Sleight Of Hand
♦ Tripwire’s contributing writer Scott Braden gives us his tenth in a regular series about comic series that never were. Today it’s the turn of Dan Mishkin & Gary Cohn’s The Trickster …
Dan Mishkin & Gary Cohn’s The Trickster
“I could say that our fascination with Flash’s rogues gallery is about our fascination with the Flash, but that just begs the question. What was wonderful about the Flash’s stories in the Silver Age was that they were so light on their feet but still featured characters in jeopardy and situations whose outcome the readers really cared about. They were an exemplar of a particular DC (and Julie Schwartz) style working exactly right.
“Another aspect of these stories that we loved was the idea that while stories could have high stakes, the ‘villains’ weren’t always portrayed as being thoroughly evil—that’s why I refer to Trickster as a ‘bad guy’—but could have nuance and could even be imagined as people who might have become heroes if the breaks had fallen a little differently. As was the case with Heat Wave in The Flash, for instance.”
The untold mini-series opens with the Trickster, who had more or less given up his life of crime in the pages ofBlue Devil, once again up to his old ways—now in a new city and with a new heroic sparring partner, called Hotshot. Hotshot is a character Mishkin had been trying to do something with for a couple of years, so he actually precedes the Trickster as the subject of an unsold series or mini-series proposal. (Hotshot would have been a series, Trickster just a mini.)
As far the story itself, Mishkin explained, “As is the case with our Trickster idea—and for that matter Blue Devil—Hotshot fit into that light-footed vein of stories I mentioned before. When there’s humor, it’s observational and character-based, not part of a joke machine. Flash’s rogues gallery, in fact, presents the template for just the sort of character I’m talking about—that’s where the concept really worked, as opposed to, say, Lex Luthor’s being the hero of the planet Lexor in addition to being Superman’s arch-enemy.
“Back to the story: We would have opened with Trickster and Hotshot going at it in what amounts to a Looney Tunes relationship, like Road Runner outwitting Wile E. Coyote but Coyote always resuming the chase. (The difference, of course, is that Trickster, the one being chased, is the bad guy, even if a thoroughly lovable one.) There would have been some business that questioned how much Trickster was in it for the rivalry and how much it was truly about crime, but the main point is that in the first issue, things would take a dark turn.”
“A villain—not simply a rogue—comes to town,” Mishkin continued, “and he’s not interested in playing cat-and-mouse games. He wants Hotshot out of the way. And so, in an escalating battle that Trickster watches on TV, first with popcorn-munching delight and then with growing horror, the villain murders Hotshot! Trickster’s immediate response is to start packing his bags so he can get out of town fast. But then, in the stunned faces of the crowd shown on the television—and particularly in the grief of a woman that we’ve previously established is Hotshot’s girlfriend—he sees something that makes him stop packing and reconsider. And right on the spot he comes to a new resolve: He’s not going to run; he’s got a better idea.
“That’s issue one. What follows is an elaborate scheme to take down the villain—we planned to use Green Lantern’s foe Goldface—that plays out over the next three issues, in a sting that has Trickster seeming to take on the role of the city’s new resident hero.
According to Mishkin, Hotshot came about before he and Cohn linked him to The Trickster mini-series: “I was always mining for new ideas and characters. He satisfied my desire to create someone who’d fit into that Silver Age type of story—but like Blue Devil, updated for a contemporary feel—and also satisfied my itch to come up with characters with new (or at least newly recombined) superpowers. He was able to create balls of fire, but could also shoot balls made of any substance he touched—kind of a combination of the Human Torch and the Absorbing Man. (In one iteration of the character, he became bored at a banquet and stuck a finger in his mashed potatoes and then shot a mashed potato ball with his other hand.)
“An earlier proposal to build a series around the character that Gary and I worked on together might have been drawn by Ty Templeton if we’d sold it (I can no longer find Ty’s sketches) and a later one tried a version of the reformed-bad-guy approach we ended up applying to the Trickster. But the window that opened in the early 80s and saw the creation of Blue Devil and Amethyst, as well as Arion and others, closed rather quickly, and it once again became pretty hard to introduce new characters in their own books.
“In none of the versions of Hotshot do I recall his having much of an origin story, by the way. On the other hand, if the Trickster mini had happened, we had a vague idea that Hotshot’s romantic partner could find a way of duplicating the conditions that gave him his powers (he had not kept his dual identity from her) and, having been ‘established’ in the mini, might have a shot at her own series.”
Hotshot wouldn’t be the only hero in the mini-series. Enter Mishkin and Cohn’s Blue Devil.
“Blue Devil would have played a supporting role,” Mishkin said. “Once Trickster came up with his sting/scam/con to take down Goldface (the details of which I have no recollection), he’d seek out Dan Cassidy’s help in bringing it to fruition. I’m sure that would have involved both Cassidy’s technical skills and Blue Devil’s playing a role as a character in the scam—seeming to the villain to have one set of goals while hiding his true purpose. I think Cassidy would have gone along with gusto: to do the right thing and take down the villain, but to have fun doing it.”
As far as the mini-series’ Big Bad, the team would have used Green Lantern’s old foe, Goldface – but what would have made them choose this classic villain as such a stellar threat?
“Your guess might be almost as good as mine,” Mishkin laughed. “Goldface was very powerful and was also mean, with no redeeming qualities—unlike the Flash rogues—and probably hadn’t been used in a while. I don’t recall if it was Gary or I who first suggested him, but if it was the latter, my love for Green Lantern might have influenced me.
“I think we originally talked about coming up with a new villain as well as a new hero, but either we wanted to hold onto him for another day or the Goldface idea came up before we really worked anything else out.”
Mishkin would be the first person to say that choosing a project’s artist is not always the choice of the writer. But if he could have . . .
“I imagine that since Ty Templeton had worked on developing Hotshot,” Mishkin said, “he would have been the first person we went to. Someone like Joe Staton would have been great too. Or Ernie Colón.”
But, with everything in place, why was it that the mini-series never happened? According to Mishkin, the answer is “pretty dark.”
“I think that even when we were writing Blue Devil, which DC promoted with a ‘We’ve made comics fun again’ tag line, things were still moving in a darker direction,” Mishkin admitted. “And when other books were lighter and/or funny, like Justice League, the humour was more mocking than the approach Gary and I took. And even though our Trickster idea had a dark setup—the murder of a superhero, for Pete’s sake—that was one shocking scene that would have given the story its emotional weight but didn’t reflect the main tone we were going for.
“We dusted off the idea occasionally when we thought there might be a receptive editor, as I did separately with Hotshot, but the long and the short of it is that the moment passed us by.”
With many of team’s ideas seeing new life in 2019 – Blue Devil co-starring in the DC Universe Swamp Thing TV series and Amethyst taking center stage in Brian Michael Bendis’ hit Young Justice comic – Mishkin has also kept himself busy working on various projects.
“I’ve got a webcomic coming out called Amazon Academy with the artist Jerzy Drozd (it’s at amazonacademy.net),” Mishkin said, “and I’m really enjoying doing an adventure with fantasy elements that’s aimed at younger readers and has interesting and emotionally nuanced kid characters. Fans of my work onAmethyst, Princess of Gemworld and on Wonder Woman should like it.
“Jerzy and I also have a nonfiction comic proposal about the Apollo program that’s being looked at. I’ve written a prose novel for middle-grade readers that’s got fantasy elements based on Jewish folklore, and my agent is sending that manuscript around. And I’m researching another nonfiction comics project about the golden age of American carousels in the early 20th century. Of course I’ve got plenty of other ideas on the back burner, and a pretty thick ‘lost tales’ file folder beyond The Trickster.”
Lost Tales©2019 Scott Braden. All Rights Reserved