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

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