Brace yourselves. I love a lot of the characters on this list, and I love even more characters who AREN’T on this list… But Pied Piper is my FAVORITE OF THEM ALL. I’ve read him in very few stories, and I’m not sure I can satisfactorily explain why he is my favorite above all others, but I shall certainly try.
Pied Piper, aka Hartley Rathaway, is a member of the Flash’s excellent rogue’s gallery. That’s nerd-talk for “list of villains,” but in this case, Piper is associated with a group of Flash villains actually called The Rogues, since his creation in 1959. He was pretty much one of those “obsession + too much time on his hands + fell in with the wrong crowd” villains. He was born deaf in a wealthy family and gained the ability to hear through experimental implants, but remained obsessed with sound. He developed ways to weaponize sound, mostly through hypnotic vibrations, although he could also cause death.
Despite being permanently linked to the Rogues, however, he’s one of the few villains to actually reform and stay reformed, transforming into a hero. Barely even an anti-hero, in fact. (And yes, he’s one of the few gay villains and one of the few villains to “go straight.” The irony escapes no one.) He realizes he can use his wealth and skills to help people. Kind of like Batman, only not so crazy. He even becomes close friends with the Flash. He still gets around as Pied Piper, of course… And his ability to pretend he’s a villain again has served him well.
So that’s why I love Hartley. He seems like a simple throwaway villain idea, and was probably conceived as such, but he’s developed into someone who’s so much more interesting than that. He has an air of sweetness that sometimes obscures how intelligent and hardline he can really be. Like the Flash’s other villains, he often rests somewhere between “superhero/supervillain” and “everyday man.” That’s a compelling place to be, because it’s the kind of extraordinary we can actually reach ourselves.
- Coming-out issue: The Flash #53 from 1991. It’s super cute and low-key, since he and Flash were friends at this point. It takes Flash a little while to get used to the idea, but it doesn’t strain the friendship. Adorbs and available on Comixology.
- Best: Countdown to Final Crisis. I ship him with Trickster so hard YOU DON’T EVEN KNOW. This is also the best place to get a full Piper story instead of just an appearance, although the series itself is a little confusing.
- Countdown to Final Crisis Vol. 1 (various authors, pub. 2008, ISBN 978-1401217891)
- Countdown to Final Crisis Vol. 2 (ISBN 978-1401218249)
- Countdown to Final Crisis Vol. 3 (ISBN 978-1401219116)
- Countdown to Final Crisis Vol. 4 (ISBN 978-1401219123)
- I guess you’ll want to read Final Crisis here, but don’t say I sent you. Did not like, and does not have Piper. You’d probably be LESS confused if you skip it, anyway. By Grant Morrison, ISBN 978-1401245177 for the paperback.
- Final Crisis: Rogues’ Revenge by Geoff Johns (ISBN 978-1401223342). Piper’s back in this one!
- New 52: Hartley has appeared in Flash as an orchestra conductor dating one of the police officers. So far, and unsurprisingly, he’s my favorite part of that series but doesn’t get to do very much. Vol. 1 is called Move Forward.
- On TV: Hartley appears in the Flash TV series, still gay and still deaf with hearing implants, although they chose to put him in a science accident rather than be born with a disability. I haven’t seen the show yet, but I have high hopes!
If there is a Sunday Post tomorrow, it’ll be late in the evening. Time for a day off, lovelies, and I’ve got plans for it! 😉