Thursday, February 26, 2009

Live Action: "The Trial of the Trickster"

“The Trial of the Trickster” (May 18, 1991)

Writers: Howard Chaykin & John Francis Moore
Director: Danny Bilson
Editor: Bill Zabala

Synopsis: A media circus surrounds the eagerly anticipated trial of James Jesse, the manic supervillain popularly known as the Trickster. These high-profile proceedings are brought to an early conclusion, however, when the Trickster escapes from a city courthouse with the help of toy company heiress Zoey Clark. Clark is a deranged, thrill-seeking fantasist who has become obsessed with the notion that she is Prank, the supervillain’s sidekick. Reluctantly joining forces with this impish partner in crime, the Trickster plots to kidnap the Flash, brainwash him, and then take his revenge by placing the judicial system of Central City itself on trial!

Commentary: Thanks to “The Trial of the Trickster,” the final installment in the series, The Flash goes out with a bang--or, more correctly, with the effect of a toy gun loaded with a brightly colored flag bearing the word “BANG!” The story that unfolds is a bit like A Clockwork Orange by way of Looney Tunes. Mark Hamill is absolutely superb in his encore performance as the Trickster. The actor perfectly embodies a character that is simultaneously macabre and mirthful, and he’s outright hilarious. It helps that the script for this episode sports some sharp and snappy dialogue. The Trickster is easily the most entertaining villain of the series, the one truly larger-than-life supervillain to threaten our hero throughout these televised adventures. As before, in “The Trickster,” there’s more than a bit of the Joker in Hamill’s electrifying performance--though it’s worth noting, once again, that this is where Hamill birthed the persona he would later employ playing the infamous Clown Prince of Crime. Additionally, I was repeatedly reminded of Frank Gorshin’s unforgettable performances as the Riddler. With Hamill reveling in the role of the Trickster, Corinne Bohrer’s Prank fulfilling a role that prefigures Harley Quinn, and Shirley Walker’s boisterous soundtrack playfully keeping pace with such demented antagonists, watching “The Trial of the Trickster” is like watching an episode of Batman: The Animated Series brought vividly to life. As always, John Wesley Shipp is undeniably charismatic as our stalwart hero, and it’s nice to see him granted the opportunity to act a bit unhinged this time out thanks to a vigorous brainwashing from the Trickster. There are flickers of some tantalizing themes to be found amidst the cartoonish chaos as well, particularly involving notions of identity. When the delusional Prank attempts to remove the Flash’s mask and expose his well-kept secret identity, the Trickster fascinatingly protests. The plot shows that James Jesse is well-practiced at altering his identity to fit his mood or situation and he’s come to accept the old adage that a man is only as strong as his enemies, that the scarlet speedster is a worthy foe only so long as he remains a figure of potent mystique. The distinctions between hero, villain, sidekick, and ally are repeatedly and playfully upset or inverted throughout. The sets, costuming, and art direction are excellent and there are even some bold moments of cinematography, particularly early on. “The Trial of the Trickster” is one of the zaniest installments of the series but it is also undeniably inventive and absolutely breathless. It isn't brilliant but it's a hell of a lot of fun. The final scene of the episode--in which a pair of workmen append the Central City welcome sign with a banner declaring it to be “Home of the Flash,” just as a familiar scarlet streak zips past on a patrol of the city--should conjure up a smile as it brings the series to a rather comforting close.

High-Speed Highlight: Brainwashed by the Trickster, the Flash crazily dashes down Central City’s Main Street at super-speed, smashing parking meters with a wrench as he goes and delighting in the destruction left in his wake--until he realizes that the wrench in his hands has begun to smoke from the friction!

Quotable: “Don’t! D-D-D-D… He is the mask! Without the mask, he’s nothing, bupkis, nada, zip, just some boring, average, insignificant jerk nobody cares about who’ll die alone and forgotten, watching game shows in an empty apartment--with cats. No. You touch that mask again, I’ll murder you. Okay?” --The Trickster objects to learning the scarlet speedster’s true identity

Wednesday, February 25, 2009

Fast Talk: Speedster Slipstream

Speedster Slipstream: The Flash has become so accustomed to throwing around scientific fast talk that it's beginning to corrupt his use of cliches! As he dodges deadly chunks of concrete falling from a collapsing city block, the fastest man alive rescues a helpless tyke just in time for a narrow escape. Just how narrow is this escape? "Whew! Made it! But if my hide were one molecule thicker--" One molecule?! I'd expect that sort of infinitesimal exaggeration from the likes of the Atom, but honestly, Barry. The fastest man alive follows this molecular hyperbole with one of his regular super-speed stunts. Though his hands are full protecting the rescued child, the fleet-footed hero is able to deliver a bevy of nearby citizens to safety simply using the fast-moving currents that whip about in his wake. "Guess they'll have to settle for traveling via air mail!" It's the selectivity that the Flash is capable of enforcing over the air currents in his super-speed backwash that has always puzzled me. Though they'll likely end up airsick, those citizens are lucky there aren't any bricks or steel beams being snatched up by the speedster's slipstream!

Issue: The Flash #217 (August-September 1972)

Tuesday, February 24, 2009

Amazing World of Puzzles (1974)

In this word puzzle are the names of fifty-five titles of DC books past and present. Try and find them all.

Monday, February 23, 2009

Flash Facts: Diamonds and Pressure

"It requires a temperature of at least 3000 degrees Fahrenheit and a pressure of one million pounds per square inch to create diamonds. This General Electric 1,000 ton hydraulic press, exerting a pressure of 1.6 million pounds per square inch on an area of one square inch, produced the first man-made diamonds."

Issue: The Flash #141 (December 1963)

Thursday, February 19, 2009

Sight and Sound: "Divided We Fall"

"Divided We Fall," a pivotal installment of Justice League Unlimited, written by Dwayne McDuffie and directed by Joaquim dos Santos, aired 16 July 2005 on Cartoon Network. In this thrilling, action-packed sequence from the episode ("Less talking, more hitting," as Hawkgirl would put it), a merged Brainiac-Luthor creates a gang of mechanical warriors to bring down the world's greatest superheroes. Creatively, however, the near-omnipotent supervillain chooses to model these deadly androids on the Justice League's dark counterparts from an alternate timeline, the Justice Lords! The scarlet speedster's mirror image bears a familiar yellow and red costume; indeed, this is the closest the series would come to offering the Reverse-Flash a guest appearance. Interestingly, the deadly doppleganger attempts to taunt the Flash with insults attacking his insecurities: "Slacker! Child! Clown!" These barbs reflect Wally West's distinctive role on the team throughout this series as well as the anxieties that haunted him during his early years as the Flash. Fortunately, the monarch of motion is unmoved by such a verbal assault, and he certainly has the moves to obliterate such a foe.

Wednesday, February 18, 2009

Fast Talk: Dual Identities

Dual Identities: Someone should commission a study on the potential impact of secret identities on the psychology of metahumans. The sooner the better, I'd say. At the very least, I am thankful that Jay Garrick long ago abandoned his attempts to maintain a dual identity. The strain seems to have been too much for him. In this adventure, the fastest man alive strives to crack the case of a jewel theft in which Jay Garrick, his alter ego, is a principal suspect. Pacing up and down in his lab, Jay contemplates the facts at hand: "The key to the whole case is this: the jewels were in Jay's topcoat pocket in the plane. But when he got dressed that morning, in his clothes back from the dry cleaner's, the jewels were not in his pocket." Yes, the Flash is consistently referring to himself in the third person. How can you read these panels without worrying about our hero's state of mind? Just how many superheroes risk a similar Jekyll and Hyde complex by maintaining dual identities?

Issue: All-Flash #28 (April-May 1947)

Tuesday, February 17, 2009

Upcoming: The Flash: Rebirth #2

DC aims to maintain the momentum and excitement behind Geoff Johns's The Flash: Rebirth by releasing our first teasing glimpse of the epic mini-series' second chapter. Ethan Van Sciver's cover for the issue is celebratory. It represents a playful homage to the classic cover for Showcase #3, the comic book that launched the Silver Age, but there are some ominous elements as well. Our beloved Central City police scientist has a murder mystery on his hands! Who will be revealed as the fallen speedster whose sudden death sets these events in motion? Fans everywhere are speculating. Let us know who you think it might be in the comments section below! As always, visit Newsarama for a further preview of the books shipping from DC Comics in May.

Written by Geoff Johns; Art and covers by Ethan Van Sciver. What’s happened to the Speed Force? One of the world’s most powerful speedsters is dead, and Barry Allen must discover who--or what--is responsible! But the reborn Barry is a man haunted by a dark secret in his past. A secret that drives him to push far beyond his limits. A burden that, if he’s not careful, could send him right back into oblivion! Geoff Johns and Ethan Van Sciver’s reinvention of the Scarlet Speedster picks up the pace--we dare you to keep up! On sale May 6. 2 of 5. 32 pg. FC. $2.99 US.

Monday, February 16, 2009

Flash Facts: Hurricane Winds

"The average rate of surface wind on land is from six to twelve miles an hour; on sea at high altitudes the wind velocity is greater. When the wind moves at a speed of at least 72 miles an hour it is officially designated as a hurricane. Hurricane winds sometimes attain a velocity of 150 mi/hr."

Issue: The Flash #106 (April-May 1959)

Saturday, February 14, 2009

Thursday, February 12, 2009

Live Action: "Alpha"

“Alpha” (May 11, 1991)

Writer: Gail Morgan Hickman
Story: Gail Morgan Hickman & Denise Skinner
Director: Bruce Bilson
Editor: Greg Wong

Synopsis: After taking notice of her unusual behavior, Barry Allen and Tina McGee befriend Alpha, a mysterious woman who seems to be on the run from a collective of shadowy intelligence operatives. Alpha is in fact an android, an advanced artificial life form devised by the government to serve as the ultimate covert assassin! In defiance of her programming, Alpha has proven incapable of accepting the decision to take a life. With the help of Barry, Tina, and the conman Fosnight, the runaway android pursues a desperate bid to escape the reach of the government and find her freedom.

Commentary: The Flash attempts a shift in style and genre once again by venturing into the territory of outright science fiction with “Alpha,” the penultimate episode of the series. Early dialogue reveals that construction of the title android was accomplished with approximately $30 million in government spending, just a bit more than the cost of one full season of a one-hour network television drama! Even if the viewer is able to generously suspend disbelief through preposterous plot details such as this, however, “Alpha” remains a flawed Frankenstein’s monster of an episode. With a fictional cipher dubbed the National Scientific Intelligence Agency at the fore, the series uses fanatical government officials of a clich├ęd variety as antagonists, and not for the first time. The brutal Christine Powers, played with great vehemence by actress Laura Robinson, is clearly cut from the same two-dimensional cloth as Quinn, the baddie of “Sight Unseen.” Powers is a stock villain just like her inept henchmen, who, clad in government-issue trench coats, are forever waving their guns about. The story’s central figure, Alpha, would be silly were it not for the strength of the performance offered by guest star Claire Stanfield, who is able to imbue an artificial character with sufficient grace and charm to convince us. Though moral quandaries are inherent to the construction of her character, the episode is utterly uninterested in exploring them. Instead there are poorly planned action sequences featuring Omega, Alpha’s monstrous, hulking counterpart, who is really nothing more than a parody of Arnold Schwarzenegger’s performances as the Terminator. Omega’s demise--witnessed in a bizarre and rather disturbing special effects sequence in which the android’s head explodes after being electrocuted by the Flash--is ridiculous but grotesquely memorable. It’s nice to see regular guest Dick Miller granted more screen time as Fosnight, though the conniving yet lovable conman seems somewhat out of place here. A comedic scene in which Fosnight sneaks Alpha off to a backroom poker game in order to school the naive android in the ways of card cheats might have proven amusing if it weren’t so contrary to the grim, desperate tone established for the episode. “Alpha” really does represent a mixed bag of ideas and, as a result, it’s a definite disappointment.

High-Speed Highlight: With the beautiful android Alpha in his arms, the Flash races at top speed to escape the fifty-mile range of a transmitter programmed to detonate the self-destruct device hidden deep within the electronics of her artificial brain, leaving a trail of burning tracks in his wake.

Quotable: “My name isn’t Alpha Webster, it’s Alpha-One: Artificial Lifelike Prototype Humanoid Android One. I got the name Webster from the dictionary.” --Alpha reveals what’s in a name

Wednesday, February 11, 2009

Fast Talk: Sound-Activated Waves

Sound-Activated Waves: Lately, I've been thinking about the wonders that were to be found behind the cover of any given Silver Age comic book and I've decided that I want to take a moment simply to clarify something concerning the weekly Fast Talk feature. I kid because I love. The scientific fast talk of the great Silver Age is easy to spot and, admittedly, it is often hilarious. Comic books aren't simply fun or funny, however; comics can be downright exciting. That's the reason that we're drawn to them to begin with. In this dramatic incident from "The Pied Piper of Peril!" by John Broome and Carmine Infantino--representing the first appearance of the title Rogue--Hartley Rathaway is using his near-magical flute to disable his fleet-footed foe. "Playing his incredible instrument at the waters of Central City Lake, the Piper sends a huge sound-activated wave hurtling at the scarlet speedster!" Sure, we could take this opportunity to debate the feasibility of the Pied Piper's acoustic accomplishments, or to playfully interrogate the capabilities of his perplexing technology. Ultimately, that's not what matters in a scene like this, however. Think of the suspense inherent to this plot! Just look at Infantino's stunning imagery! In context, is there any question that the Pied Piper represents a powerful threat? Is there any doubt that our beloved hero is in peril? There is desperation and drama in these panels, emergency as well as great urgency! No matter how hilarious or absurd the pseudoscientific feats or explanations on display may be, never allow me to negate the power of the narrative. Fortunately, I think adventures such as this can generally stand up to a gentle ribbing. These stories are just that good.

Issue: The Flash #106 (April-May 1959)

Tuesday, February 10, 2009

Quick Quiz: Favorite Writer?

The results are in! Last month's Quick Quiz asked the blog's readers to rank the scribes behind Wally West's run in his own title, which came to an end with The Flash (v.2) #247. Who is your favorite regular writer from The Flash (v.2)? Truly, the third scarlet speedster was blessed, having been continuously guided by some of the best in the business. With such an esteemed line-up of talented creators at the fore, this poll presented a difficult choice indeed.

Mike Baron, the writer who launched The Flash's second volume back in 1987 and successfully established young Wallace West as a top-tier superhero, received 4% of the vote. William Messner-Loebs, well-remembered for developing a colorful cast of supporting characters for the book, earned a small but significant 6% of all votes. Mark Waid, whose work on the title is nothing less than legendary, took top place in the poll with 53% of the vote. Lastly, the appropriately acclaimed Geoff Johns, who will continue to script the adventures of the fastest man alive in the upcoming The Flash: Rebirth, seized a further 43% of the vote. None of the poll's respondents elected to vote in the Other category, a selection that could have conceivably been used to represent Brian Augustyn, Joey Cavalieri, Tom Peyer, or certain other writers who made their own noteworthy contributions to the series. There were forty-three respondents in all.

For any reader familiar with the bold storylines and beloved characters seen throughout The Flash's second volume, the results of this poll will likely be unsurprising. Mark Waid's contributions to the title are cherished by all those comic fans who had the good fortune to pick up one of his issues and his writing undeniable elevated The Flash to must-buy status. Similarly, Geoff Johns is brilliant, and the adventures he imagined for the monarch of motion were both arresting and ambitious. It's no wonder that The Flash: Rebirth is so highly anticipated. Which of the four comic writers did you choose as your favorite? What unforgettable tales or characters from The Flash (v.2) helped to decide your vote? Please, take a moment and let us know what you think using the comment facility below.

It is now February and, with Valentine's Day on the way, love is in the air. Thus, with our next Quick Quiz poll, I thought it time that we turned our attention to that driving sense of heartfelt romance that kept each of the Flashes charging onward. Where would our fleet-footed heroes be without the influence of women such as Joan Garrick, Iris Allen, Fiona Webb, Tina McGee, Linda Park, or Valerie Perez? In each generation, the fastest man alive might aptly be described as the fastest man in love! Of these brilliant and beautiful leading ladies, women who have been romantically involved with the fastest man alive, which stands as your favorite character? Let us know in this month's Quick Quiz, to be found in the right-hand sidebar.

Monday, February 09, 2009

Flash Facts: Empire State Building

"The Empire State Building in New York City has been hit by lightning as often as 48 times in a single year. On one particular occasion the Washington Monument in the nation's capital was struck by five immense lightning bolts."

The Flash #113 (June-July 1960)

Monday, February 02, 2009