Many folks aren’t aware that the CW’s “The Flash” isn’t the first time the scarlet speedster has graced prime time television. There was also a 1990-91 TV series on CBS that lasted barely a season and starred John Wesley Shipp in the title role, now cast as Barry Allen wrongfully jailed father in the current series. In that series, the Flash’s most challenging foe was the Trickster, played by the manic Mark Hamill. Now Hamill returns, in the role that eventually won him fame as the Joker, in the newest episode of this series. Meet me after the super speed jump for my thoughts on “Tricksters!”
In the comics, James Jesse (an inspirational stage name, his real one being Giovanni Giuseppe) first appears in 1960’s Flash #113. The outlandishly costumed circus acrobat developed shoes that allowed him to actually run on air. That, combined with his penchant for gadgetry and practical jokes, led to his nom de guerre, the Trickster. He immediately moved to combat with the Flash. As with many other villains of Central City, the Trickster soon became a card-carrying member of the Flash’s Rogues Gallery.
The Trickster has often worked both sides of the law, becoming a law-abiding ally of the Blue Devil (who we know is also in continuity because of Easter eggs over in “Arrow“) after the death of the Barry Allen Flash in the Crisis. He eventually retired from crime permanently, working with the FBI later on. This retirement inspired young Axel Walker to not only take on the villain’s name, but his methods and weapons as well. Jesse was not pleased with this young punk anarchist becoming his legacy without his permission, and much hostility exists between the two.
The TV Trickster
In the aforementioned CBS TV series “The Flash,” the most popular episodes, two that were eventually edited into one movie and released theatrically in Europe to help bankroll what was at the time one of the most expensive shows even done, featured Mark Hamill as the Trickster. The original series was inspired and designed to ape the then-mega-popular Tim Burton Batman. The look of the show, the sound (with music by Danny Elfman), even the Gothic cityscapes, and period atmosphere – all were tying into that Batmania cash cow. All they needed was a Jack Nicholson-like Joker.
The showrunners looked to Mark Hamill to fill that role as the crazed Trickster. More flamboyant and completely mad like the Joker, Hamill played the villain totally over the top, and it was his portrayal that cemented the actor’s part as the Joker in the DC Comics Animated Universe for over two decades. From there, he became one of the most wanted voiceover artists in the field. Whatever the reasons or the outcome, the Mark Hamill Trickster is one of the most memorable parts of the original “Flash” series, and now, he’s baaack.
The Return of the Trickster
Much like John Wesley Shipp as Dr. Henry Allen, and Amanda Pays reprising her role as Tina McGee in “The Man in the Yellow Suit,” Mark Hamill returns as the Trickster, but with some of his television past altered. Decades ago there was a Trickster, just no Flash, and now he’s in Iron Heights. With nice use of pics from the original show are here, and even better remarks from Cisco, we learn this new history in quick order.
The reason? There’s a new Trickster in town, using the deadly gimmicks of the original. So Joe and Barry must confront the original Trickster with much homage to Silence of the Lambs, in hopes of finding the new Trickster. Hamill is manic as ever, making the new Trickster even less of a threat than he would be otherwise. Mark Hamill is the very definition of sinister. I really have to applaud the actor for slipping back into character so smoothly after all these years.
We open on a new reenactment of the murder of Barry’s mother, this time complete with the Flash and the Reverse-Flash trading blows at super speed around the normal folks. It’s just a set up for Joe and Barry discussing Harrison Wells in the present day. They no longer trust him and trying to get their heads around the idea he might be the Reverse-Flash. Some things click others do not.
When the new Trickster attacks and Team Flash goes into action, it causes Wells to have a flashback of his own. That night that the Reverse-Flash broke through time, pursued by the Flash, something happened. While Barry saves his younger self, his enemy consults a portable version of Gideon, who tells him he’s lost his speed and his ability to time travel. After an anguished scream, the Reverse-Flash pulls off his mask to reveal… someone else? Not Harrison Wells, but Matt Letscher, late of “Scandal” and “Eli Stone.” What does this mean?
I have mentioned on many occasions before that Barry Allen has not been the only hero to call himself the Flash. There’s also been Wally West, Jay Garrick, Jesse Chambers, Walter West, and a lineage that reaches into the far future. The fact is, in the comics, the Flash is the first superhero to die and pass on his mantle to his sidekick – in the wake of the Crisis, Wally West, formerly Kid Flash, became the Flash. Similarly, the Trickster was the first of Flash’s foes to do the same. Here, the showrunners make it more personal, as Axel Walker is revealed to be the son of James Jesse.
As an added coincidence, and a chance for the actors to work side by side again, the Tricksters take a prisoner from Iron heights when Walker breaks Jesse out – Barry’s dad. This is a nice touch, and it does make sense, the father of a cop is the perfect hostage. In the end it also gives Barry a chance to properly reveal his identity to his dad, and introduce him to the rest of Team Flash. There’s no doubt that the meeting between Harrison Wells and Henry Allen was awkward for everyone but the two of them.
The Secret Origin of Harrison Wells
Much like the Flashback Island sequences on “Arrow,” we get the same treatment with Harrison Wells in this episode, discovering his past, his pre-Reverse-Flash past, it would seem. As we have heard mentioned before, he was involved with Tess Morgan, a name that might sound familiar to comics and television fans alike. It has been theorized that Tess Morgan is an amalgam of characters who have appeared in the Superman mythos, Tess Mercer from “Smallville” and Mercy Graves from “Superman The Animated Series.” As noted before, she died in a car accident before Wells moved to Central City.
As we learn in flashback, Wells and Morgan create S.T.A.R. Labs, and design the particle accelerator, but not until 2020. Eobard Thawne, as played by Matt Letscher, finds them and causes the car accident, then through future technology steals Wells’ identity. He then moves forward much sooner on the construction of the particle accelerator, through which the Flash will be born. Now isn’t this altering time as Wells has always warned against? There are some things that don’t quite click here.
Things are quickly headed toward a finish here with continued suspicion of Wells. Was there anyone not freaked out by Wells guiding the Flash through using his vibrational phasing power with his own obvious experience? If Barry didn’t know before, he knows now that Harrison Wells is the Reverse-Flash.
The Flash returns in two weeks, and the next episode just can’t get here quickly enough as this sizzle reel shows quite well…