I may not read very many comics, but I adore film and tv adaptations of them. Through the years, I’ve set up my tent firmly in the Marvel camp, in the competition between Marvel and DC Comics. This is generally because I think they make better movies, but also because they have better female representation. I’m not saying they’re doing a fantastic job (I mean, can we PLEASE have a Black Widow movie already?), but for the most part they’re doing better than DC.
While I enjoy Marvel adaptations more than DC adaptations, I was more than willing to give The Flash a try. Only five episodes in, and I have very mixed feelings about this show/story. I like Barry Allen, as it turns out. He’s kind of mopey, but he’s smart and sweet and all those good things a hero should be. Very few flaws, which is totally unrealistic, but I feel like he’d be a fun person to hang out with. He has room to grow. I also like the set-up for the story, mostly because there’s lots of science-gone-wrong involved. I like that scientists are main characters. I LOVE Jesse L. Martin (secretly I’m hoping one of the meta humans will start walking around making everyone sing just so I can hear his voice). But I have two very specific problems with this show.
First, the portrayal of “nerds” as borderline-annoying brainiacs with very few social skills grates on my nerves. This is one of several tropes that absolutely drive me crazy. Just because you’re smart, and you really like science, does not mean you have no social skills. This is a myth that needs to end. It’s part of the reason I stopped watching The Big Bang Theory.
But the trope I really want to talk about is the one that Iris falls into. I don’t know the name of it, but if you do – please let me know in the comments. After my praise of Marvel comics, I must admit that Mary Jane of Spider-man also falls into this trope. Iris and Mary Jane are trophy girls. They’ve been in the hero’s life for a really long time, and he loves her, but she is completely oblivious, yet everything she does is for him is written to get a reaction from him. I’m going to focus on the specifics of Iris’s character, but I’m sure you’ll be able to see the parallels with Mary Jane.
(Isn’t Barry Allen adorable though?)
Iris suffers from a severe lack of agency. Everything she does is either for The Flash, or written in a way that gets a reaction from The Flash. She never does anything for her own reasons, it is ALWAYS tied to The Flash.
Exhibit A: She’s his best friend, yet has no idea that he’s been in love with her since the beginning of time.
Exhibit B: She starts dating her dad’s partner, not because the guy is particularly interesting, but because the writers want Barry to feel sad that he can’t have her.
Exhibit C: She does school? Maybe? And works in a coffee shop? Supposedly she’s into journalism. But we don’t really know what she does with her time when Barry is not pining after her to her face.
Exhibit D: She’s obsessed with writing a blog about The Flash.
Exhibit E: When The Flash confronts her about the blog and asks her to stop writing it, she confesses that she’s been writing it for Barry (a.k.a. The Flash) to prove that the impossible is possible.
Beyond these things, we don’t know anything about Iris. We don’t know what she likes, what she hates, what she wants to do with her life, why she gives a damn about her dad’s partner. I mean, really, who is that guy and why should we care about him? He doesn’t really have any agency either, for that matter.
This is lazy writing. Comic book heroes get reinvented all the time, so why can’t the other characters in the story? [Edited: misleading comment from Wikipedia page on the various iterations of Iris’s character] Seems simple enough to give her some agency and her own purpose in the story outside of how she affects Barry Allen and/or The Flash, don’t you think? I mean, right now Iris is the most boring character on the show, aside from the detective she’s dating. This is mostly because we don’t know anything about her, or what she wants for herself. We know plenty about what she wants for her best friend the superhero, but she is painfully two-dimensional.
It is early days for The Flash, and Iris has plenty of time to become more interesting on her own (a friend of mine hinted at some things from episode 6 that I haven’t seen yet because I don’t watch things when they air that could bode well for her). I have hope.
But that doesn’t make me any less tired of seeing this same thing over and over again: female love interests in comic book stories that are merely a prize for the hero to win after many trials and tribulations, whose desires and goals in life are meaningless unless they are also tied to the hero.
When something is adapted to film or TV, what’s the point of doing it if you can’t at least try to make it better or different than the original?