Roger Hayden AKA the Psycho-Pirate is a character no one really seems to discuss. He shows up in stories that range from a minor conflict of a one-off issue to stories where he is one of the most important villains in a universe-shaking crisis event. But no matter where he pops up, we just simply accept his presence and keep on reading. Why is that? Why do we not question this random character showing up? And why does DC keep making him such a prominent character within their wide and varied roster? These questions have been bugging me for a while so I decided to finally do some research to try and answer them. By the time I’m done with this post, hopefully - just maybe - you’ll never look at this character the same way again.
The original version of the Psycho-Pirate is Charles Halstead, a regular man who one day snapped and became a criminal mastermind. He had no powers of his own but all of his crimes were based on emotions such as hate or greed. It got to the point where he became a major threat that required the Justice Society of America to finally capture him. During his prison sentence, Charles would research the mysticism of human emotions and eventually end up researching artifacts known as the Medusa Masks. But Charles had grown too old to try and break out and reclaim his title. Instead, he befriended another prisoner and gave him the information regarding the artifacts, and allowed him to take the Psycho-Pirate himself. Roger Hayden was the prisoner and this is probably one of the earliest examples of DC creating a legacy character, for sure one of the first for a supervillain. He sought out the masks and combined them into one Medusa Mask. And once again, the Psycho-Pirate would take up arms against the JSA for years, even going up against their successors Infinity Inc.
One thing that has become apparent is that the Medusa Mask is a source of addiction & pain for Roger. Whenever he wears the mask, he enjoys manipulating, feeling, and absorbing the emotions of others. But it often leads him to feel weak and in pain, mainly whenever he is separated from the mask. This can clearly be seen as a metaphor for those addicted to drugs. In fact, this does remind me of The Mask 3D, a 1961 movie where a psychiatrist gains possession of a tribal mask from one of his patients after they commit suicide. The psychiatrist experiences dream-like visions wearing the mask that become more horrific and violent, altering his personality and making him obsessed with the object. Considering that Roger Hayden made his debut in 1965, I wouldn’t be surprised if this movie had some influence on the character. But there is a more subtle interpretation one can read into Roger Hayden. Manipulating emotions is a form of mind control, giving one power over the minds and actions of people. Seeking out the Medusa Mask can be seen as a parallel to anyone looking to gain power over others. They can seek it out and it is possible, but they might not be ready for the consequences of such an achievement. Regardless of whether or not you agree with that specific interpretation, Roger Hayden would still continue to be a major threat.
And then…the skies turned red, lightning crackled in the air, chaos ran rampant everywhere. Eventually, though, the heroes fixed everything and the regular people didn’t notice any changes afterward. But Roger was well aware of the true story.
Crisis on Infinite Earths was the first major event from DC Comics and the first huge story where the Psycho-Pirate became a key player. The Anti-Monitor selected him so he could use his powers to cause chaos for heroes trying to stop the crisis and manipulate a captured Barry Allen. Roger was manipulating the emotions of so many people from multiple realities and, eventually, burned out. But why is he then one of the few to remember the multiverse after the dust settled? Well, I have a pretty good idea that could answer that. This was the first time Roger was accessing the minds of people from other worlds and him being with the Anti-Monitor likely means that Roger was detached from reality. At least, in a sense where he can retain the memories of what really happened during COIE. This seems to be confirmed within the pages of Grant Morrison’s Animal Man where Roger’s memories of characters that existed prior to the crisis start to become real. In the end, that is stopped and the Psycho-Pirate appears to finally be removed from continuity.
But that won’t be the last appearance of Roger Hayden. He would show up multiple times in various stories, sometimes changing whether or not he remembered COIE. But then he becomes a key player in Infinite Crisis where he is helping to carry out Alexander Luthor’s plans. His part in the story ends when Black Adam kills him. The Medusa Mask would be destroyed by Raven in her own mini-series but the schematics of the mask prove to have influence on those who study them. Roger Hayden would return briefly as a Black Lantern in Blackest Night but that would be his last appearance prior to Flashpoint.
Roger would return to the New 52, which really isn’t surprising. The whole point was to start the DC Universe over. In this version, he gained psionic abilities from Brainiac and later sought out the Medusa Mask to help protect him and enhance his own abilities. Rebirth would see people continue to use Roger’s abilities as a tool to serve their own ends. From Hugo Strange causing chaos in Gotham to Bane using Roger to overcome his own childhood trauma and his addiction to Venom. It would also be revealed that Psycho-Pirate is a part of Bane’s & Thomas Wayne’s plans to take over Gotham and defeat Bruce.
From all of these stories, we see Roger being used as mainly a tool for others to achieve their own goals. This would explain why he keeps showing up. As to why we don’t see Roger initiate his own plans? That’s a bit harder to pinpoint. Perhaps constant use of the Medusa Mask and the psychological effects it has could have prevented him from focusing hard and/or long enough to enact his own plans. Or maybe he happens to like the plans he is involved with and doesn’t see any reason to leave. Either one is a viable option.
One thing’s for sure though. While it was unclear if Roger remembered the reality before the New 52 and Rebirth, he was still unattached from reality. While the Medusa Mask was in Batman’s possession, it reacted to the Watchmen smiley-faced button and brought back the pre-Flashpoint Eobard Thawne AKA Reverse Flash. The only logical reason why that would happen would be if the Medusa Mask had become soaked in cosmic energy that transcends a single universe. It even had the ability to briefly bring back Jay Garrick to help Batman and Barry Allen fight Reverse Flash. The mask clearly remembers the original Earth-2 and has gained powers beyond simple emotional manipulation. Later on in Dark Nights: Death Metal a representative of The Hands - beings powered and tasked by The Source to create infinite multiverses - would confirm that Psycho-Pirate is the sole person who remembers the history of this reality from before the first crisis and absorbs his memories.
Another crisis came and went, and the universe was once again remade. Roger Hayden has become a broken and disillusioned man. As someone who remembers every version of reality, every crisis that ever happened, you start to realize that the only things you can trust to be real are your emotions. It is confirmed as much in an Infinite Frontier issue.
At this point, Roger has been put through the wringer more times than anyone can count. All meaning of what is real has been lost. Not only is he detached from everything around him, but he has essentially been detached from himself. With nothing to ground him, it is no wonder that he accepts Darkseid’s offer to remake Psycho-Pirate. Roger is looking for anything to make him feel alive again. After all, feelings are the only things that can be considered real in all forms of existence. After being broken down and rebuilt, Roger is back to having a sense of purpose. Teaming up with the Lord of Apokolips to prevent another universe-destroying crisis from ever happening again.
While unsuccessful, it is shown that Roger still has his more incomprehensible abilities as he is suddenly taken away to take part in another event. It is here that, perhaps due to Darkseid’s rebuilding of Roger Harden, he has a childhood friend whom he now helps to run a scam in Gotham City. But why would Psycho-Pirate help someone who didn’t even exist a few months ago? Well, the below panel sums it up.
You see, it doesn’t matter if Roger’s old friend is real or not. What matters is the sense of camaraderie he feels. So it appears that even if he is disillusioned about all of existence, Roger will still act on what he feels. One day he might feel like robbing a museum, one day he might be willing to help someone claiming to be his friend.
Long story short, this is the saga of the Psycho-Pirate. A man sought out the ability to control and manipulate others, learning the hard way that comes at a cost. His possession of said power put him in a position where he found himself detached from the reality he knew, just in time to witness to the destruction of that reality and be flung into a brand new one. Not only does he retain the memories of the past universe, but he has gained new powers that transcend emotional manipulation and tap into more cosmic energy. He has survived death and multiple succeeding reality-warping events. From one perspective, this is a man severely scarred by incomprehensible trauma and doesn’t quite know how to process what has happened to him. From another perspective, Roger Harden has in a sense become a higher being, able to perceive things for what they truly are. Despite disillusionment and adopting a more cynical view of the world he inhabits, he continues to follow his feelings and ends up participating in a variety of plans and conspiracies no matter how big or small. This is the tragedy of a man who has experienced so many horrific events that he has lost sense of his self. But another interpretation could be that this is the story of how one man can still find a sense of purpose, even if it is just for the moment, no matter how much changes around him.
The Psycho-Pirate grew from a little-known criminal to a legacy supervillain to one of the most constant elements of every version of the DC Universe. Roger Hayden will likely continue to grow and evolve, perhaps into becoming the ultimate big bad of another crisis event. And maybe he has been used so often in so many different stories that we have just grown accustomed to seeing him pop up wherever. But one should always be on the lookout. He might be robbing banks one day. But tomorrow, who knows? You could wake up and find yourself in a world ruled by the Psycho-Pirate.