Thursday, September 02, 2010

Coming out in Comics: Pied Piper

Ahh the Pied Piper, real name Hartley Rathaway, reformed villain from the Flash' rogues gallery.  He's great and he's gay.  He first came out in Flash volume 2, number 53 (1991).  Wally West was the Flash then and they were both good friends by this point.  Let's take a look at how this happened:

See this?  They are friends.  Look at the body language, relaxed and open.

It doesn't last...

Wally West, you are a prat.  Worst excuse ever.  Still, I like how Piper isn't offended by him and takes it all in his stride.  And you know, at least Wally didn't ask if this meant Piper fancied him.

But on the plus side.....

At the end of the issue they are friends again and Wally has evidently forgotten his fear of the gays.  Looking back at the date this was published I feel all warm and fuzzy about the way this was handled.  It could have been positioned as Wally being homophobic and in the right for being so, but I think it's quite clear in the above text that Wally is being a prat and that his mini freak out is wrong.

I was 11 in 1991 and didn't really know a lot about sexuality, but I was aware of HIV/AIDS and the mass panic and bigotry that followed it in the 80s.  With that in mind, it's wonderful seeing a comic that deals with a character's sexuality in a grown up way, and that shows the panic reaction from his straight friend to be a ridiculous one.

Later on, in the 2008 Rogues Revenge Final Crisis mini there was a nice moment where one of the other rogues said something homophobic, and Piper kicked him.  It felt gratifying.


Stephen said...

This was '91? I thought Northstar was the first openly gay character, but didn't he come out in like '92? DC beats Marvel to the punch yet again

Tomira Eliyes said...

I will always like how Piper didn't make an issue of it, just slipped it into conversation when Wally gave him the opening and watched him flounder with that expression of evil amusement on his face. Just one more point in his campaign to make Wally West less self-absorbed and more socially aware! It's a hard road, without hypnosis, but worth the effort...

Seriously, Wally was a jerk once Barry and Iris were no longer around as role models, and I've always liked that Piper stepped in as a sort of big-brotherly mentor. Wally was always conservative -- he clashed with the other (original) Teen Titans over it, since they were all liberals -- and I'm proud of him for getting over his early conditioning and heterosexual panic.

@ Stephen Northstar was the first openly gay superhero, which isn't a title Piper ever claimed (even when he could have). There were other, earlier characters. For example, in a 1982 issue of Captain America, Steve Roger's childhood friend (and protector) Arnie Roth showed up needing Cap's help to save his boyfriend from bad guys. I'm not sure we can say Arnie was "openly gay", given the language constrictions at the time -- Michael was referred to as Arnie's friend, and roommate, but Cap described their relationship using the word "love" (and told Arnie there was nothing wrong or unnatural about it when the Red skull was spouting his Nazi rhetoric to the contrary, so yay Cap!)

I love Northstar dearly, but he's not actually the First Gay of Comics.

Saranga said...

Thanks for the visit and the comments Tomira :)

Stephen: so sorry I never replied to your comment. Very rude and remiss of me. Howeverm Tomira has now answered your question, so thanks Tomira!