Catch up on Flash Facts here.
Watch The Flash here.
Follow Meredith’s fantastic Flash reviews here.
If you read these pieces regularly, you’re likely aware that Wally West is my favorite Flash. One of the main things that I loved about the Wally West years was his supporting cast. From roommate Mason Trollbridge to S.T.A.R. Labs genius Tina McGee, to wealthy superpowered awesome guy Chunk, each of Wally’s supporting cast had fully fleshed out lives which, more than once, had stories that were more important than what was happening to Flash at the time.
And then there is Hartley Rathaway, the Pied Piper. Piper was Wally’s best friend, his closest confidant. Which was surprising, what with Piper being one of Barry Allen’s bigger enemies. Created by John Broome and Carmine Infantino, Piper made his first appearance in Flash #106, which was the second issue of the Barry Allen years (the Jay Garrick series was canceled with #104, Barry picked it up a decade later with #105).
Hartley was born deaf, but his family’s massive wealth helped fix that problem. The Rathaways hired Dr. Will Magnus, the man who built the Metal Men, to create special hearing aids for Hartley. Magnus, being a super genius who was all about going overboard, created implants that not only allowed Hartley to hear, it allowed him to hear things no human had ever heard before. Young Hartley became obsessed with the sounds only he could hear, and learned how to use them, the vibrations of the world, to get others to do what he wanted. A bored rich kid with too much time on his hands, and a secret eating away at his family, he decided to turn his talents to crime. He took on the image of a rat catcher and the myth of the Pied Piper and, like most Flash baddies, went into the business of robbing banks and trying to beat the Scarlet Speedster.
Piper joined the Rogues, but never quite fit in with Captain Cold and the gang. Already rich as sin, Piper had no real need for thieving, it was just a gag to him. He was also younger than the others, save for Trickster, which made him feel out of place. Oh, and he was gay. Something Piper knew, and his family knew, but no one else knew.
When Barry Allen died, Piper retired from crime. The death of Central City’s hero made Piper realize how selfish he was being, how he was wasting his life screwing around as a costumed super crook instead of using his abilities to help others. Cut off from his family, but still having access to their money, Hartley decided to become the hero that Keystone and Central needed.
Piper began “robbing” restaurants just before closing, taking their food that was to be thrown out and delivering it to homeless shelters. It was while he was on one such run that Piper ran into Wally West. Wally was in the middle of being attacked by aliens, though he didn’t know it. The aliens, looking to see if they could take out Earth’s heroes through economic pain before invading the planet, used Flash as their test case. They blocked his bank account and had him evicted from his home (the story was better than it sounds, trust me). Wally West was broke, homeless, and starving when Piper found him in an alley. Piper helped Wally get to a shelter and get some food, then convinced Wally to join the Justice League, if only for the paycheck (the Justice League was a UN funded team at the time).
Wally and Piper became friends, then best friends. Piper helped the young, kinda misogynistic Flash learn to be a better person while Wally helped Piper repair his relationship with his parents. More than once, Piper helped Wally take down a baddie, like when Wally needed to save the dictator of another country so that said dictator could pay off his debt to the IRS (you should maybe read the two Wally West articles here and here). It was during that adventure that Piper came out to Wally. Piper himself figured out that he was gay when he first saw The Crawling Hand and was attracted to Rod Lauren.
As Flash continued to fight supervillains, Piper turned into a real social justice warrior. He took over the underground city built by Turtle and turned it into a safe place for the homeless of Keystone and Central cities. When Wally was awarded the fortune of former Jay Garrick supervillain The Icicle, Piper convinced him to use it to create a charity for people whose lives are negatively affected by superhero fights. The charity, which Wally named The Barry Allen Foundation, played an important part in rebuilding Metropolis after the battle against Doomsday.
As Wally started to spend more time with other speedsters, he and Piper stayed in touch. Piper became not only Wally’s closest friend, but Linda’s as well. He didn’t show up in the comics as much, but when he did, Piper usually stole the show. That includes when he was arrested for murder.
The Rathaway family was found dead, and every bit of evidence pointed to Piper. Wally didn’t believe Piper could have committed the murder, even after Piper confessed. In truth, Piper couldn’t remember what happened, but he felt the guilt of murder, and so he turned himself in.
Wally didn’t give up, and he figured out that the real killer was Mirror Master. Piper was cleared of all charges, but a new problem presented itself. Way back when Barry was Flash, he had the mind of one of his dumber baddies, the Top, messed with by the magician Zatanna. Barry had Zatanna turn Top from evil to good - a move that would end up driving Top insane - he was unable to deal with the guilt for the murders he committed when evil. Top, insane but “good” used his powers to turn some of Flash’s rogues good, including Piper. Then Top went and died.
Unsure if he was now a goodie because he grew up, or if it was because of Top, Piper gave the bad guy life another chance. It wasn’t for him. Our Hartley is a good guy because good guys are awesome as fuck. Still, his friendship with Wally was destroyed by the event.
After DC rebooted everything and start the now admitted failure of New 52, Hartley was reintroduced as a retired vigilante who is the current conductor of the Central City Orchestra as well as being in a relationship with Barry Allen’s boss, Police Captain David Singh.
On the show, Piper is shown as being pissed with Harrison Wells, leading to his turn to crime. After last night, we know that Piper recanted his evil ways and is now helping Team Flash from time to time. I’m happy to see that, and I hope we get to see more of Piper as the series goes on. Andy Mientus has done a fine job with the character so far, though he looks more like Chris Hayes than Hartley Rathaway in my opinion. I’d love to see a fully outfitted Piper come around to help Barry save the day.
I love Piper, mostly thanks to the work of Bill Messner-Loebs, who really fleshed out the character during his run on Flash. It was Loebs who turned Piper into an advocate for socialism, giving the series a character to debate with a more conservative Wally (who was pretty liberal by the time Loebs left the book). Other Flash writers continued to use Piper, but he showed up less and less. As is usually the way things happen in comics, writers made the story of Piper darker and darker. I’m glad that, post Flashpoint, Piper seems to have a pretty happy life.
Oh and this equation that showed up multiple times during last night’s episode? I really look forward to talking about it with all of you.