The Ringmaster and the Circus of Crime

The Ringmaster and the Circus of Crime

(pop culture)
Maynard Tiboldt—aka the grandstanding Ringmaster— really knows how to mesmerize an audience. Stepping into the arena in The Incredible Hulk vol. 1 #3 (1962), courtesy of Marvel Comics' own ringmasters, writer Stan Lee and artist Jack Kirby, Tiboldt wears a top hat that sends out psionic waves (drawn as concentric circles for the reader's benefit) that allow him to control minds. As the Ringmaster, he fronts a traveling circus whose performers— including the pick-pocketing Clown, the sticky-fingered Teena the Fat Lady, the safe-hoisting strongman Bruto, and cat-burglar acrobats the Great Gambinos (Gambonnos in later texts)—steal from spellbound carnival-goers. Tiboldt entrances the Incredible Hulk, passing him off as a crowd-luring attraction, until the arrival of the Hulk's teenage sidekick Rick Jones breaks the Ringmaster's spell. It's unlikely that many of the readers who plunked down their 12 cents for that Hulk comic knew that the Ringmaster was actually a second-generation supervillain. Two decades earlier, Kirby, with his partner Joe Simon, introduced “The Ringmaster of Death” in Captain America Comics #5 (1941). Austrian Fritz Tiboldt starred in Tiboldt's Circus, a group of Nazi sympathizers using performances in America to masquerade their espionage, which included political assassinations. After Captain America pulled the curtain on their act, Fritz and his wife were murdered by obdurate Nazis. Their son Maynard modified his father's hypnotic apparatus, the “nullatron,” a weapon developed by German scientists, and adapted it to his hat to become the Ringmaster of Crime. The Ringmaster and the Circus of Crime (with a streamlined membership) returned in The Amazing Spider-Man vol. 1 #16, up to its old tricks; Spidey fell under Tiboldt's enchantment, but the blind superhero Daredevil, immune to the Ringmaster's optically induced mind control, sent the Circus packing their tents. In later appearances, the Circus booted out the Ringmaster, branding him a bungler, with the caustic Clown taking charge (and the group calling itself the Masters of Menace), but Tiboldt later resumed leadership. The Circus of Crime's roster has included the Human Cannonball, Princess Python, Blackwing, Ulik, and Live Wire. The team's basic premise—a carnival with a criminal ulterior motive, with the Ringmaster in the center ring—has been adapted to animation in a “Hulk” episode of The Marvel Super-Heroes (1966), on The Amazing Spider-Man (1981–1982), and on The Avengers (1999–2000). As carnivals faded from mass popularity in the late twentieth century, the Crime Circus came to town with diminishing frequency. The Ringmaster has fared better as a solo villain: after a hiatus in the early 2000s he returned, jockeying to salvage his rep, in the “Ring of the Master” storyline in Marvel Team-Up vol. 3 #7–#10 (2005), and will no doubt continue his flamboyant brand of mind control … until the fat lady sings.