We’re back with our look at the “Death of Iris Allen” story from the 1979-1980 issues of Flash! This issue marks the penultimate chapter of a year’s worth of Flash stories by writer Cary Bates that changed the core of the title and the future of DC Comics’ super-speedster. Links to research and artwork are included throughout this post. For previous weeks, click here!
UP TO SPEED: Flash has been lured into the future with the false hope of discovering his wife’s killer. Masquerading as Flash in the present, Professor Zoom incarcerates Chief Paulson for his role in the confiscated heroin smuggling operation that has made Barry Allen a moving target. Zoom also clashes with, and easily defeats, Green Lantern. On his return trip, Flash materializes onto an exploding Cosmic Treadmill…
COVER: One of my favorite Flash covers, by Editor Ross Andru and Dick Giordano. The red-on-pink and swath of white are unorthodox and eye-catching.
PG 1: Flash, as his atoms are “dispersed through time” by the explosion of the Treadmill.
PG 2: As with the finale of issue #280, the cryptic security video footage of Iris’s death, the final panel of issue #281 and last issue’s fruitless venture into the future, the reveal remains out of the reach of both Flash and the reader. Having “given” Flash the idea of going into the future for information on the past, Zoom is waiting for him to return and “didn’t even bother hiding…”. This can be seen as a nod to the security video.
PG 3: Zoom discovers the footage of Iris’s murder, and watches it for himself. Both Zoom and a caption addressing the reader point out the clues contained in the video, which Flash also mentioned on his return-trip from the 25th Century. Zoom places himself at the masquerade party where Iris was killed, but this is not much of a shock. Captain Boomerang mentioned a number of villains attended the event in costume (back in issue #278). Someone dressed as Zoom does appear throughout the party scenes in issue #275. In our recent interview, Bates said he could not be “100% sure” but that is was a “good bet” he intended for Zoom to be Iris’s killer from the outset.
Zoom’s “affection” for Iris was longtime Flash fodder. In Flash #233, Zoom claims it started when he impersonated Barry on their wedding day (Flash #165). Zoom’s last appearance in Flash before issue #281 was Flash #237, the culmination of Zoom’s attempts on Iris from issue #233.
PG 4: Zoom’s choice of hideout, a condensed milk factory, drew scrutiny from Flash in issue #281. Now we see why: Zoom is using future-science to introduce heroin into the food supply, to “create a nation of junkies to do my bidding”. This type of mass attack would be echoed in future Flash stories, including the Velocity 9 saga by Mike Baron, and later William Messner-Loebs.
Zoom’s comments here cast his crimes, at least those that target the public, as a type of performance art. Zoom’s affection for 20th Century crime and criminals goes back to his roots (especially the previously mentioned Flash #186, where he speaks in a gangster affectation), and says of the life of a time-hopping crook, “This is ‘high style’…a dream-come-true!”.
PG 5: I tried to come up with a better description for this page, but Zoom’s thug says it best: “Hirin’ a plastic surgeon to rebuild some dame into a living replica of a police scientist’s dead wife? That’s what I call weird!”
PG 6: Zoom decides to record a diary of recent events, noting that despite the pain of his memories “a permanent record must be made!” The veil begins to come back slowly, as Zoom’s monologue mentions conscience, vanity and his “catastrophic excursion into the 20th Century”. He also notes his removal of the records of “these events” from the historical records of the 25th Century, thus explaining the information missing during Flash’s visit.
This is confusing, as time travel can be, so here’s how I think it works out: the only reason anyone knows who killed Iris in the 25th Century is that Zoom makes this recording (for reasons we will see). Its removal from the historical records of the future happens in this story before he makes the recording, but it ends up in the public record sometime after this story. The confusing point is, Zoom never replaces the information after the point from which he removes it. He only generates the original record.
This logic ties into a few different, common questions regarding key events in Flash vs. Zoom history (prior to and after this story) some of which were not cleared up until The Return of Barry Allen:
- i.e. Doesn’t Zoom know that Flash killed him, since it happened in the past?
…and some of which are fundamental and key to the characters current arcs in Flash: Rebirth and Flashpoint:
- i.e. Why does Zoom even try to change what is already “history” by the time he is alive? If he knows enough to pillage historical records just to toy with Flash, he must know of the futility of his own criminal attempts, despite the enjoyment they bring him.
The futility of changing history in DC Comics lore was perhaps most famously established in a story from Superboy #85 (1960), “The Impossible Mission“, where Superboy is unable to prevent the assasination of Abraham Lincoln. This is obviously no longer the case, given the events of Flash: Rebirth and Flashpoint.
PG 7 – 10: Zoom recounts his role in the events leading up to Iris’s death. A day before the masquerade party, he threatened to kill Iris after she laughed off his latest advance. After wiping the encounter from her memory, he reappeared at the party and re-proposed, to be rebuked again. The first sure signs of Zoom’s guilt are in his narration: “She gave me her answer all right — and signed her own death warrant at the same time!”
Zoom is revealed as Iris’s killer.
Zoom reveals he dispatched Yorkin through the window at the scene, a self-described “masterful” finishing touch, and left “a whole mansion-full of master party guest suspects for Flash to sift through…”
PG 11: The powdered-milk/heroin factory is taken down by suspiciously Flash-like vibrations. Flash then broadcasts his own message to Zoom via the Professor’s recording device, explaining how he escaped the sabotaged Treadmill.
PG 12: Flash’s complete molecular control is a hallmark of the Barry Allen iteration, and this is arguably the most elaborate application of that power. See: The Molder saga. Instead of allowing the treadmill to disperse his molecules throughout time for him, Flash directs them into the future on his own. Then, he meets up with them down the road.
PG 13: With Zoom revealed as both the mastermind of the heroin smuggling and Iris’s murderer, the last year-plus of Flash stories come to a head. Just to make sure we know Zoom is “yellow scum”, Bates has him kick Flash in the back.
If you’re ever looking for an argument that Barry deliberately snaps Zoom’s neck in Flash #324 (featured in the upcoming Showcase Presents: The Trial of the Flash), this is probably the strongest evidence there is. Barry drives Zoom’s face into the floor “a few million times”, and longs for his nemesis to receive “the execution you so richly deserve!” from 25th Century authorities.
PG 17: Flash attempts to re-route the time sphere to the 25th Century, but a fail-safe sends the two hurtling towards the beginning of time “– and beyond!” Flash leaps into the time stream in a desperate bid to save his own life, leaving Zoom to die…
NEXT ISSUE: “Run Flash — Run For Your Life!”