Comic book superheroes don’t get married very often. The conventional wisdom is that tying the knot not only puts an end to any dramatic tension in a hero’s current romance, but that it also severely limits the storylines that writers and artists can explore with that hero in the future. The pull of this idea among modern comics creators is so strong that even superheroes who’ve been married for as long as 15 years (Superman), or 20 (Spider-Man), can find themselves suddenly single — not through anything so mundane as legal divorce, of course, but rather by way of such plot machinations as having the Devil alter the characters’ history (Spider-Man), or rebooting a whole universe (Superman).
Things were maybe slightly better in the Sixties. DC’s “Silver Age” Hawkman and Hawkgirl had been married since before their debut in 1961, and the King of the Seven Seas made Mera his queen in 1964’s Aquaman #18, following a whirlwind courtship (they’d only met seven issues earlier). Just a few months later, over at the upstart competition, Marvel Comics’ Mr. Fantastic and Invisible Girl became wed in Fantastic Four Annual #3. And beyond these “power couples”, the “Golden Age” Flash was shown to have married his girlfriend Joan Williams sometime between his last appearance as a headliner in 1948 and his return to action in 1961; and then, of course, there was Ralph Dibny, the Elongated Man — who traveled throughout the world with his wife, Sue, stumbling into and then solving mysteries with no worries about keeping his identity a secret.
Still, even in 1966, superhero weddings didn’t happen very often, and my nine-year-old self (who hadn’t started buying comics until about a month after the Fantastic Four Annual featuring Reed Richards and Sue Storm’s wedding had gone on sale, and who wouldn’t pick up a Marvel comic until 1967, besides) had certainly never seen one. Even so, when I picked up my copy of Flash #165, I had some pretty definite expectations. After all, my very first issue of The Flash, #156, had included this scene:
So, even if I knew nothing else, I knew this — Barry Allen would definitely tell Iris West he was the Flash on the day they got married. Not only had he promised, but he’d even raised his right hand when he did it. He might as well have put his left hand on a Bible! (And hey, maybe he did. We can’t see that hand in the panel, now, can we?)
So, on to Flash #165: The book is fronted by a great cover, featuring the kind of “how is this possible?” situation that DC loved to use to grab readers’ attention in the Sixties. Interestingly, the cover art is by Murphy Anderson, rather than by the book’s regular penciller for both interiors and covers, Carmine Infantino. That’s somewhat surprising, considering what a landmark issue this is for a series illustrated from the beginning by Infantino — but as editor Julius Schwartz explained in the issue’s letter column, Infantino had “suffered an eye-accident” sometime before the cover was due, and Anderson stepped in. (He also claimed that Anderson had hidden his signature somewhere in the illustration, but damned if I can find it, even after 50 years.) Luckily, Infantino’s pencils are very much present in the interior pages, inked by his regular finisher, Joe Giella.
“One Bridegroom Too Many!”, written by John Broome, begins on the eve of Barry Allen’s wedding to Iris West. We first see our hero, in his costumed identity of the Flash, making quick work of some would-be bank robbers — but, as we soon learn, he has other matters on his mind, which he fills us in on as he heads home after bagging the crooks:
Wait, what? Barry, dude — this isn’t up for discussion! You promised Iris, back in #156 — and besides, she learned your identity then, and wasn’t overcome by “shock” in the slightest, so your stated misgivings don’t hold any water — you’ve already found out what happens when she knows the truth. So, why are you being such a douche? When did you stop trusting the woman you say you love? Jeez Louise!
At this point, the story leaves Barry still trying to make up his mind, and shifts scenes to the next day, as the wedding guests assemble at the church. (Save for Kid Flash, in his civilian guise as Iris’ nephew Wally West, there aren’t any superheroes at this event, since almost none of them know the Flash’s true identity at this time.) Soon, the ceremony is underway, but just before things reach the point of no return…
With that, the story jumps to Part Two — and a flashback (or, technically, a flash-forward) to the 25th century:
(This was my nine-year-old self’s first encounter with Professor Zoom, the Reverse-Flash [yes, TV fans, in the comics, Reverse-Flash and Zoom are — or at least were — the same guy]. Broome didn’t give us a lot of backstory for the character [and a lot of the best stuff, concerning a centuries-old feud between the Allen and Thawne families, wouldn’t be invented for decades, anyway]. But that “Editor’s Note” told me, and any other newbies, all we needed to know for this story.)
We readers soon learn that while he’s been cooped up in prison, Zoom has decided that he’s tired of being a hunted criminal and would prefer to have his arch-enemy, the Flash’s life. Then we watch as he uses his increased mental powers to effect a “time-switch” with Barry Allen across the centuries:
Having bodily replaced Barry in 20th century Central City, the Reverse-Flash uses his scientific genius to convert an electric shaver into a “matter-distributor”, then uses that to change his face into a duplicate of Barry’s. Having probed Barry’s mind during the switch, he’s now prepared to take on every aspect of his arch-foe’s life, even to the extent of responding as the Flash when Barry’s police radio alerts him to a diamond robbery. After nabbing the thieves, however, Zoom makes a disconcerting discovery:
(I’m not sure whether Broome was intending here to explore the psychological compulsions lying beneath some criminal behavior, or was just making a simplistic “bad guys will always be bad guys” statement — but it’s an interesting bit, either way.)
Zoom decides he’ll deal with this problem later, and goes back home to get some shuteye before getting married the next day. (“I didn’t really have marriage in mind when I traveled to this era — but the way I figure it, it’s all in the game — the great game of impersonation!”) But, hey — what about Barry?
Barry can’t vibrate himself out of the cell’s imprisoning rays any more than the Reverse-Flash could, but he eventually figures out he can use the suction power of his costume-compacting ring to weaken the cell’s radiation (um, sure, I guess). Once free, he uses his super-speed to return to his own era, just in time to interrupt the bogus wedding ceremony, as we’ve already seen.
Part Three opens with the real Barry hauling the false Barry out of the church under his arm, and then racing with him to Central City Park (just ignore the error in the caption below, OK?):
The battle is quickly joined. Zoom’s matter-distributor gizmo seems to give him the upper hand, at least temporarily:
Flash then gets in a good, solid punch, dazing the Reverse-Flash, who flees — but soon, after a speedy chase through the city:
Luckily for our hero, the whole battle’s taken so little time that everyone left back at the church is still standing around looking confused. Telling Iris only that “There was… a kind of mistake! But I’ll explain everything later!”, Barry suggests that they resume the ceremony. And so they do:
And that’s about it, folks, save for these last few panels:
You’re asking me, Barry? Well, thanks for that. I’ve got just two words for you, dude: Tell her. Like you promised.
Jeez, what a douche.
OK — time to ‘fess up. I would like to tell you that my nine-year-old self was outraged when he first read this story, back in September, 1966 — so outraged that he threw the comic book across the room, disgusted by his hero’s behavior, and that he seriously contemplated never buying an issue of The Flash again.
Unfortunately, I don’t remember actually feeling that way. I do remember that I was surprised by the story’s ignoring of the events of issue #156, and also that I was irritated — but I suspect my irritation was due mostly to my perception that the creators were not being consistent with what they’d already established in their storytelling — not so much to the fact that they’d made Barry act like a total jerk. (What can I say, folks? I was nine. I would grow up — and wise up, I hope, at least a little — in due time.)
Still, there were apparently more than a few readers who were irritated, and maybe more than irritated, by this turn of events — because editor Schwartz and company would pick up this dangling loose end, in about a year’s time, and provide a resolution. But that tale will have to wait for another post. Check back with me around this time next year, OK?
I began this post with a discussion of the modern tendency of comics creators to “unmarry” superheroes, even when they’ve been married for a decade or two, so I suppose I shouldn’t close without addressing the current marital status of Barry Allen and Iris West, who by all rights should be celebrating their golden wedding anniversary (Flash #165 was published on Sept. 1, 1966, according to the Library of Congress’ copyright filing records [as accessed via Mike’s Amazing World], and this post is being published on Sept. 1, 2016.). The fact, however, is that in DC Comics’ present continuity, Barry and Iris are not married.
Or are they? Well, it’s complicated.
It’s complicated, in part, because of the characters’ very complicated history: In Flash #203, we learned that Iris was actually born a thousand years in the future and sent back to our time. Then, in Flash #275, Iris was apparently murdered, by none other than our old friend Professor Zoom, the Reverse-Flash. However, in Flash #350 (the last issue of the book’s original run), Barry discovered that Iris was still alive, and living in her original, future era. Barry joined her there, and they lived together happily for a brief time — until Barry met his own apparent demise, in Crisis on Infinite Earths #8. Years later. Iris returned to the 20th century to help watch over her grandson, the time-displaced super-speedster named Impulse. Then, still later, Barry returned from death, in Flash: Rebirth #1, and was reunited with Iris. That state of affairs lasted only for a couple of years, however, and then the “Flashpoint” event reset DC’s main continuity — resulting in the “New 52” DC universe, in which Barry and Iris know and are attracted to each other, but have never been married.
In 2016, however, DC has begun a new initiative, “Rebirth”, intended to restore many aspects of the previous, pre-Flashpoint continuity. No, Barry and Iris still aren’t married… yet. However, Wally West — who was expunged from continuity in the “New 52” universe — is back, and he remembers his own marriage, even though his erstwhile wife, Linda Park, doesn’t as yet remember him. If Wally and Linda’s marriage can be remembered, and perhaps even restored, can Barry and Iris’ be far behind?
I don’t know about you, but I wouldn’t bet against it.
UPDATE, Sept. 3, 2016: As I said in the original post, I couldn’t find Murphy Anderson’s hidden “signature” on the cover of Flash #165, even though I knew it was supposed to be there. However, others out there had more success, including Joe Atura (whose comment you can read below), as well as Eric Chun on Facebook. Congratulations on your eagle eyes, guys! But if anyone else out there needs help, like I did, check out the capital letters legible in the minister’s open Bible:
And as an additional note — another commenter on Facebook, Eric Kibler, noted several additional superhero weddings that occurred in the 1960s — including one, that of the Doom Patrol’s Elasti-Girl to her team’s ally, Mento, which occurred just a few months before Barry and Iris’ nuptials:
I wasn’t really a fan of the Doom Patrol in their original incarnation (the closest I came was the Brave and the Bold issue that teamed them up with the Flash), but I was around and reading comics when Doom Patrol #104 was published, so I should have mentioned it. Thanks, Eric!