Saturday, March 20, 2010

Back in a Flash

And yes, I am back to trying to complete my review of the Flash TV series.

Episode 12: The Trickster

Plot: It's the return of P.I. Megan Lockhart as she runs afoul of an insane killer named James Jesse. Jesse's defeat by the Flash twists his mind and he believes Megan is his true love who is being mind controlled by the Flash. In order to "free" Megan he is willing to turn Central City, Barry Allen and the Flash upsidedown. Can the Flash's super speed trump the unpredictability of a madman?

My Take: We have our second supervillain here and, finally, one who originated from the comic book! Well, more or less... It should be noted that the Trickster who appears here bears little resemblence to his comic book counterpart. In the comic books James Jesse was a member of a family of circus high wire performers but he disliked the family business and felt more affinity toward crime a la his reverse namesake Jesse James. An engineering genius and basically sane if callous and criminal, Jesse began inventing incredible gadgets and embarking on a life of crime which brought him up against the Flash. In this episode, James Jesse is a madman who has eluded police through six states committing crimes as far ranging as fraud, theft and murder, taking on different identities and different careers for each of his crimes. It should also be said that even the comic book Trickster's costume bore little resemblence to the costume designed for the Trickster here... but, hey, at least we've got a supervillain in a costume so I'm not going to complain too much.

Added entertainment value to the story is the fact that the Trickster is played by none other than Mark Hamill. Yep, Luke Skywalker. Hamill, as it turns out, is something of a comic book geek -- at one point in time at least owning an extensive and expensive collection. So he enters into the role with a reckless abandon that is just a kick to watch. It is also interesting to see since Hamill goes through a number of different characters and voices as his Trickster scams and schemes.

Again, though, we see the writers taking influence from Tim Burton's Batman as this insane version of the Trickster seems to have more in common with the Joker than with the comic book counterpart. Interestingly enough, only a year or so after this Hamill would win the role as the Joker in the critically acclaimed and Emmy winning Batman: The Animated Series

And his portrayal would be seen as THE definitive Joker for more than a generation of fans. Sharp eyed (and eared) Flash fans will see and hear little snippets which Hamill would end up incorporating into his Joker so the episode is like getting a little sneak peek into a proto-Joker.

Sadly, the story spends so much time setting things up that it ends up never quite properly building the Trickster into the proper threat he should be. Part of the problem as well, is that the writer on this story -- namely Howard Chaykin -- turns the Trickster into more of a foil for Megan Lockhart than one for the Flash and many of the Trickster's "tricks" seem more 'sound and fury' with lots of sparklers and roman candles than they do legitimate threats to the life and limbs of the citizens of Central City.

The story also moves forward on the initial attraction between Barry and Megan but then viewers get a 'bait and switch' as the whole thing ends up not only going nowhere but getting a ridiculous excuse for it shoehorned into the last minute of the story. I suppose we should be thankful -- most 'temporary girlfriends' who appear on TV end up six feet under, victims of 'Teresa Bond Syndrome' (google the character and I'm sure you'll get the reference). There is also a painfully awkward subplot with Tina feeling her friendship with Barry will be threatened by Megan.

It also should be said that the actress playing Megan cannot produce a convincing scream. At all. It's surprisingly annoying. I mean, if you're going to try to convince the audience that you're screaming out of sheer terror you need to do a better job than your average high school melodrama production.

On the flip side, the story also manages to play, at least a little bit, with the question "chicken or the egg" question. In this case the question is: "Does the Flash create/attract the villains or have they always been there in one way or another?" Over the decades, a number of comic book writers have explored this idea in various ways and there was a really good episode of Batman: The Animated Series in which a number of Batman's enemies put him on trial claiming that HE created THEM. But I digress...

Despite the flaws, this is overall a really fun episode. It's great to finally see a fully fledged comic book supervillain in the story and Mark Hamill does a great job throwing himself into the part. Definitely worth the watch -- particularly since Hamill would reprise the role later on in the series....

One technical note here: there was a glitch in the broadcast order and since the episodes were arranged on the DVD in broadcast order the glitch has been perpetuated. The episode "Tina, is That You?" was supposed to air BEFORE this one and in fact some of the events of that story are referenced here, and yet the episode ended up airing AFTER this one. They really should have fixed this on the DVD release or at least made a note of it.

Flash Facts:
When we first see James Jesse he is dressed as a traditional stage magician -- with a top hat, white tie and tails, and white gloves. This outfit makes him look like another Flash rogue -- Abra Kabadra. In fact, just a little bit later in the story Jesse claims that he 'studied Harry Houdini' -- a claim that Kadabra would also make. Abra Kadabra, however, originally came from the 64th century where his obsession with stage magic was considered a joke due to the highly advanced technology. Traveling into the past he would use that technology to make it seem as though he could really do magic.

After defeating Jesse the first time the Flash refers to him as "Mandrake" -- this is a reference to "Mandrake the Magician", a newspaper comic strip character created by Lee Falk -- the guy who also created The Phantom. While Mandrake got his start in the newspapers in 1934 over the decades he would be move into the so-called 'Little Big Books' and would also appear in comic books and in animation. Mandrake technically had no superpowers -- he had learned a technique for almost instantanous hypnotism and so he would make people see and hear things that were not there. Mandrake was, and still is, owned by King Features Syndicate along with such other familiar heroes as The Phantom and Flash Gordon.

In point of fact.... Now I'm not saying this was a DELIBERATE 'six degrees of separation' but it IS an interesting coincidence... later in the episode Megan is trying to track down the Trickster thorugh some of the props he used. She asks someone where he could have gotten hold of a statue of Mercury. We can't hear what the person on the other line says but she responds "Not Freddy Mercury!" Freddy Mercury was the lead singer of the rock group Queen and one of the things Queen is well known for was providing the soundtrack for the 1980 movie Flash Gordon and Flash Gordon is, as I mentioned above, one of the King Features Syndicate characters along with Mandrake the Magician. Interesting, no? It's also pretty sad that I could make that connection.

At another point in the story Megan calls Barry and tells him she's found the Trickster's hideout and it's on Margo Ln. Margo Lane was the assistant to The Shadow in the original pulp stories and the subsequent radio series. As it so happened, Howard Chaykin, who wrote this epsiode of the Flash also wrote The Shadow for DC Comics in the 1980's when DC had the license to the character for a period of time.

The policeman's costume ball in being held at the Infantino Hotel -- this is a tip of the hat to Carmine Infantino. Like Gardner Fox, Infantino was a workhorse for both DC and Marvel among many other comic book companies. His work is still praised today and there are likely very few major comic book characters that he hasn't drawn in his life. He was the first artist on the Silver Age Flash series and is credited with creating the character's look.

Late in the game the episode takes a turn for the rather cartoony. At one point Megan states that she's "Tired of all this cartoon crap" and not long after the Flash defeats the Trickster to the sound of the Looney Tunes ending theme and finishes the whole thing up by actually saying "That's all folks". Of course, it must be said that the Looney Tunes characters are all owned by Warner Brothers and Warner Brothers also owns DC Comics and all it's characters and it was Warner Brothers studios which was producing this TV series. So nice to keep it all in the family wouldn't you say?

No comments:

Post a Comment