The Silver Age of comics is a strange time. Comics were written for kids as more disposable commodities. The idea that people would reread these things years later was probably not on anyone’s mind. And really, the idea was to craft an exciting story, not to write something that, like, made a lot of sense if you thought about it for more than a few seconds.
I mean, that’s the only explanation I have for the Circus of Crime.
The Circus of Crime, I was surprised to learn, was originally a Golden Age concept. Nazi agents went undercover as circus folk during World War II, the idea being they would work with Nazi sympathizers to murder high ranking American government officials. They were opposed by Captain America, and yeah, they lost. They returned to Germany where the Ringmaster of Death and his wife tried to live a quiet life postwar, but they were eventually murdered by Nazi sympathizers. Their son Maynard moved back to America. Once there, he tried to run another circus, and when that failed, he went out and blamed, oh, everybody and turned to crime.
At some point, the Ringmaster that comic fans know and recognize took over, and the Circus picked up a simple modus operandi. Basically, they change the name of their circus with every appearance so no one gets suspicious, they put on a show, at some point the Ringmaster uses his hypnotic hat to put the crowd under, the rest of the circus robs everyone, Ringmaster wakes everyone up, no one remembers the trance, and the circus finishes its show and moves on. Beyond the Ringmaster and his hypnotic hat, the rest of the circus, which included such dreaded characters as “the Clown” and “the Great Gambonnos,” don’t really have any superpowers beyond, say, various circus-related skills like tumbling and maybe animal training.
So, naturally, the Silver Age version’s first appearance had them fighting the Incredible Hulk. Sure, hypnotizing the Hulk could keep the rest of the Circus safe, but you just know he ain’t gonna stay under forever. I mean, a bunch of acrobats going against the Hulk just doesn’t sound fair.
That said, the Circus itself doesn’t really have a regular hero to match wits with, and so they would bounce around different Stan Lee written books, be it matching wits with a Kirby Hulk or a Ditko Spider-Man. Matt “Daredevil” Murdock even offered to represent them in court once.
Now, it is worth noting that the lone female member of the “classic” line-up Princess Python, with her trained snake, would make the occasional appearance by herself, the Ringmaster was instrumental in helping Doc Samson integrate the different personalities of the Hulk into the supposed composite Professor Hulk. But the Circus? I can’t imagine swiping wallets at a show brings in that much stolen money.
For what it is worth, I seem to recall one of the most recent comics I saw them in had them battling one of the younger mutant groups (Generation X, I think), and when the young heroes prevailed and defeated the Circus’s various members as, you know, they pretty much had to, the hero team actually saw the Circus as a bunch of somewhat pathetic misfits trying to fit in and let them go because they felt bad for the Circus.
That seems about right,.