As threatened, the rest of 1989 proposal I wrote for Flash rogue, The Trickster, with art by the talented Stephen DeStefano. Once again, The Trickster, Gunner and Sarge, Pooch, and whatever characters and elements are appropriate are (c) DC Entertainment. The rest of it (c) Paul Kupperberg. Art (c) by Stephen DeStefano.
“State of the Union”
(The events in THE TRICKSTER #1 – 6, which will include his retelling of his origin, are being told as “written by” James Jesse in his autobiography, The Trickster of the Trade.)
The Trickster is back on the prowl.
He knows he ought to have learned his lesson by now, but here he is anyway, his target an accounting house for the biggest numbers racket in Jersey City, a heavily fortified warehouse. Except when The Trickster starts way in, he finds about three times the manpower he expected. Not for the first time he wonders why he ever got talked into this insanity.
Well, it goes something like this…
James Jesse had been in Crumbly, New Jersey for just over a year and had managed to carve out a nice little niche for himself there; a home, a little business, the respect of his neighbors, and a seat on the Town Council left empty by the death of its occupant.
As a member of the Town Council, he knew that Crumbly was in bad shape, although he hadn’t realized just how bad things were until he was tapped by a faction of the Council to run for mayor. Not win. Just run.
The real contest, it’s believed, is between resort owner Buck Daly and funeral director Clyde Farley. Clyde is deadset against putting up a shopping mall in town on the basis of economics. Buck is sort of for the mall, but his attitude is to take it slow and cautious. James, his political backers feel, is popular enough to draw votes away from Clyde and act as a spoiler in Buck’s favor, who can be convinced to support the mall. James will be a “spoiler” candidate, drawing votes away from Clyde, giving Buck the edge he needs.
But that was nothing in the hassle and intrusion department as his current situation, playing hide-and-seek as The Trickster with the small army of thugs in Jersey City. He’s taking them as best he can, but he’s not happy with the situation. This confrontational stuff’s not for him. He needs some help, so he grabs a moment to make a quick phone call.
Ma O’Casey, knowing James’s feelings for Wendy Witherspoon, hints that his political heroics might go a long way in getting her attention. Since everything else has failed, James figures it’s worth a shot. Besides, he’s not supposed to win the election, just divert votes away from Clyde. This could be fun. Even though that annoying Emma Washburn was the first campaign volunteer.
Clyde isn’t pleased by James’s candidacy. The Bunding group isn’t any happier. They’ve bought Clyde, lock, stock, and barrel, secretly backing his campaign in order to insure that the Crumbly mall doesn’t get built, in favor of their own endeavor just outside of town.
In the present, The Trickster finds himself in dire straits, back to the wall against overwhelming odds… when the cavalry arrives. The police, to whom he had made his call. They sweep into the place, buying Trickster time to send the drug money aloft on balloons for later retrieval… before the cops greet him like a fellow crime-buster. The Trickster… super-hero?
But it gets weirder still when he returns home, later that night after retrieving the airborne loot. Because that’s when we find out that James is not only a budding super-hero but also mayor of Crumbly. And the lap he’s dropping the stolen loot into belongs to none other than his one-time political rival, Clyde Farley.
The following day, James is back in Crumbly, a hero to the townspeople (giving us the opportunity to meet some of the others in town, including Gunner & Sarge and Sheriff Gompers) for his efforts in shutting down the Jersey City numbers racket. Everybody’s so proud of their mayor and local hero. But the more kudos he receives, the less heroic he feels.
Someone else isn’t all that thrilled by his actions either; the head of the Jersey City rackets The Trickster busted up. And, since The Trickster has made such a splash in the press of late and everybody knows who he is and where to find him, he’s making arrangements to get just that.
James wasn’t acting out of the sappy altruism of real heroes — not that he ever would, mind you! — but he’s skating on thin ice here, feeling that he’s deceiving these people who have been so kind and accepting of him. Could he be developing a conscience?… naaaw! At least that’s the opinion of Clyde Farley, who James had delivered the money to: after all, James is doing this for the good of Crumbly, to help get the Mall built. Yeah, well, that’s the only reason James would even consider throwing in with Clyde.
He liked it better when he and Clyde were adversaries during the campaign. Even though it was hard work, especially having to deal with Clyde Farley’s nasty campaigning, the dredging up of James’s criminal past and the questioning of his trustworthiness. Clyde brings in witnesses to “prove” his theories, Baily and Barney Billings, James’s former cellmates. They back up Clyde’s contention that should James win, he plans to sack Crumbly’s treasury.
The Billings are telling Clyde what he wants to hear in exchange for a hefty “consulting fee.” Except for his closest friends and advisors (and ever faithful Emma), the town folk don’t entirely disbelieve the stories; who can blame them, considering his past. While he’s trying to figure out what to do, the Billings brothers get some ideas of their own. What they see is a small town with a rube police force… and a bank that looks easier to open than a cracker box.
The Billings hit the First Crumbly Bank, hiding the bulk of the loot in the old abandoned fish cannery, with a few dollars saved for James’s basement. When the theft is discovered the next morning, Clyde is the first to point a finger at James. As a show of good faith, James gives Sheriff Gompers permission to search his house… and the Sheriff promptly finds the planted loot.
While James takes the heat for the robbery, the Billings take their leave of Crumbly But The Trickster is waiting for them at the cannery, since it doesn’t require an Einstein to see who was behind the robbery.
The two crooks run for it, their flight taking them back into town with Trickster in hot pursuit. Trickster eventually takes them out in full view of the entire town, making him an instant hero. Clyde is made to look like a real bozo in the eyes of the town…
… And Walter Bunding isn’t happy. Clyde’s a clod, but he’s important to the Bunding Group’s future plans. He’s going to have to take a hand in this himself. Rather than try and fight The Trickster in the political arena, he arranges to get rid of James should he start proving a major bother.
In the present, James is home, getting ready to embark on another late night foray as The Trickster, hating the stupid costume and what he’s got to do because of it. But he won’t have to do this much longer… then he can get back to the quiet life, one that doesn’t include people shooting at him.
That’s when someone starts shooting at him.
James is under attack and he’s got no idea who or why. Not that it matters, what with the bullets flying his way.
When he confronts the attacker, we see it’s Crosshair, a costumed sharpshooting gun-for-hire sent by the Jersey City mobster to make the payback for Trickster’s busting up his operation. Crosshair’s a slippery customer and a crack shot, blowing Trickster’s gimmicks out of the air. Gunner and Sarge, hearing the shooting, have a War World II flashback and, thinking it’s a Japanese sneak attack, whip the old bazooka and M-1 out of mothballs to protect Crumbly from the enemy. All of which results in a raucous, disturbing poor Sheriff Gompers’s peace.
This isn’t the first time James’s presence in town has caused trouble for the beleagured Sheriff either. There were those annoying Billings Brothers, of course, and back during the mayoral campaign… he remembers that things were going great guns for James. The Billings incident had made Clyde look like a major fool and James a hero. Buck Daley was just kind of getting lost in the shuffle, according to Scoop Taylor’s polls in the Weekly Courier. All this makes James real nervous.
But despite lagging behind in the polls, Buck isn’t unhappy, as the story of a reformed super-villain running for mayor has attracted the interest of the outside press and brought hordes of reporters to town. Every one of them staying at his hotel. And there’s plenty of economic spillover to the rest of the town as well. Crumbly hasn’t had it this good in years.
Of course, this boon to Crumbly is a hassle for Sheriff Gompers, disturbing his quiet life. It’s also an annoyance to the folks at the Bunding Group since it’s the type of situation that could bolster the community and lead to the creation of the Crumbly Mall. Walter Bunding takes action.
Everybody wants a piece of James, from the politicians to the media… and let’s not forget Emma, who’s on him like fleas on a dog. The only plus in all this is Wendy Witherspoon, who’s finally started to look his way with something approaching interest, especially after his spot on Entertainment Tonight… she’s even agreed to have dinner with him.
And it’s during that dream dinner that Walter Bunding’s “action” rolls into town: Sledgehammer Sue. The former Roller Derby Queen and construction worker turned freelance underworld enforcer comes in with 40-pound sledge swinging, raising holy heck until she finds James. He does what any guy would do in that situation — he grabs his date and hauls cargo.
James makes it home for his Trickster equipment, just barely, with Wendy caught in the middle of this madness. Emma’s jealous that she’s not the damsel in distress. The Trickster and Sue go at it, tearing up more of Crumbly in the process.
Trickster finally overcomes Sue and she’s forced to split… not that that exactly breaks her heart. She thought James was kind of cute, but, hey, a contract’s a contract, right? At least until she thinks she’s going to be beat. And it’s not like she’s got any particular allegiance to the Bunding Group.
Bunding? James starts to put two and two together…!
Meanwhile, in the present: The Trickster is dealing with Crosshair. Crosshair does his work from a distance and is tough as the dickens to get a bead on. So even Trickster isn’t surprised when he turns around to find Crosshair with all guns aimed dead-on at him, ready to blow his brains out.
“Balance of Power”
The Trickster’s about three seconds away from meeting his maker at Crosshair’s hands. It’s turning out to be one of those days…!
But at least he finds out that it’s true what they say about your life flashing before your eyes before you die. He remembers back to when he was having some luck. This was right after he’d defeated Sledgehammer Sue.
The aftermath saw James more popular than ever (except to Wendy, who wants nothing more to do with him). The incident brought even more tourists to town, prompting the Council to erect a sign at the town limits proclaiming Crumbly home to America’s newest super-hero. James’s “machine” is excited by this turn of events, forgetting the original purpose of his campaign. But James hasn’t forgotten and he still doesn’t want the job. But how to turn this thing around? What if he were no longer a hero…? That’s what Clyde and Walter Bunding are trying to arrange as well.
To that end, Bunding invites James in for a meeting at corporate headquarters. James takes the meeting, not knowing it’s a set-up where he’s being videotaped. Nothing of any substance is said at the meeting and James leaves, confused as to what that was all about.
Meanwhile, to accomplish his own fall, James invites someone to town to beat the tar out of him. He’s asked an old “friend” who’s still in the villain game, Weather Wizard, fellow member of the old Flash’s Rogue’s Gallery, to do the honors. He doesn’t know why Trickster would want to do this, but what the heck? A win against this celebrated new hero wouldn’t hurt his own somewhat flagging reputation.
So, as scheduled, Weather Wizard shows up during James’s beachfront campaign rally. He takes after James… and James runs. Not, as everyone assumes, to change into his Trickster garb. He just keeps running, much to the chagrin of the entire town, especially heartbroken Emma Washburn. Wizard declares victory…
… And then starts to take that victory seriously. Wizard figures that since James is trying desperately to look like a wimp, he’s not going to jeopardize what he’s done by returning and playing the hero. That gives Wizard the chance to sack the town before moving on. James, a one-time super-heavy himself, will certainly understand Wizard answering the knock of opportunity.
But all James was trying to do was to make himself look bad. Wizard’s rampage in Crumbly bothers him… but going back after him would undo all his efforts. What to do? And the fact that the whole situation bothers him so much bothers him even more. All he wanted was to preserve his nice, quiet life, but now his friends and neighbors are suffering.
It’s actually Emma Washburn who convinces James to do the honorable thing. Despite the fact that he’s done everything in his power to cool her advances, she knows what kind of man he is, and that kind’s not a coward. She also knows he’s not too hot on being mayor of Crumbly, so it’s not hard for her to put two and two together and figure out his game. She shames him into doing the honorable thing.
Wizard is riding roughshod over Crumbly, enjoying his first real success in a lot of years as a super-villain. The Crumbly cops are little threat to him and Flash’s nowhere to be seen, so he’s in no rush.
Until The Trickster pops up! Wizard’s messed up his plan, forced him to do the honorable thing… and he’s going to pay him back in spades. The Trickster lets loose all the stops and trashes Wizard, once again in full view of the cheering townspeople. In the aftermath, everyone believes that The Trickster’s turning tail and running from Wizard was a deliberate ploy to catch the villain by surprise. James just can’t seem to win…!
Especially in the here and now, with Crosshair’s finger tightening on the trigger… The Trickster closes his eyes, unable to watch… and then there’s the shot. And The Trickster opens his eyes, very surprised to be alive. And to see Gunner and Sarge, in full combat gear, coming out of the bushes after having shot Crosshair in the foot. Yessir, that’ll teach them Japs to invade New Jersey! James isn’t proud– he doesn’t object to being saved by a pair of crazed septuagenarians.
“Vote Early, Vote Often”
After the episode with Crosshair, it’s back to business as usual for James in Crumbly. And there’s lots to be done. Since his election, James and the Council have been working on bringing Crumbly back from the dead. The whole wild, wacky circus atmosphere created by his campaign and battles with super-villains brought some temporary publicity and income into town, but now that the election’s over and things have returned to normal, all that’s slacked off.
The Council has been lobbying the State for improvements on the roads into Crumbly, a necessary civic improvement if the town ever hopes to go ahead with the planned shopping mall. One of the results of James’s election was Bunding Corporation canceling the plans for their mall, leaving Crumbly a clear field for its own… provided a myriad of obstacles can be overcome. Foremost among those obstacles is money.
And money is where James’s secret alliance with Clyde Farley comes in. After the animosity of the campaign, Clyde came to James with hat in hand, seeking to heal the rift between them. He works a whole song and dance on James, saying that he’s willing to work with James for the good of the town, blah blah blah. James doesn’t believe a word of it and, while he can’t prove it, knows that Clyde was playing footsie with Bunding during the campaign. He figured Clyde for someone from whom he should keep a safe distance.
Clyde figured James would figure things that way, so not only did he come equipped with a plan, he was also armed with a bagful of “persuasion,” including sicking the FAA on him for use of his airshoes in residential areas, sending the building inspectors after him for his something less than structurally sound old house, insisting that the local zoning board do something about his running a business out of his home, and generally making his life miserable in a never ending tangle of red tape. And, to add icing to the cake, Clyde will use all his influence to oppose James on the Town Council.
Clyde intends to use that money, after it’s properly laundered through dummy corporations, to buy the Ferdy Fish Packing factory, reactivate it, and use that to build a tax base for Crumbly. James has fallen far behind the schedule Clyde has set and he’s urging James to get cracking. In fact, Clyde suggests that a perfect opportunity to catch up would be when James is in Trenton, the State capitol, with the rest of the Crumbly contingent on town business with the State legislature.
Who’d ever thought, back when he was a mere candidate that he’d be in this position? He remembers when election day was drawing near and the campaign had gone into overdrive. The Weekly Courier’s last poll has him neck and neck with Clyde, with Buck Daly a distant and disappointing third. James still doesn’t want the job, but he doesn’t know what to do to insure not winning without screwing up everything. He likes this place, the last thing he wants is to lose it.
Walter Bunding thinks he’s got a solution to his problem. When he invited James in for a talk (in TRICKSTER #4), Bunding had secretly videotaped their meeting. While nothing of any real substance was said, it was a simple matter to edit the tape to make it appear as though James had gone to Bunding with an offer to get the Crumbly Mall plan squashed, thereby clearing the way for Bunding’s effort in exchange for big wads of cash. By releasing the tape on the eve of the election, there won’t be time enough for James to counter the charges. By the time James can prove anything, it’ll be too late.
Meanwhile, a previous Bunding plan is about to return: Sledgehammer Sue. After her disappointing premier outing as an enforcer-for-hire, Sue found work hard to come by. Nobody was looking to hire someone who left a job undone, so she’s returned to finish up. And she’s chosen Election Eve to make her move, since that’ll get her handiwork the maximum media exposure.
Meanwhile, back in the present, James and Council members Buck Daly, Ma O’Casey, Wendy Witherspoon, and Clyde Farley have arrived in Trenton, scheduled to appear before the State Legislature the following morning. Clyde suggests that James make his move as The Trickster tonight, before the meeting. James agrees and, after dark, sets off to find his night’s prey. Of course, he’d done some advanced planning, tagging a major “suspected” drug dealer in Trenton’s inner city.
But Trickster’s not the only costumed guy on the prowl for dope dealers tonight in Trenton. Dilton Samuals is new to the game, since his super-powers have only recently manifested themselves, a result of the gene-bomb from the INVASION! Our new hero calls himself Origami, after the Japanese art of paper folding. His newfound powers enable him to shift people and objects into the 2nd Dimension, leaving them without any depth and mass, like a sheet of paper. Dilton was born and raised in Trenton and has watched the inner city deteriorate under the influence of gangs and drug dealers, seen his friends ruin their lives or die from drugs. He’s fought these influences as a social worker, but as a meta-human, he’s in a position to strike directly at them.
The Trickster is on the streets, monitoring the street dealers, trying to locate the dealer’s cash house. Some discreet surveillance work does the trick and soon he’s making preparations to get to work. Origami is doing the same.
In the past, on the day before the election, when James opened his front door to find a horde of reporters laying in wait for him. He’s shown a copy of the “anonymously obtained” videotape of him and Walter Bunding. He also sees Bunding’s statement in reply, along with that of the local District Attorney, promising to investigate these charges. The news is already all over town by the time James hears it. Scoop Taylor’s been polling the town and has found that it’s not looking good for James.
But he doesn’t have to be a rocket scientist to figure out what’s going on: he’s been set-up. And Walter Bunding would seem the obvious creator of the frame. He’s the other person on the tape and James’s election would mess up the Bunding Group’s plans for their mall. Two plus two equals… a job for The Trickster!
That night, The Trickster heads for an informal little meeting with Mr. Bunding. He doesn’t know that Sledgehammer Sue is on his tail, but he finds out soon enough. In fact, everybody in the Bunding building finds out when she attacks James before he can get in to see Walter Bunding. The battle is on…
… Much like it is in the present, as The Trickster starts his assault on the drug ring’s cash house. The Trickster finds that there are no perimeter guards on the place, although they’d been there when he’d scouted the place. And just what are these weird, folded up man-sized cut-outs of the men who’d been there…? The answer to that comes to him when he catches up with Origami. The Trickster is appalled by Origami’s murderous methods and tries to get him to stop, but Origami isn’t going to stop before he’s even really started. If The Trickster wants him stopped, then he’s going to have to do it the hard way…!
“Vote Early, Vote Often”
The Trickster’s simple little job’s gotten real complicated thanks to Origami. All Trickster was looking to do was trash some crooks, steal their ill-gotten gains, and call a press conference to show off his accomplishments. Origami, on the other hand, is out for blood, using his two-dimensional powers to fold, spindle, and mutilate the bad guys to death. One touch from Origami will turn Trickster into a lifeless sheet of paper-like organic matter, but he’s got to try and stop him.
Much like when he went after Walter Bunding on election eve. He’d planned to go in, confront Bunding, and get out of there with minimal muss and fuss. But thanks to the returning Sledgehammer Sue, that idea went out the window. The Bunding Building was turned into a war zone, complete with Bunding’s security forces and the State Police.
In the present, The Trickster and Origami are still going at it in Trenton with Trickster wishing he was anyplace else but here. The cops have gotten in on the act, helping to evacuate the area, since Origami is endangering the populace. At least James is getting the desired publicity, since the media’s shown up to cover the battle. A fat lot of good it’s going to do him if Origami trashes him.
But that’s the weird thing– Origami appears to be going out of his way to avoid turning his powers on the cops or The Trickster. Pretty strange behavior for a crazed killer, ain’t it?
Things were pretty strange on election eve as well, although that worked out a lot better than it seem to be going in Trenton: The Trickster and Sue are making a mess of the Bunding Building, in the course of which they crash their way through the security room, where all the building’s security cameras are monitored, including the ones in Walter Bunding’s office. The Trickster doesn’t remember seeing any cameras in there when he met with Bunding, but the whole thing makes sense to him now… and it even gives him a plan of action. He starts to direct the direction of the battle to take him and Sue to Walter Bunding’s office.
When they do reach The Trickster’s destination, Walter Bunding is there, using the safety of his office to direct his people in fighting off the invaders. Sue is there to “complete” her contract with Bunding… a can of beans she spills in Walter Bunding’s presence. A fact that’s recorded on the security video system. Bunding doesn’t think there’s any need for him to play it clever here, in the sanctity of his office, and he tells Sue to forget their contract. He’s got all he needs to ruin James without her help. Sue wants to know about the balance of their payment to her for the job. Bunding tells her to forget that, just seconds before the Security guys and the State Police come busting in. Bunding’s going to have them busted…
… But The Trickster tells the cops to hold on, that he can prove it’s Bunding who should be arrested! Everybody troops downstairs to the Security room and Trickster pops out the videotape, effectively hoisting Bunding on his own petard. He tells them it’s all part of his ongoing investigation into Walter’s illegal activities, even claiming that Sue was in on it to help gather the evidence to make it sound good. Sue is startled, but she plays along… and thinks that now that she’s no longer under contractual obligation to kill Trickster, maybe they can get together sometime…?
So that all worked out just swell… except when the story came out the following day, James won the election in a landslide. Like it or not, he was the mayor…
… Which is what brought him to Trenton and his fight with Origami. But remembering that incident makes Trickster realize that everything isn’t always what it appears on the surface. So far, Origami’s only directed his powers against the dope dealers, scrupulously avoiding harming Trickster and the cops. Trickster figures that this guy just might have good intentions… and to confirm this, Trickster asks the guy, leaving himself wide open to Origami’s killing touch. Origami can’t do it to Trickster and spills his guts.
For all his good intentions, Trickster can’t let Origami walk away from his crimes. Origami realizes that the only way out for himself is to kill Trickster… or turn his own powers on himself, which he does, folding himself up and disappearing into the second dimension.
The following day, just before James and company head into the State legislature hearing, James has to report to Clyde that he failed to come up with the money. Clyde is upset, moreso than James thinks the situation warrants… but enough to suddenly get James real suspicious about Clyde’s motives.