Last week, I watched it, and was delighted to see a new take on The Terrible Trio.
The original version of the Terrible Trio were three "themed" criminals: The Shark (who committed crimes at sea), the Vulture (who committed crimes via the air), and the Fox (who crimes were grounded or underground). In fact, they were exemplars of the Pure Theme School of character creation. They had no backgrounds (other than vague scientific expertise), no motivations other than greed, no personal distinctions other than their costumes. And those costumes themselves were triumphs in purity of theme: simple business suits and giant animal heads. Facing the Terrible Trio is like some bizarre surrealist dream, where you're in battle against a law firm composed entirely of Egyptian gods and former school mascots.
Like the Mad Hatter, they began as began as the simplest of characters, based almost completely on a visual and a one-note theme. And, as with the Hatter, time and variant versions would add to their complexity.
In their first outing (Detective 235 Mar. 1958), they hadn't yet earned their collective name as the Terrible Trio, and were simply called the Fox, the Shark, and the Vulture. That's rather a mouthful, so when they made the second (and final) Silver Age appearance (Detective 321 Nov. 1963), they were dubbed the Terrible Trio.
Names have power, and, thus dubbed, the Trio became one of those Unavoidable Concepts that turn up again and again in comics (like the gloriously absurd Royal Flush Gang). The characters essentials were set:
- The land-sea-air theme
- The three animals
- the animal heads
- Expertise that corresponds to the "animal totem".
The version of the Terrible Trio that appearance on Batman the Animated Series, followed on and added to these elements. Insert of being evil scientist, they are wealthy young troublemakers who are alienated from common society. They adopt the identities of the three animals and wear the animal heads to commit their land-sea-air crimes. Each one is inheritor of wealth founded on particular industries (the Fox, mining; the Shark; shipping; the Vulture, aviation), which is an interesting twist on the expertise that corresponds to the animal totem.
The Terrible Trio that fought Dr. Mid-Nite is his mini-series were more like the original version, in that they were middle-aged crime lords rather than just irresponsible young troublemakers. And these members of the Trio actually bore a physical resemblance to the animal totem whose name they bore.
A rather grim version of the trio showed up quite recently in last year's Detective Comics 832.
But, since all of the Trio didn't survive, and these were clearly the Trio who fought Dr. Mid-Nite, the original ones may very well still be around. Their costumes, in fact, were seen not to long ago in an issue of Catwoman. I'm sure we've not seen the last of the Trio in comics.
Meanwhile, as I began by mentioning, a new version of the Trio were on a recent episode of The Batman. They were disaffected young people, as were the ones who appeared on BTAS. But, instead of being wealthy wastrels, these were collegiate social misfits. They had animal heads, alright, but not masks; they were were-creatures, who transformed themselves intentionally to get revenge on their tormentors. The plot device that made this possible was none other than the stolen formulas of Dr. Kirk "Man-Bat" Langstrom, cleverly linking the Trio's story with another part of the Batman "myth". Who knows whether something of this version might find its way into the comics?
The on-going evolution of the Terrible Trio, of the kind of growth the myths have, and that I enjoy noticing in comic book characters. Myths that have variant versions often evolve through a dialectic whose synthesis is a broader, richer version that incorporates the variants, in what's called mythic synchretism. Batman, for example, has pretty much had a different version every decade. Every time he appears in other media -- really, every time a new writer writes him -- he's being written as some kind of composite of some of all of those previous versions.
If you just see this as "inconsistent characterization" or "disregard for continuity" you may be being short-sighted. In the long term, it's how mythic characters evolve and keep themselves vibrant, relevant, and rich with possibilities. It's why they have a long term.
Who is your favorite character and how, if it all, have they enriched themselves through the mythic synchretism of their various versions?