Welcome to Relationship Roundup! In this new monthly column, I'm going to be walking you through the past and present of some of the DC Universe's most important relationships—from romances to bromances and everything in between.
After all, punching stuff and defeating villains is all well and good, but the thing that makes superheroes and their stories as resonant as they are is the fact that the people behind the costumes and the masks really are just that: they're people. Sure, they might also be aliens or monsters or science experiments gone awry, but we love them because they represent the most human parts of us all; things like kindness and compassion, a need to reach out and have someone reach back, and the connections that form between you and the person standing next to you.
The way that heroes relate to one another, the ways we see characters interact on the page? That matters because it's the clearest and most pure way to show those connections and the priorities that make these superheroes heroes after all.
The DC Universe's massive, ever shifting network of relationships is one of its most unique and important features, but that doesn't mean it's always the most obvious. Depending on what you read or where you look, you may only see tiny corners of it at a time, but it's part of a tapestry that's been constantly worked and reworked for almost a hundred years. The truth is, even when it takes some work to put these pieces together, these characters care about each other just as much as you care about them.
That's where this column comes in. Each month I'll be focusing on a relationship—spouses, best friends, partners, teammates…you name it. I'll give you some history, some context for the present, and some recommendations for where to go if you're looking for more to read and watch! And we're going to start things off by hitting the ground (literally) running. It's time to take a look at Barry Allen and Iris West.
Barry and Iris have been one of the DCU's most prominent couples for the last three years or so, mostly after Grant Gustin and Candice Patton boosted them to the A-List on TV, but obviously, that wasn't always the case for either of them. In fact, you might actually call their early years a little rocky.
Introduced all the way back in 1956 (in SHOWCASE #4, if you're looking to do some historical reading), Barry and Iris were products of what we call the Silver Age of Comics. The Silver Age was kind of a weird time, to be totally honest. It represented a massive shift in the way superheroes worked, the kind of stories that were told, and the way we told them. It also meant a huge wave of new characters stepping into old mantles because, for the first time, the division between Earth-1 and Earth-2 was officially established. So, the old Golden Age heroes like Jay Garrick and Alan Scott were said to exist on Earth-2, the new Silver Age heroes were on Earth-1...you get the idea.
Weirdly enough, Barry and Iris's romance actually started before their first appearance. By the time we met Iris in Showcase #4, she was already Barry's fiancé, meaning they'd been dating well before Barry experienced the accident that turned him into the Flash. I'm going to go ahead and call that romantic, even though the truth is the Silver Age was pretty notorious for just not really explaining things like that until much, much later on.
Barry and Iris were eventually married for real in FLASH #165, all the way back in 1966. The wedding was a weird one, though, and almost derailed by Zoom—so, you know, basically what you'd expect. The secret identity situation didn't hold up much longer, either. Iris figured things out soon after—though, really, let's not kid ourselves. It's not like Barry was ever that great at keeping things hidden anyway.
I said that Barry and Iris only recently became one of DC's "a-list" couples and that's both true and…well, sort of not true. But to explain that, we're going to skip ahead a bit to modern day.
Here's the thing you've got to understand when it comes to Flashes, whether we're talking about Barry, Wally, Bart, Jay, any of them: They're all complicated. There's time travel and the Speed Force and any number of possible cosmic catastrophes that can intervene in their lives at any given moment. It was one of those cosmic catastrophes that took Barry Allen off the board (CRISIS ON INFINITE EARTHS, for those of you playing along at home) for a very long time. Essentially all through the 1990s, Barry Allen was gone and Iris was a footnote in a story that kept on moving without her. But that doesn't mean there weren't stories about Barry and Iris that happened in that time. In fact, there was even a brief time travel situation that resulted in the birth of their children, Don and Dawn Allen (the "Tornado Twins") in the 30th Century.
...Don't worry, it's all pretty confusing, even if you're a very avid comics reader. But hopefully you can see what I mean. Even though Barry and Iris had been technically shelved, they still had some pull in the way things were happening.
Still, depending on your age demographic, you might have come up in an era where Barry and Iris weren't the most prominent Flash couple around. Even after Barry was officially returned (THE FLASH: REBIRTH, not to be confused with THE FLASH in the Rebirth line of comics) it took a while for them to experience their second renaissance. The New 52 put their relationship right back in the spotlight, and then #DCTV's The Flash brought it home and cemented the victory. Barry and Iris became synonymous with Flash romances once again.
So, What Now?
Barry and Iris are still very much at the height of their resurgence and that's pretty unlikely to change any time soon. They're currently married now in the #DCTV universe and basically any Flash comic you pick up from 2011 onward is going to have something to do with the two of them, even if they're not romantically involved. They're still decidedly in one another's orbit.
That's something that specifically matters for the two of them because the Flash weirdness I was just talking about? That's all part of something much bigger. Believe it or not, comics are very rarely weird and confusing for the sake of being weird and confusing. The complicated parts of Flash stories almost always circle back around to being huge engines that drive not just the Flash Family, but the entire DC Universe forward.
Seriously. I know people like to credit Superman, Batman and Wonder Woman for being the heart of the DCU, but really, if they're the heart, the Flashes are the blood. They keep things going, even when it costs them everything they've got. Barry and Iris exemplify that endless forward momentum to a T. They're constantly evolving, constantly shifting forms and constantly in motion.
Sure, things might not always be perfect. They're no longer married, they've no longer got a set of super powered twins to look after, they've both died a handful of times. But they find their way back to one another and keep each other grounded in a way that's actually pretty literal, all things considered. Barry has plenty of people to rely on, he's had plenty of romance in his life, but he's got one "lightning rod" and Iris West has proven time and time again that she's more than capable of weathering every storm, Speed Force inducing or otherwise.