Batman: The Animated Series, “The Terrible Trio”

02Nov11

Well, here’s a welcome surprise. After an episode that wasn’t quite as good as I remembered, we have one that’s much better than expected. “The Terrible Trio” as a villain group has always come off as underbaked, since they’re just three guys who don animal masks-and to be honest, the episode itself doesn’t focus on them as being great fighters, or having an effective gimmick. What it does instead is imbue the people wearing the masks with strong personalities, particularly Fox, and have that be the reason for their crimes…along with a strong dose of 1930s era contempt for the idle rich. It’d only be stronger if they’d gotten F. Scott Fitzgerald to rise from his grave and direct the episode.

We open in the middle of a robbery by the group, and that personality immediately comes through. While Vulture and Shark focus on actually getting into the safe and getting back out, Fox dawdles to pose questions to the security guard, pondering what his yearly income must be. Thanks to this unnecessary delay, Batman and Robin are able to catch up to the trio, though they can’t stop them. Hell, Robin gets caught in an explosion thanks to a preset trap at the escape vehicle. Batman is understandably pissed after that, and by encountering the trio in their civilian identities at a charity event. Not that he knows it, but the episode makes no effort to hide the fraternity brothers as the most likely suspects, especially given Fox/Warren’s oily arrogance about Bruce being polite to people that aren’t rich. This is also where we find out about Warren’s girlfriend, who asks for a small loan from her beau…which gives Warren the idea of stealing from her father to get the money back. This sets off a chain of events, culminating in the trio taking Warren’s girlfriend up to their mountain retreat, where she discovers they’re responsible for putting him in the hospital. Considering Warren’s behavior towards others so far, that’s a bad position to be in, and it’s only because of Batman’s intervention that she doesn’t die in a “mysterious” accident.

What’s fascinating about this episode is that in some ways, Fox is what Bruce Wayne could have been. He engages in criminal activity simply for the thrill of it, and enjoys proving that he’s superior, even if its only on his unfair terms. Moreover, he’s a strong-willed man who orders others around, consistently pushing Shark and Vulture to do more dangerous things, and do more damage. While he’s certainly not on Batman’s level for planning or skills, he’s dangerous for his disregard of other people’s lives. Shark and Vulture may go along with his plans to murder Rebecca so she can’t reveal what happened, but before the secret came out, they were trying to reassure her that they could get back to the hospital if her father woke up, while Fox was getting tired of hearing about her strange human empathy. It’s a rather dark place for the episode, even if it doesn’t explore the implications of such an attitude. I don’t agree with Batman’s statement that they’re worse than the Joker because the Joker is insane, but I can understand the sentiment behind it-his more obvious damage might make him more dangerous, but it doesn’t inspire concern about how others might act, since the Joker is so singular in his madness. Obviously none of these traits are in Bruce Wayne (or Batman) now, but if he hadn’t been traumatized at such a young age, it’s quite possible that Bruce Wayne could have been a rich wastrel as well, more interested in thrill seeking than anything productive.

It’s not a perfect episode by any means. The animation is a bit stiff, like a hybrid of the work in “House and Garden” and the Riddler’s first episode. It’s not a big issue, but some of the close ups for conversations don’t look right because of it. And the car chase between the Trio and Batman in the middle of the episode is uninteresting filler, considering the important consequences of their robbery have already happened by that point. More important, the filler isn’t interesting, which would make it much easier to excuse.

Overall, it’s a stronger episode of the series than I remembered. What stuck out the most to me as a kid was the odd animation, and the fact that it didn’t feature a villain I knew. Now it’s much easier to appreciate the change of pace, and how interesting (if disturbing) Warren is as an antagonist. The fact that his partners never really feel like equal partners could be considered a knock on the episode, but I think it works better to have one primary antagonist for Batman to face, rather than 3 sociopaths of equal standing.

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