona looks mannish in that scan, I knew why you made the "drag" comment.

Was it the prominent jawline, or something else, that prompted the observation?

Accursed Interloper said...

"Hands-down the stupidest story in the last decade (and maybe ever throughout the history of comics) "

The problem with retcons is that things which used to be true no longer are. Case in point, before Flashpoint, Identity Crisis may have been the stupidest story ever, but that's no longer true. It's now what we call a "former fact."