Let me tell you about my friend Bill. This is pertinent.
William Messner-Loebs, my predecessor on the Flash series, is one of the most unjustly underrated comics writers of the past 20 years. Bill writes from the bottom of an immeasurably huge heart, and his in-person guileless manner — free of any hint of secret agenda — has allowed him to pull off some pretty forward-thinking stories over the course of his career by just writing about people as honestly as he knows how.
One of Bill’s finest moments was celebrated last night when the Pied Piper came to TV. No, Bill didn’t create the Piper — that was John Broome and Carmine Infantino way back in 1959 — but it was Bill, deciding that Hartley Rathaway had been carrying a secret for a long time, who first revealed that Hartley was gay. I realize that in the year 2015, this doesn’t sound terribly momentous, but I’m here to tell you that 16 years ago, there were almost no openly gay characters in mainstream comics. That sort of thing wasn’t “fit for our children” or “proper in a comic book.” (I still remember a lot of the hate mail that Bill got.) Bill (and his boss, Brian Augustyn, the greatest Flash editor since Julius Schwartz) deserve a lot of credit for taking what was, in 1991, a hell of a leap. Trust me when I say that when the Piper was first revealed as gay, that was a major social breakthrough for DC. And that’s not my favorite part of the story.
What I find even more cheerfully impressive is that last night, when my viewing of this week’s Flash got delayed and I got curious as to whether Piper’s orientation had been mentioned, I pored through Twitter #Flash feeds…and that told me nothing, because no one had bothered to even bring it up . No one cared if he was gay or straight. That’s how far we’ve come since Bill outed Hartley, and that’s pretty amazing.
Flash Facts (a.k.a. Easter Eggs):
The Royal Flush Gang, in pretty much any incarnation in any medium, is DC Comics’ eternal gang of jobbers. Originally introduced by Gardner Fox and Mike Sekowsky in Justice League of America #43 (1966), they were a super-powered band of card-themed villains that never seemed able to capture any reader’s imagination. Since then, the name and shtick has been passedalong from gang to gang; they’re the go-to whenever writers need some interesting threat that can be put away quickly. There’s no shame in that. It’s honest work.
Don’t judge Iris West too harshly using your Lois Lane yardstick; the show’s writers are simply taking their cues from the Silver Age comics where Iris was a feature writer for the Central City Picture News. It’s a newspaper. (Ask your parents.)
In addition to a landmark near-100-issue run on The Flash from 1992 to 2000, New York Times bestselling author Mark Waid has written a wider variety of well-known characters than any other American comics creator, from Superman to the Justice League to Spider-Man to Archie and hundreds of others. His award-winning graphic novel with artist Alex Ross, Kingdom Come, is one of the best-selling comics of all time. Currently, he writes Daredevil and S.H.I.E.L.D. for Marvel Comics and Empire and Insufferable for his own webcomics site, Thrillbent.