The Flash 2: Revenge of the Trickster (1991)

Posted: May 3, 2018 in Baer, TV
Tags: , ,

Writer Brian C. Baer recently got reacquainted with the original Flash TV series from the early 90’s. Enjoy his look at the second of that show’s direct-to-video offerings!

With news of more headaches surrounding the long-anticipated DCEU Flash solo movie, and as the Scarlet Speedster’s CW “Arrowverse” show has been renewed for a fifth season, we here at ComicBookMedia believe it’s time to look at one of the character’s previous translations into film. By which we mean television. By which we mean both. Kind of.

F2Fast-tracked to capitalize on the outstanding success of Tim Burton’s Batman in the summer of 1989, The Flash came to the small screen in 1990 with a big budget. Its then-top notch speed effects and borrowed Art Deco aesthetics weren’t cheap. At the time, there was not much of a home video market for TV shows, so in a clever move to milk some more profit from the series, DC and CBS decided to repackage some of the episodes as straight-to-video movies.

The show’s two-part pilot was already feature-length, so it was released on VHS in 1990 as The Flash. The next year, as the series was winding down and they realized it would not be renewed, they packaged two episodes as The Flash II: Revenge of the Trickster. A final installment, The Flash III: Deadly Nightshade came out later that year.

PrankThe Flash II opens with the introduction of the Trickster. James Jesse, as portrayed by Mark Hamill, is a whimsical serial killer with multiple personality disorder. After the Flash (John Wesley Shipp) defeats him to rescue his friend Megan Lockhart, the villain becomes obsessed with both of them. Declaring his love for Lockhart, he fashions a costumed identity of his own to defeat his “rival” and make her his sidekick, Prank. The Flash thwarts the Trickster at a costume ball, and she punches his lights out.

The story then jumps to the next episode, “The Trial of the Trickster”. Time has passed, and Megan Lockhart returns to Central City to testify against James Jesse, who seems more deranged than ever. His obsessed fan, Zoey Clark, takes up the mantle of Prank to free him and enable his new crusade against the Flash. They capture the hero and brainwash him to join Jesse in terrorizing the city. The Flash breaks free of the conditioning to defeat the Trickster once more, and the villain is locked in an asylum.

Unlike the show’s pilot, these two episodes don’t fit together cleanly as a film. There’s a very noticeable gap between episodes with events occurring that the characters reference. Still, a nice arc is formed by Barry Allen’s relationship with Lockhart.

That character, as played by Joyce Hyser (star of 1985’s Just One of the Guys), is a standout. She’s a tough, wholly capable character whose experience as a private eye puts her a step ahead of Allen and the show’s resident scientist, Tina McGee. It’s a shame we never saw more of her.

Shipp plays Barry Allen as a kindhearted midwestern everyman, someone very human despite all the superhuman stuff in his life. It’s a grounded performance and rather enjoyable. In a way, Shipp plays the quintessential superhero with a secret identity. He finds balance in his dual life as fastest man alive and normal criminologist in a way that provides nuance and clarity for both halves. It’s not an easy task, especially in a show that tended to go broad with humor and characterization.

Of course, Mark Hamill chews the scenery all around him. The role of the Trickster gives him so much to work with, from the various personas and sporadic mood swings, to a few “undercover” scenes of Jesse utilizing facial prosthetics, makeup and accents. Keen-eared fans will recognize these episodes as the origin of the distinctive Joker laugh that he would later use on Batman: The Animated Series. Hamill clearly had fun with the character, and he carried these episodes by effortlessly elevating a character that’s always been generic at best.

trick2Given how short-lived The Flash TV series was, it’s had quite a lasting impact. Much of the current CW show has been modeled after it, going as far as bringing back Shipp and reintroducing the character of Tina McGee [as well as many minor characters! -ed]. Hamill has even returned to reprise the role of the Trickster in three separate appearances, two of which were treated as direct sequels to “The Trial of the Trickster”.

The Flash II: Revenge of the Trickster makes for a fun pop culture footnote. Though it was never released on DVD or blu-ray as a film, these episodes are mandatory viewing for fans of Mark Hamill or the current Flash series on The CW, and make an excellent primer for the series as a whole.

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