CW’s The Flash is a Great Superhero Adaptation But Iris West is Getting Left in the Dust
A good character with overlooked potential.
I truly love CW’s The Flash. It’s my favorite live-action comic book adaptation TV series, largely because it embraces its own absurdity with a great sense of fun. Nothing from the comics seems too silly and strange to bring to life on the screen for this show. Telepathic, sentient gorilla? We got that. Villains with the guts to call themselves Captain Cold and Pied Piper? Sure, we’ll include them and more. Karaoke? Of course! Time travel trips? Allons-y!
This feels like a new era in superhero adaptation. But it’s possible, and sometimes necessary, to also acknowledge that things you enjoy might have a thing or two to criticize. In this case, I keep scratching my head over the character Iris West.
First, let’s compare notes between the source and the adaptation. In the classic comics, Iris West was adopted, raised by absent-minded scientist Ira West along his two other children. She was already an experienced and respected reporter for Picture News when she first met Central City PD scientist Barry Allen, aka the Flash, who quickly became her love interest, then husband. They made an incredibly cute couple, laughing about Flash’s strange adventures and coming up with cover stories together whenever they needed to explain away Barry’s sudden absences to friends and colleagues. Since the “New 52” reboot of the DC Comics superhero universe, Iris and Barry have an attraction to each other but have not seriously dated or married.
In the TV show, things are different (partly or entirely because of multiple changes to history caused by the villain Reverse-Flash). Here, Iris is not adopted and has no siblings (unless these are revelations planned for later in the series). Barry and Iris were friends who were then raised alongside each other by her father Joe West, a cop. By the time Barry starts working with the police, Iris and he are lifelong friends who know almost everything about each other.
I’m not against the changes the live action adaptation have made from the comic. If you’re true to the core and deliver a lively new take on something familiar, I’m all for it. Joe has been a great addition to the cast and the new relationship between Iris and Barry not only gives the couple new areas to explore, it helps them stand apart from another famous DC Comics couple that involved a superhero and a reporter.
There’s also no problem with actor Candice Patton. Her portrayal of Iris comes off as affable and earnest. She has a good chemistry with Grant Gustin, Jesse L. Martin and Rick Cosnett, who respectively play her lifelong friend Barry Allen, her father Joe West, and her boyfriend Eddie Thawne. But now we’re getting to what does trouble me. Who is Iris outside of the men in her life?
In the pilot, Iris is a bright star in Barry’s world. They know each other better than anyone else and he clearly loves her while she seems oblivious to this. After his accident and subsequent coma, Barry wakes up to find that Iris has started carving out a life without him, one that involves a serious boyfriend. This new wedge between them, along with a request by his foster father Joe, makes it somewhat understandable why during the pilot he decides to trust the secret of his powers to three people he barely knows (and who were already aware his body had altered) rather than this woman he’d known his whole life.
But now, it looks like Iris is the only one not in the club. By the events of the most recent episode, she is the one character of the show’s regular cast who is unaware that Barry is the Flash. Even her boyfriend Eddie is now lying to her (though at least he protests being pressured to do this). It feels odd when all her loved ones are lying to her because they think this will protect her from threats. Iris is a reporter who blogs about the Flash and investigates metahumans, with a dad, boyfriend and friend who regularly fight metahuman criminals. She’s in danger already, so why keep her in the dark when sharing some info with her could potentially save her life?
What makes this feel worse is that we haven’t seen Iris have any friends outside of Barry and Eddie. Has she kept in touch with anyone from school? Does she occasionally grab lunch with someone who isn’t a man in love with her? Over a dozen episodes and I don’t know the answers to these questions.
Let’s look at Iris’s role as a reporter. After the Flash shows up (and starts making a habit of visiting her in dark coffee shops), Iris blogs about him and his strange adventures. Eventually, she lands a job at Picture News on the basis that she report about the Flash. She rebels against this however, as she wants to be a serious reporter.
Wait, since when? She went from not taking a journalism class seriously in the second episode (she even joked about making up a quote when she couldn’t snag an interview) to blogging exclusively about one subject (something done by many people not interested in journalism) to then landing a job only weeks later, at which point she complains she’s not seen as a real reporter. When did this passion for journalism develop? I missed that episode where she felt this calling. We didn’t see it, we didn’t feel it, we were just told that was her deal now.
Another example of something that we’re being told but now shown concerns the issue of love. We’re told several times that Barry loves her and feels she’s the woman who is right for him. But as time goes on, we’ve been seeing less evidence of that. Other than being familiar with each other, I don’t see what Iris provides in Barry’s life that he doesn’t get in equal measure from his friends Caitlin and Cisco. She doesn’t often challenge him or help him overcome his problems, partly because she is now kept in the dark about his life.
We’re also supposed to believe Barry is the right person for Iris, not Eddie (she even admits this before time travel undoes the confession). But so far, we’ve seen that Eddie is a nice guy who Iris gets along with just as well as Barry. If you want us to root for one couple rather than the other, show us the things that Eddie and Iris don’t get about each other. Show us how Iris and Barry together help each other become better people. Heck, it would be nice to see more conversations between Iris and Eddie that weren’t about Barry, the Flash or someone connected to the Flash.
The characters of Caitlin Snow and Cisco Ramon started off similarly. They didn’t seem to know anyone outside of each other, their mentor Dr. Wells, and Barry. But over time, we’ve seen them hang out as just friends, enjoying things that don’t directly relate to the Flash. We’ve met Cisco’s family and we’ve seen Caitlin choose to separate from her love Ronnie, having now gotten used to a life which doesn’t include him or put him as the priority. We’ve seen them both grow since the pilot and that growth has been felt. We weren’t just told “Caitlin feels differently now.” Could they both use more growing? Sure. But at least I already see it happening.
Iris West has a lot of untapped potential. She’s not a black mark on the show by any means, but she is standing out as the one character who’s not being offered as much care as the others. I’m hoping this changes sooner rather than later.
Alan Sizzler Kistler (@SizzlerKistler) is the author of the New York Times Best Seller Doctor Who: A History. He is a freelance writer, actor, comic book historian and geek consultant who occasionally speaks in classrooms and at conventions about the evolution of superhero and science fiction, vampire fiction, feminism in pop culture, and LGBTQI representation in media.