Revamping A Rogue
♦ Tripwire’s contributing writer Scott Braden gives us his latest in a regular series about comic series that never were. Today it’s the turn of Paul Kupperberg’s The Trickster…
Paul Kupperberg’s The Trickster
Some of comicdom’s greats – like Gary Cohn, Dan Mishkin, Mark Waid and Geoff Johns – have offered their own unique take on the Flash Rogue James Jesse, known to comic book fans as The Trickster. Legendary scribe Paul Kupperberg was going to add his name to this glorious list of writers with his “Lost Tale” for DC Comics, The Trickster.
First off: What made Kupperberg decide to propose a Trickster ongoing series?
“It was by editorial request,” the great writer said. “It was 1989 and I had just been replaced as the writer of the Doom Patrol by Grant Morrison, so I was looking for a book to replace that on my schedule. The best way to find work was to create it yourself, come up with a proposal for a new series. My first shot had been coming up with a new character for editor Bob Greenberger, Bloodhound, which I worked on with artist Graham Nolan, who had replaced Erik Larsen as artist on my last few issues of DP. Bloodhound was pitched and rejected–a “Lost Tale” for another time, I guess–but the next proposal looked like it should have been a sure bet.
“As I said, an editor approached me and Stephen DeStefano with the idea of doing a solo series with the Trickster, the harlequinesque member of Flash’s Rogues Gallery. The idea was to bring a funny, offbeat slant to a character who had been around for almost 30 years at the time and who, let’s face it, wore little pointy flying shoes and fought the Fastest Man Alive with exploding teddy bears and super-itching powder. If a character was ever begging to be made fun of–!
“I was encouraged to take the existing level of absurdity to the next level…well, actually a couple levels beyond that. I decided to remove him entirely from the world of conventional superheroics and plop him down in the middle of a surreal suburban environment surrounded with a cast of wacky supporting characters and let hilarity ensue.”
Why did Kupperberg choose Stephen DeStefano as the proposed series’ artist?
“As I said, I didn’t choose Stephen as the artist, but I would’ve if I could’ve,” said Kupperberg. “I was a fan of his and Bob Rozakis’ amazing ‘Mazing Man series they did for DC Comics a few years earlier and his quirky, cartoony style was perfect for the places I wanted to take this series. We’d already worked together once in 1986, on a story called “Thud, Thud, Thud in the Mississippi Mud” for indie publisher TruStudios in Trollords #7 (and would later be teamed up again on a Johnny Bravo story, “Johnny Delivers” in Cartoon Network Cartoon Cartoons #22 in 2003), and he’s done a ton of animation work, from Ren & Stimpy and Venture Brothers to Scooby Doo and Mickey Mouse. Who better to illustrate what I hoped would be a cartoon show-style comic book than Stephen?”
With that said, what was the series about?
“The Trickster was about James Jesse,” Kupperberg explained, “aka the member of Flash’s Rogue Gallery of the same name. He was born Giovanni Giuseppe, the youngest member of the Flying Jesses, a family of third-rate aerialists and high-wire walkers. Young Giovanni had no interest in the family business but was fascinated with the daring days of the Old West. Which was just as well, since his father was a grade-A klutz who couldn’t catch a cold, much less his son hurtling through the air in the big top.
“Giovanni eventually struck out on his own, and used the flying shoes he’d invented to keep from falling to his death every time his father missed a trapeze catch to become the criminal Trickster. And, by the time of the series, he’d reached the end of his criminal career; he was tired of having his ass kicked and being sent to jail by the Flash and the rest of the superheroes.
“He’d try turning his talent for tinkering into a job as a special effects designer for films at Verner Brothers Studio and as a ‘technical advisor’ to the Institute for Hyper-Normal Conflict Studies, but when he lost those gigs he returned to crime in desperation, intending to steal only what he needed until he got another job. That idea landed him once again in prison, and this time when he got out, he decided he was going straight for real and for good. Instead of staying around all the temptations of the big city, he headed instead for the small, totally out of the way New Jersey coastal town of Crumbly, where he’d inherited a house from his great aunt, and where he could “retire” from his old life in anonymity.
“But things don’t work out the way James intends. Instead of being able to hang up his Trickster costume and pointy-toed shoes, he slowly gets drawn into the lives and politics of his new neighbors, one wackier than the next, and hometown, and his life gets to be as complicated as ever. Only funnier.”
What new elements did Kupperberg bring to this Flash rogue’s mythos? You might be surprised.
“Other than the name and background, nothing really,” said Kupperberg. “In his role as a Flash Rogue, Trickster had never been written with all that well defined a personality, so I didn’t have any problem imposing one on him. He was a two-dimensional character that I added some dimension to. Of course, the dimension I added was that of the ever-suffering sitcom straight man, the guy who reacts to all the crazy stuff going on around him, like Sheriff Andy in Mayberry.”
How far did the project go in the proposal stage?
“It didn’t go far, but there was a lot of heavy schlepping to get it even that short distance,” Kupperberg remembered. “After the first draft of the proposal, I was asked by the editor to make some changes and rewrites, which is not at all unusual in these situations, and then some changes on the changes, and then some changes on things that hadn’t been an issue in earlier drafts, and then rewrites on top of that…. In all, at least five drafts of the proposal, each one with ever more picayune changes and corrections before I was told it had been put in the editorial pipeline. A few weeks later, we were told Trickster had been rejected.”
Why did the project itself never come out?
“I don’t know,” Kupperberg said. “I think we’d turned in a pretty good proposal for a unique take on superheroes. They were still taking chances on wonky little projects in the DCU, but at the time I just assumed we hadn’t hit the mark. A couple of years later, though, I learned from editorial director Dick Giordano–who read all the proposals that went through the editorial pipeline–that the editor who had asked me to put together the proposal had never submitted it for approval. I’ve got my educated guesses as to what went on behind the scenes, which were later pretty much verified by that editor’s ultimate fate with the company.
“Fortunately, no ideas ever really go to waste. Years later, I recycled a lot of the concepts and characters from the Trickster proposal into a young adult novel called Supertown, which is currently with my agent and making its way the round of publishers.”
Although that “Lost Tale” never came to be, Kupperberg is currently working on other projects.
“I’ve just published the Lost Jungle Tales comic book featuring previously unpublished art by the late Pat Boyette that you covered in some previous ‘Lost Tales’ columns, as well as Paul Kupperberg’s Secret Romances Collected Edition, featuring a new story and a new cover by Steve Lightle, both published by and available through Charlton Neo Comics (http://morttodd.com/), and we’ll also be publishing my Guide to Writing for Comics Books this summer. Plus, I have two series currently running at http://archiecomics.com/), the Golden Pelican, and Rogue Nation. I also have a short story in Thrilling Adventure Yarns, an anthology available from Crazy8Press.com.”
Trickster © DC Comics. All other characters © Paul Kupperberg. Art © Stephen DeStefano.
Lost Tales©2019 Scott Braden. All Rights Reserved