In the previous posting, I discussed the background of the proposal I wrote for Flash rogue, The Trickster (with the talented Stephen DeStefano to be supplying the art). Here’s the first part of said proposal, accompanied by some of Stephen’s character sketches.
The Trickster, Gunner and Sarge, Pooch, and whatever characters and elements are appropriate are (c) DC Entertainment. The rest of it (c) Paul Kupperberg.
Proposal for an Ongoing Series
by Paul Kupperberg & Stephen DeStefano
James Jesse has just finished a stay as a guest of the State of California, its way of repaying him for his activities as the super-villain, The Trickster.
James tried to be good, but the cards were stacked against him. After getting fired as a Hollywood special effects man, he found himself having to turn back to crime…
… Which led to the return to prison. This time, when he got out, he had finally, absolutely, positively, this time for real, he’s not kidding around, you can bet the house on it, given up on crime. This time, The Trickster had retired for good.
1. The Life and Times of James Jesse
James Jesse was born Giovanni Giuseppe, the youngest member of the Flying Jesses, a family of third-rate circus aerialists and high-wire walkers. James may have been raised under the Big Top, but his heart and imagination were firmly rooted in the daring days of yesteryear in the time of the Old West, particularly where it concerned Jesse James. The young aerialist regarded the famous outlaw as his namesake and studied him with religious fervor, almost to the exclusion of show biz.
And that was just fine with James, because if the truth be known — and the youngster did everything in his power to see that it never was — he was scared of the high wire. Really afraid… of his father, a grade-A klutz. Papa Giuseppe couldn’t catch a cold, much less his somersaulting boy in mid-air.
But James was a bright kid, something of a tinkerer, and that’s where he found the way out of sudden, jarring drops and abrupt stops. It was jet-shoes, shoes that fired jets of compressed air powerful enough to support his weight, giving the illusion of flight. Or, more importantly, of his effortlessly working the high wire.
James’s contribution to the act brought the Flying Jesses their first success in four generations. His stunts were the lynchpin of the act, but after a few years on the wire, James got bored and went looking for something a bit more challenging to hold his interest.
He turned to his “namesake,” Jesse James for inspiration. He turned his jet-shoes, and himself, to crime. He devised the harlequin-like alter ego of The Trickster, added a bag of tricks to assist in his criminal career, and headed off to emulate Jesse James… with a modern twist. The outlaw would hold up stagecoaches and railroads. The Trickster preyed on airplanes… in mid-flight.
The Trickster did all right for himself until he ran afoul of the Flash, who not only uncovered his true identity, but put him (repeatedly) in prison, giving the criminal clown the dubious distinction of membership in the Scarlet Speedster’s infamous Rogues Gallery.
After a long and frustrating career, James gave up his criminal activities and turned his talent for tinkering into a job as a special effects designer for films at Verner Brothers Studio. He also obtained work as a “technical advisor” to the Institute for Hyper-Normal Conflict Studies. But both these gigs eventually went the way of all things and, in desperation, he returned to crime, intending to steal only enough to get by until he found honest work… but you know what they say about the best laid plans.
James was captured and imprisoned, and when he was released this time, he swore that no matter what happened to him, he was never going back behind bars.
Even if it meant going straight for real.
But to do that, he decided he was going to have to give himself as big an edge as possible. He’d avoid the big cities and all their illicit, settling instead in some small, peaceful little town.
Like, say, somewhere on the New Jersey shore, in Crumbly (population 25,357), on the coast of the state. James’s Aunt Gussie Carbonetti (on his mother’s side) had left him some property there several years back. Over the years he’d been paying the property taxes on the house, figuring that some day he might want a place to retire (or hide-out). That day had finally come.
But Crumbly’s in trouble. The population’s been dwindling and the town losing momentum since the closing of the fish cannery that was once its major source of employment. The Ferdy Fish Packing Company, owners of the cannery, refuse to reactivate the plant, preferring to keep it as a corporate tax write-off.
There’s also the looming threat of a shopping mall to be built outside of town, on the Interstate that bypasses Crumbly, removing shopping as one of the few incentives outsiders had for coming to town. There’s a City Council dogfight going on to get Crumbly to build its own mall first, while the Bunding Corporation (developers of the outside mall) is still buying up the land on which to build theirs.
But it’s a small, quiet, friendly community. James makes no secret of his being an ex-con, but he’s a quiet, respectful, helpful presence and the people of Crumbly gradually come to accept him.
When finding a job in the depressed local market proves tough, James starts a messenger service, delivering goods in town and to surrounding communities. His air-jet boots come in handy here, getting him between places fast when it absolutely, positively has to be there on time. He proves fast and reliable and gets enough work to get by, but the future doesn’t look rosy. Folks are leaving town in droves and businesses are closing up left and right. James would leave himself except he’s flat broke and, due to the shakey economic situation in Crumbly, his house and property are virtually worthless on the marketplace.
2. JAMES JESSE, The Man
As a kid, James was something of a nerd-genius, not to mention somewhat of a coward, both factors in the creation of his jet-shoes. When it comes to direct physical conflict, James prefers to leave the fisticuffs to others. But, like a lot of people who are physically afraid, he’s very cunning. Because he’s been whupped so often, people tend to underestimate him, but this is the man who created all the amazing gimmicks he uses. He’s no dummy.
James tries to never to be directly in the middle of anything, preferring instead to work behind the scenes, setting events in motion and letting everybody else trip over themselves while things happen. He doesn’t see himself as one of those macho guys who dukes it out with every Tom, Dick, and Dirty Harry who comes along.
He turned to crime because he felt it was the easiest way to make a buck without having to work too hard and he was confident and cocky enough to believe his smarts would keep him from getting caught. Besides, he was ready to do anything to get out of the transient, smelly, backbreaking life of the circus.
In civilian life, James favors Western garb and country music, influenced by his Jesse James obsession. His hobbies include practicing with antique six-shooters, collecting Western memorabilia, old Penny Dreadfuls and Dime Novels about Jesse James and other Western outlaws.
Even during his criminal days, James was never a cruel man; he just wanted to steal from people without hurting them. Now he’s trying to be a good guy, lead a straight life, and be a productive member of the community.
3. THE TRICKSTER’S Pals ‘n’ Gals
A member of the Crumbly Town Council, President of the town’s Merchants Association, and owner of Farley & Sons Funeral Home, Clyde is very much the power behind the town. He sees himself as a smart, shrewd businessman who’s held back by the limited potential of a place like Crumbly. He’s always got an eye out for the quick, easy buck and, by the time our story begins, he’s reached a point in his life where he’s not terribly particular about the legality of those bucks. And that makes Clyde a prime target for the approaches of outside interests involved in the development of the shopping mall just outside of town.
Huey is the four-term mayor of Crumbly and owner of the town’s hardware store. He’s a bit pompous and loudmouthed, not exactly a rocket scientist, something of a loud dresser with his plaid suits and bad toupee. In spite of these few personality quirks, Huey’s basically a nice guy who means well and wants good things for Crumbly. He works hard for the town and to do the right thing, which accounts for his continued re-election. Up until now, he’s been able to handle the job, but when he starts to see that what’s going on in town is beyond his abilities to handle, he is willing to relinquish his spot on the ticket and let some new, more capable blood take over.
The object of James’ affections, the rather affected survivor of a once wealthy local family which fell on hard times when her father invested the entire Witherspoon fortune in a phony Oklahoma oil drilling scheme. Wendy owns and operates the Crumbly Boutique, a trendy clothing and doo-dad shop in a town about 25 years behind the times. She’s something of a clotheshorse, changing her attire practically every hour. James pursues her relentlessly and without shame, but she’s not interested… at least she won’t let herself be interested. Wendy’s convinced herself that what she wants in a man is what her father used to have — wealth and power. She was born with a silver spoon in her mouth, lost it, and wants it back. To get it, she needs someone with the lifestyle to which she expects to become re-accustomed. James is a nice guy, but he’s not socially acceptable.
Emma is the flipside to Wendy, the mousey librarian-type who owns the antique shop next to James’ place of business. She’s desperately in love with James, would do anything for him, but he’s only got eyes for Wendy and hardly even notices Emma’s devotion. As far as he’s concerned, she’s just a nice lady and a friend.
James’ housekeeper/cooker, a former prison matron, a woman with a bad attitude and a profound dislike for having to move from in front of the TV soap operas. James usually winds up doing the work himself because he’s too intimidated to fire her.
Gompers is a town native who’s been sheriff of Crumbly for 23 years. He’s a man who likes things peaceful and quiet in his town. Most of what he has to deal with are hotrodding or rowdy teen-agers, the occasional boisterous drunk, and other relatively harmless breaches of the peace. That’s just fine with Gompers, but if and when things do get serious, he’s there, ready and able to deal with the situation by whatever means necessary. All he cares about is peace and quiet.
GUNNER and SARGE
After serving together during the Second World War, Gunner and Sarge remained good buddies, sticking together through thick and thin, even after leaving the Marines, taking with them their K-9 Corps partner, Pooch. As official Combat Happy Joes, these guys missed the action and excitement (and Gunner always really liked the boom of the bazooka), so they spent the next three decades hiring themselves out as mercenaries all over the world. Eventually they got too old for the work, so they settled in Sarge’s old hometown, Crumbly, New Jersey, opening the Shoot ‘N’ Stuff Shop (“One Stop Shopping for all Your Firearm and Taxidermy Needs!”). Pooch is still with them… well, Pooch IX, at any rate, although a lot of interbreeding has produced something a lot closer to a dust bunny than a German Shepherd. The first eight Pooches have been preserved for all time in their taxidermy shop. The two old vets sometimes forget that the war’s over and are always ready to pick up the old bazooka and M-1 and go for a little skirmish with the Nazis.
Buck is the owner of the Crumbly-By-The-Sea Motor Lodge, a crumbling motel that’s seen better days when Crumbly was a seaside resort town. Buck is continually trying to push promotional schemes to return the tourist trade to the town but nothing ever seems to work. There’s no money to make the plans work. When Huey announces his intention not to run for a fifth term as mayor, Buck throws his hat into the ring, running on a platform based on promoting Crumbly as the new in-spot of the Jersey shore.
“MA” and “PA” O’CASEY
The O’Caseys run the Crumbly General Store. Pa is the proverbial soft touch, ready to extend a hand-out or unlimited credit at the drop of a hard luck story. Ma, though as kind and good hearted as her husband, is the more hardheaded and practical of the couple. Ma has also been a member of the Town Council for almost 20 years, where she sits quietly with her knitting, listening to all sides of the argument before coming to her well-considered and rock solid conclusions. The O’Casey’s have become sort of surrogate parents to James, “adopting” him as the new kid in town.
ALFRED “SCOOP” TAYLOR
The 67 year old editor and publisher of the Crumbly Weekly Courier, a crusty, feisty journalist in the old Hecht/MacArthur mold. An old time reporter from the Baltimore Sun, Taylor retired over a decade ago and, with his life savings, bought the Crumbly weekly, a two man operation (along with reporter/photographer/typesetter/circulation manager Kyle McDemmett). Taylor is tough and incorruptible, willing to lose advertisers before his integrity.
THE CRUMBLY TOWN COUNCIL
Includes, in addition to James, Clyde Farley, Wendy Witherspoon, Buck Daly, and Ma O’Casey, Mrs. Henrietta Pinchot (wealthy widow), Wilson Henderson (drugstore owner), Max Durham (town barber), and his wife Cybil (hair dresser), with whom Max is always squabbling. Mayor Oglethorpe has the deciding vote in case of a tie. The Council is pretty much split down the middle on what to do for Crumbly, although on the important issue of building the Mall in town, they’re split five who don’t believe it’s economically feasible for the financially troubled community against four who think Crumbly’s only chance of survival rests with the mall and that it’s worth any price or transitory hardship in the form of taxes and bond issues to get it built while the Bunding Group is still working on acquiring the land for their development.
THE BUNDING GROUP
Founded and presided over by self-made millionaire Walter Bunding, the Bunding Group is a multi-national mega-corporation with holdings in department stores, fast food franchises, entertainment and amusement… and shopping malls. Lots of shopping malls in the American West and Southwest and Canada, among which they soon hope to number the mall outside of Crumbly. This Jersey location will be Bunding’s first in the East, opening a whole new lucrative territory for them. Walter Bunding wants this mall and the Eastern territory, needing a strong string of corporate successes to help bolster Bunding stock for a planned hostile takeover of a communications company that owns a small network of television stations across the country. He’s not about to let a bunch of small town rubes outwit him, not with all that’s at stake, and the mall fight becomes personal. And Walter Bunding didn’t reach the top by being a nice guy.
4. THE TRICKSTER: Year One
But first, a few words about the feel and tone of THE TRICKSTER:
It will be fast paced, with lots of snappy patter, a là films like “The Front Page,” and with a decidedly satiric edge. The satire, however, will be on a “realistic” level, always maintaining THE TRICKSTER’S internal logic.
THE TRICKSTER will be commenting, in context, on the absurdities of the whole super-hero genre, such as the inherent silliness of costumed villains. Crooks should want to be quiet and unobtrusive so they can go in, do their jobs, and get out without attracting attention. How bright can they be to start with if these guys go around in gaudy costumes, making a lot of noise? Or the grim, psychotic behavior of your average super-hero. Why the heck do these guys take themselves so seriously? Of course, whenever he tries to get a hero to lighten up, The Trickster inevitably winds up getting his head handed to him.
There’s a hierarchy in the world of super-powered bad guys, ranging from guys like The Joker and Darkseid at the top of the scale, down to the “wimps” like Dr. Light, The Prankster, Tweedledee & Tweedledum, Captain Boomerang, Gorilla Grodd, and Terra-Man, villains who are either always getting their butts kicked in a big way or are just plain silly. The Trickster falls into the latter category, but unlike the others who keep on going despite that fact, he’s always been embarrassed by his reputation. Even Darkseid isn’t such hot stuff to The Trickster’s way of thinking; after all, if he’s so all fired tough, why’s he always getting his head handed to him by every super-hero he runs into?
Life’s not easy even during the best of times, but James Jesse wouldn’t know the best of times if they bit him on the ankle.
Next time: The rest of the story!