Flash (vol.2) #31 (October, 1989)
“The Comfort of a Stranger”
Writer – William Messner-Loebs
Pencils – Greg LaRocque
Inks – Larry Mahlstedt
Letters – Tim Harkins
Colors – Glenn Whitmore
Editor – Brian Augustyn
Cover Price: $1.00
Hey everybody… today’s a very special day because it is the return of the MIGHTY Super-Blog Team-Up! It’s hard to believe it’s been five-hundred and fifty-three days since our last time out! Heck, this blog was only 536 days old at that point!
The theme this time around is… Redemption.
Now, when I think about “redemption” as it pertains to the DC Universe, only one name comes to mind… Hal Jordan. But, uh, we did him already. Like a whole bunch of times.
The next name that comes to mind, and yes, this is pretty silly… is the Pied Piper. Ya know, they say you never forget your first… and when I started to make a conscious effort to collect and follow Flash comics, Geoff Johns was on the book. One of Wally’s supporting cast was Hartley Rathaway… the Pied Piper!
I didn’t know much about the guy, and recall thinking it was really cool that he had gone from being a Rogue (among the goofier of Rogues) to an actual ally to Wally. I think I over-romanticized the notion of Hartley’s “redemption arc”… I mean, I suppose redemption arcs are very seldom not romanticized. But, in this case… as we’re about to find out, I might’ve put a little too much stock in the “face turn” of the Pied Piper.
Before we get into it, I wanna preemptively thank all of my fellow Super-Bloggers, it’s been a fun time as always… and I hope it doesn’t take another year-and-a-half for our next “go round”!
Also, big thanks to Chris Bailey (Charlton Hero) for having me on board, and for making the SBTU announcement on an episode of the Chris is on Infinite Earths podcast!
Okay, enough vamping. Let’s get right into the Redemption… of the Pied Piper!
We open with a homeless woman and her son walking down a back alley… which is never really a good idea, regardless of your social standing. Over the past few months after leaving her abusive husband, she’d lost everything. Her son is hungry… she’s scared. It’s a pretty lousy time. They find themselves approached by a kind gentleman who offers them some grub, which they gleefully accept. Just then, however, they find themselves staring down a pale giant of a fellow… who introduces himself as “the Comforter”. He grabs the Good Samaritan… and kinda “cooks” him from the inside out. He then turns to the rest and asks “Who’s Next?”
Speaking of “comfort”, we switch scenes to Wally West lounging on the couch while Mason Trollbridge repairs his television set. Ya see, Wally lost his fortune (remember, he won the lottery back in issue #1) and was forced to move into an apartment with his mother… and, I mean, that’s gotta hurt. Anyhoo, the tee-vee gets fixed just as Linda Park is reporting on the strange homeless murders.
Just as she’s about to sign off, she is interrupted by… hey, there he is… the Pied Piper! He vows to track down the murderer and dish out some justice. Before Linda even leaves the air, the Flash arrives on the scene. Really neat use of panel-progression here.
Wally and Linda do their whole passive-aggressive deal, and the only thing missing is if he’d tug on her pigtails as they contentiously chatted. He calls her out for being heartless… and only after “the story”. Seems like Linda’s been taking her Lois-pills.
Back at the pad, Mason lets Mary West know that he’s heading out to meet up with his daughter and her “yuppie” family. Now there’s a word that needs to make a come back. Anyhoo, he ain’t exactly happy to go, but family’s family, ya know?
Wally checks in at the police department to find out if they have any leads about the homeless murders. To which, he’s informed that the Police just… doesn’t have the time to look into it! He does get a tip, however… to head over to St. Jude’s Shelter and chat up Sister Mary Elizabeth. And so, he does just that!
We rejoin Trollbridge, who is sitting in the living room of the unsubtlest family in the world. They’re really laughably lame… Yuppies to the Nth degree.
Back at the news station, Linda Park is bending the ear of her boss. Ya see, she really hates the Flash. Like really. If you’re around her and want to talk about Wally West… just don’t. She might just really want to make out with him (as he does her). I’ll tell ya, hate’s a complicated thing. Anyhoo, as she flies off the handle, she’s reminded that she hasn’t always been objective in her reporting… which gives her a fair amount of food for thought.
We shift scenes, and Wally arrives at a sorta-kinda halfway house for squatters, a place that Sister Mary Liz told him about. He rushes inside, and winds up skidding on some wet wallpaper that had been laid out. Inside the room is… The Pied Piper!
They argue for a bit… with Piper going full-blown “college freshman back for Thanksgiving Break”. I mean, he says “property is theft”, oy. Flash doesn’t get the opportunity to haul off and slug him, because they are interrupted by a child… who has read far too many comic books. Or, maybe just one or two.
The kid recounts the old trope of a pair of costumed folks with the same goals having to duke it out before coming to some sort of agreement and working relationship. We in the biz call that the “Marvel Meet Cute”. I wanna die. Either way, Flash and Piper decide to skip the scuffle and join forces straightaway.
Wally is then introduced to a young boy… it’s the Son of the woman who was killed by the Comforter during the opening pages! Wally considers calling in a favor in order to entrap the baddie.
Speaking of the Comforter… let’s find out a little bit more about the man himself. Ya see, he’s been hired to kill the Flash (by the Turtle), but he’s got this real vendetta against homeless people. He calls back to (I wanna say) Batman: The Cult, when Deacon Blackfire mobilized homeless people into an army… which ultimately resulted in his wife being murdered. I could certainly see that rattling a dude.
As he floats in and out of flashback-land, Linda Park pops up on his television screen… and she’s reporting that some homeless are being moved into a building for re-hab. Like a moth to a flame, the Comforter will very likely have to do a “pop-in”.
We jump ahead a few hours, and rejoin Mason Trollbridge (and family) in the subway. They happen upon The Comforter (in his civilian duds) who is more than happy to tell them that he’s off to kill him a bunch of homeless! The Yuppies act yuppyish… and Mason initially writes the fella off as a subway-crackpot.
Not too long later over at the “sting” building, Wally and Linda have a less-contentious chat. She actually calls him (and Piper) brave for putting themselves on the line like this. Mason pops his head in to warn Wally about the crank on the train… and before we know it, that very same Comforter arrives!
He attacks Wally… his speed being the only thing that saves him. With the Comforter preoccupied with the Speedster, Pied Piper reminds us all that he’s here too when he toots on his horn! Tell ya what, the baddie did not like that. Everyone’s a critic!
Comforter then turns his sights to Linda… who calls out to the Flash for help. It seems as though it’s only at this point that the Comforter realizes that the dude in red with a lightning bolt on his chest is the Flash! C’mon, really?
The Comforter reaches for Wally… but when he does, Wally’s speed causes the baddie’s powers to backfire… instantly killing him! Annnnd, that’s all she wrote!
So, whattaya think folks? Did I over-romanticize the redemption of Pied Piper? Well, yeah… of course I did. The strangest thing is, I’ve actually read these issues before, and still thought there was a lot more “oomph” to his becoming one of the good guys! But, alas… here, Piper barely even gets any panel time! I do like the idea of Piper being a hero of the oppressed. His work with the homeless would kind of define his redemption arc, and would eventually lead to the blossoming of a friendship and working-relationship with Wally West.
For the issue itself, it was a great little “done in one” that progresses Wally’s own overarching character-building endeavors. Wally had been given the opportunity to mature during these early years of his ongoing title… and that continues in this issue. His having to turn to Linda for help when he knows they’ve got this weird relationship shows that he’s willing to put personal feelings aside, so long as it serves the greater good.
The Comforter… is a bit of a goofball character, though one whose origin story is rooted in tragedy. He’s a “done in one” character (he’s dead, ya see… like really dead. Dead-dead) who fills his role well. His motivations, though extreme, are explained… though, his powers are still a little bit nebulous to me. Not that it matters so much, mind you… because, as mentioned… he dead.
Really, the only part of this issue I feel kinda “ehh” about is Trollbridge’s extended yuppie family. They came across not so much like yuppies, but this odd satirized version of stereotypical yuppies. No subtlety at all… and for such minor/throwaway scenes really kinda pulled me out of the story.
Overall… I gotta recommend this if you’re looking for a great little Flash story. If you’re looking for more information on the redemption of the Pied Piper… well, you get a little bit of that here, but not all that much. Certainly not as much as I was expecting! This issue is available digitally.
Now, this is where we usually stop for the day, but today I’m going to beg your indulgence and offer up some links to some great blogs also taking part in Super-Blog Team-Up! I highly recommend checking them out. Super-Blog Team-Up day is very special to we in the comics blogging community, and I hope that comes across when you’re reading, viewing, and listening to our offerings! Thanks!