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Content warning: homophobia
For those who don’t spend every free moment reading fanfiction, a “ship” is short for “relationship”. It generally refers to a relationship that doesn’t exist in the actual text of a book, TV show, etc., but that fans would still love to see. The most famous ships are usually found between two male characters, but that’s not a requirement. The term “ship” can also be both noun and verb. For example, a shipper can only ship two characters together or have multiple ships. Makes perfect sense.
Now that everyone knows what a ship is, let me introduce you to a dark one that holds a special place in my nerdy little heart.
As members of the Flash rogue gallery, the Trickster and the Pied Piper have always had a lot in common. Both have adorable sticky costumes, both rely on distinctive devices to commit crimes (Trickster has a whole bag of toy-based gadgets, and Piper has his flute), and both switched loyalties (Trickster joined the FBI while Piper close Made friends with the new Flash, Wally West).
Despite these similarities, it took them a while to become more of professional colleagues. They eventually became close friends and went on some ridiculous adventures together. Remind me to tell you about the time with the giant sentient musical note.
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Was their friendship enough to get the ship sailing? May be. However, this pairing – which bears the appropriately silly Portmanteau name “Pipster” – seems to have become popular (though not entirely) by countdown to the final crisis. Maybe that’s how I first found out about it, but I don’t remember that point yet. I remember Countdown 2007-2008 was a big deal. With multiple threads of plot linked together, it was supposed to set up events and draw attention to Final Crisis, which promised to rewrite the DC Universe as we know it (gee whiz, I’ve never heard that before). It … did that somehow?
I can’t impress you enough how worthless Countdown is. I wouldn’t even recommend it as an example of how not to make a comic. There are many shorter examples that don’t waste that much of your life. It’s confusing, inconsistent, ugly, nonsensical, and offensive to both the characters and the reader’s intelligence. With a few exceptions, Piper and Trickster are the only parts of this dumpster fire that even remotely resemble the conversation. Handcuffed to the Defiant Ones, they spend most of the series escaping the superheroes who mistakenly believe they murdered the lightning bolt (Bart Allen, that doesn’t mean Wally West … there are a lot of lightning bolts and they are all died sometime).
Please note that I have described their parts as entertaining and not good. A third of Trickster’s dialogue screams out how crazy they are, a third are gay jokes and the last third is a variation on “no homo” – all of which serve to irritate the openly gay Piper. This is either a very bad letter (it’s certainly out of character; Trickster had never objected to Piper’s sexuality before) and / or a sign that the Trickster is having some sort of identity crisis. Seriously, the man is ten seconds from the break in “My Girlfriend Who Lives in Canada”.
But where there’s an obvious closet, there’s hope for a romantic happy-ever-after, at least in fiction. Surely this led to a major reveal where the trickster finally got his head out of his striped bum and admitted that all of his crowning jokes were his youthful way of hiding his feelings for Piper? Surely this was the place DC went with it?
Trickster’s last act – he threw himself in front of a hail of bullets to protect Piper while yelling, “Not him! Not now! “- The shipper just added fuel to the fire. Just before filming began, Piper and Trickster had their first real moment of bonding. Trickster even called him by his real name. For one panel, the status quo of their relationship seemed to be about to change.
Unfortunately, with Trickster’s death, we would never find out whether this change would involve romance or just a newfound respect between the two ex-villains. Even when he came back years later, he and Piper never interacted as they did before or during the countdown. The moment – and the momentum – was more deaf than the movie New Gods. (The new gods also played a part in the countdown. It wasn’t great.) These days, Piper is with someone else. He’s also now blonde instead of red-haired, which kind of upsets me more than the way DC spoiled the Pipster relationship.
As I was writing this article, I went to the Hugo Award-winning fan fiction archive, Archive of Our Own, and checked out the stories listed under the Official Pipster Tag, James Jesse / Hartley Rathaway. (Yes, those are their real names. No wonder they turned to crime.) I got 106 results, which isn’t a lot. Most of them are also several years old. Just to show how much of a (um) lightning bolt this ship is in the pan.
But I do not care. The Pipster Ship may be little more than a leaky liferaft these days, but I’ll work the paddles alone and still dream of the day DC fulfills a promise they never made. Such is the life of a shipper.