Flash Fridays-The Flash #307 mar 1982

Oct 7, 2022

Cary Bates march through the Flash rogues gallery continues with this issues appearance of the Pied Piper. That’s probably evident to any Flashinado with just a glance at the cover, but why the Piper himself wasn’t depicted there is anybody’s guess. On one level, the story is about the PP working to unleash his “greatest musical toy… the sonic boomatron.” The sonic boomatron, which looks pretty much like a set of bagpipes, unleashes a sound of 50,000 plus decibels which he plans to use to force the Flash’s atoms “to conform to an involuntary cyclical vibratory pattern!” In essence, the boomatron is intended to convert the Flash to a wave of sound that would roll out and then gradually dissipate until there was nothing left. Pretty diabolical even if you are using something that looks for all the world like bagpipes. Although, I suppose if you were looking for the most frightening sound that a musical instrument could make, bagpipes would be it.

What really makes this story interesting, however, is the backstory that Bates creates for the Piper. Up to this point, the backstories for the Flash villains usually consisted of some event in their lives that led to their acquiring whatever unusual skill it was that makes them distinctive as a villain. The Mirror Master learning to make unusual mirrors in prison, Captain Boomerang learning to throw boomerangs in the Australian Outback… you get the idea. However here, Bates takes things a step further to show the Piper as an emotionally troubled child whose well-to-do parents pushed him to achieve while at the same time going to great and expensive lengths to cover up his deficiencies so he won’t embarrass the family. While hardly the deepest psychological dive, it still represented a more realistic raison d’etre than had been seen to that point in a DC Comics hero or villain. This may seem quaint in an age when say Batman for instance is nothing but a bundle of twisted psychopathology, but, trust me on this, it was new at the time. Bates, perhaps with a weather eye on what was going on over at Marvel, was breaking some new ground here.

So the Flash indeed gets turned into a sound wave, and escapes by willing his atoms to return to their original human shape as he has done many times before. But what stays with the reader at the end is the final panel where we see a close shot of a table strewn with purloined treasures that the Piper has thrown down there in his parents palatial dining room as a sarcastic payback for their expensive efforts to turn him into something that he wasn’t. I stand in line.

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