Monday, May 8, 2017

The Triple Threat of... The Terrible Trio!

If the group known as the Terrible Trio gives you a strong sense of déjà vu, it may be because you've seen their type of group before in various comics over time, whether in Marvel's books or those of other Distinguished Companies. (Some of these groups even call themselves the same name--if you can list all of these "terrible trios," you win a free comic! Not really!) Sometimes the members are super-powered; sometimes they're normal joes who have out-of-the-ordinary abilities that set them apart from just hired muscle. The Terrible Trio I'm most familiar with hails from 1964, a trio of henchmen employed and enhanced by Dr. Doom to assist in a plan to capture the Fantastic Four: "Handsome" Harry Phillips, Yogi Dakor, and Bull Brogin, each with their own list of priors in small-time criminal endeavors and assaults, and, collectively, not even a blip on anyone's radar if it weren't for the interest of their benefactor. The Trio might remind you of the Enforcers, another threesome with special talents who were employed by the crime lord known as the Big Man; perhaps that familiarity owes to the fact that the Enforcers were presented in comics just one month after the Trio made their own debut.

But while the Enforcers were involved in organized crime and were used to intimidate those who didn't fall in line with the Big Man, the Trio were groomed specifically for a single job: to attack and trap each member of the FF, one at a time. But what do small-timers like Phillips, Dakor, and Brogin bring to the table that would make Doom take the trouble to bail them out of jail and empower them for this mission? Not to call into question the instincts of a man like Doom, but presumably he could have chosen any three men (incarcerated or not) to use as his team. Writer Stan Lee seems to think that these men are best suited to undergo Doom's procedure--but are they really so exceptional that anyone else wouldn't do in their place?

Brogin appears to be the only one in the group who has something for Doom to work with--though tough guys are a dime a dozen, so much so that Doom doesn't have to bother with navigating the judicial system in order to find a candidate. (For example, the roughneck from FF #48, who slugged it out with the Thing for a grand total of five seconds before hitting the pavement.) But Phillips has no "power" to speak of; and Dakor's ability to resist fire is likely only part of a rigged carnival show act.

But Doom has made his choices--and it seems his reputation precedes him, even among three small-time criminals who have now hit the big time.

"Only I would bail three criminals with special talents out of jail... so that they might serve me!" You and the Kingpin, Hammerhead, Doc Ock, the Masked Marauder, and a few others, Doom--but let's agree to disagree. Please? Sir?

With Phillips, Brogin, and Dakor on board, Doom begins his procedure to enhance their natural gifts. Arguably, only Brogin has a "special talent" to be enhanced--maybe even Dakor, since we know nothing of his carnival act. Does he walk on hot coals, or breathe fire? At any rate, it becomes clear just which members of the FF they're being prepared to encounter.

Phillips is the only odd man out here in terms of his enhancement; as a con man, he may have taught himself to be a good listener, but his actual hearing was probably no better than yours or mine. Let's hope that Doom made his new power something that can be controlled--because if the man can now hear a feather drop, imagine the headaches he'll have from walking the streets of New York. Or snoring.

Both the Torch and the Thing are lured away from the Baxter Building by ruses. In the Torch's case, he's invited to test-drive a new model of sports car, but soon discovers that Dakor is attempting to trap him. As yet, the Torch has no reason to believe that there's anything about this man that makes him a threat, or that this is a trap he can't easily escape from--but as we'll see, he's wrong on both counts.

As for the Thing, he's called out by what he thinks are members of the Yancy Street gang, but it's just Brogin lying in wait. As expected, Brogin's attack proves no match for the Thing, who's delighted that the YSG has someone big enough in their ranks for him to spar with. But Brogin has no intention of trying to go the distance with this opponent.

You've probably made the observation that Doom didn't need to perform a procedure on Brogin just to have him pull a trigger--he could have hired anyone to do it, or simply done it himself. But, uh, you can bring that to his attention--I'd be pressing my luck at this point.

That leaves Phillips to deal with the Invisible Girl, by charming his way into an interview with her. But a rigged bouquet of flowers fails to drop her, and he's forced to resort to his new ability to capture her. (Yes, you'd think someone who's a member of the FF would be trying to capture him.)

And so it's mission accomplished for this trio, with Doom bringing up the rear and using a robot facsimile of the Thing to trap Mr. Fantastic.

Once he disintegrates his robot, Doom takes a few moments to complete his business with his hirelings by giving them their payoff and sending them away, while he goes on to complete his master plan with the FF (or try to). Unfortunately for our terrible trio, they discover that being "sent away" by Dr. Doom can mean more than simply being shown the door.

With Doom currently indisposed due to the FF turning the tables on him, the Trio are shifted over to the Strange Tales book where the Torch is featured (to be joined by the Thing in subsequent issues), just a few months after their story with Doom--while also reappearing in another tale the following year.

It stands to reason that being double-crossed by Doom would either make his victim(s) very angry with him or, if they're gluttons for punishment, seek revenge against him. But when the trio show up again following Doom's defeat by the FF, they're not only ready to sign on the dotted line once more, but their loyalty to the man is astonishing considering his treatment of and disdain for them. They even want to tackle the FF again, and in much the same way that they did previously.

In this appearance of the trio, Lee has altered the abilities of Phillips and Dakor slightly, with Phillips' super-hearing a thing of the past and the character instead retooled to become the brains of the outfit. While Dakor, like Montana of the Enforcers, now uses a lasso, but one made of asbestos, as well as other asbestos materials.

When the Torch is captured, it would seem that artist Dick Ayers wants to reintroduce Dakor's ability of being fireproof by having the Torch engulf the area in flame while Dakor is in close proximity--but in the scene where Ayers appears to be demonstrating that ability, Lee's scripting indicates that he wants to go in a different direction with the character.  It all comes across very awkwardly as a result.

All in all, the trio do pretty well against the Torch under Phillips' leadership. But the Torch gives a good accounting of himself and uses his head as well as his powers, and eventually he's captured the entire group. In reading this story, you get the feeling that Lee knew what he was doing with Phillips--after all, what would Phillips' super-hearing have accomplished here, or in any battle that didn't involve someone hiding from him? Yet by the same token, of all the times for Lee to dispense with Dakor's ability to be fireproof. With Dakor sidelined and Brogin taken care of, there's little for Phillips to do but to make a break for it.

In their second Strange Tales appearance, the Trio are tweaked once again by Lee. Phillips' hearing power is returned, with the character using it as a sort of early warning system to give himself and his friends a heads-up; while Dakor adds to his bag of tricks with... you knew it was coming... a flying carpet, as well as playing music to control rope as well as a giant snake.

We also see Phillips more demonstrably take the role as the Trio's leader in the field--and he's not half bad at it, directing the attack and getting both Dakor and Brogin to act at a moment's notice. Their chances are also helped by the Torch having overextended his flame while searching for them; so even when Johnny manages to get the upper hand, it's only temporarily, and he's eventually forced to fire off a flare to the Thing, who had joined the Torch's search for the Trio in the area.

The addition of the Thing picks up the pace of this story, since the Thing's strength isn't hampered in the same way as the Torch's flame and, needless to say, isn't as vulnerable to the Trio's efforts to subdue him. And so he's put in peril another way, as an approaching train divides his attention and forces him to divert most of his effort to freeing the Torch who's been trapped at the rail. As time begins to work against both heroes, the Trio withdraws to let the train do their work for them. (Lee, of course, misses a perfect opportunity to have Phillips quote Johnny Cash: "I hear the train a comin'... rollin' round the bend...")

It's game and set for the Terrible Trio, who are put in mothballs for fifteen years before reappearing to take their revenge not on the Torch this time, but on the Thing, who has joined Alicia Masters in the first exhibition of her work. Naturally, at any show featuring Alicia Masters' work, our trio aren't the only villains present, though they happen to be the only ones in the flesh.

The question is just begging to be asked: Since we know that Alicia sculpts through her sense of touch of the model, how did she get all of these villains to come over, stand still and cooperate with her? (Ultron? Really?)

Our living villains have slipped into this event as its caterers, and yet again Dakor's abilities have been adjusted. He also seems to have assumed the position of the group's leader.

The trio's plan is a good one, though it's doubtful they took into account that the Thing would be reluctant to smash the living statues, given that they're now valuable pieces of Alicia's work. But when Alicia gives Ben the green light to do what he must, the gloves come off.

(Yep, that's Mark Gruenwald, Ralph Macchio, and George Perez making cameos at this event. How'd they manage to snag invites?)

With Phillips and Brogin out for the count, that leaves Dakor in the stone body of the Diablo statue, who takes Alicia hostage when the situation goes south. But when Ben's unofficial guest, the Impossible Man, disrupts Dakor's concentration with a well-placed water balloon, the Thing moves in and puts an end to the Trio's latest shenanigans.

Over 25 years pass before the Trio finally turn up again, this time as part of a Latverian cell sent to retrieve nuclear launch codes for missiles illegally targeting that country. The segment is weaved into the excellent Penance: Relentless series which follows the young man formerly known as Speedball as he struggles to find redemption following the role he played in the deaths of hundreds of innocent people caused by Nitro, the event which led to the Superhuman Registration Act. Let's let Moonstone walk us through the specifics:

Obviously, Penance (Speedball), in his obsession to gain access to Nitro (who's currently in Doom's custody), isn't willing to play by the government's rules in the leads that have developed. And while it may look like the Trio and survivors of the attack (but fortunately, not the codes) make it to the waiting sub, it's only because Penance wants a message delivered to Doom that demands Nitro's return or else.

It's quite enjoyable to see the members of the Trio make these unexpected appearances out of the blue, since these nostalgic links to Marvel's past are nice to see being paid attention to. I'd probably make one small correction to the scene, since, unless I'm mistaken, it's Phillips that Dakor is talking to instead of Brogin, while Brogin is facing the two with his back turned to us. Though while we're on the subject, it's awfully peculiar that Brogin wasn't shown tackling Penance when the decision was made to stay and face the attacker--unless Brogin was taken out by the explosion, which would have been equally peculiar if his comrades were still on their feet.

As we've seen over time, opportunities are sparse for these three to play a part in stories, though it seems fitting that they continue to work for Doom in some capacity. This was a nicely handled reintroduction to the Terrible Trio, and here's hoping Phillips heard every word of that compliment and convinces his partners to pop in again from time to time.

And speaking of nostalgia...


Here's our scruffy friend from FF #48, taking a shot at "the big, bad Thing!"
Give it all you've got, tough guy!


Anonymous said...

Was "handsome Harry" the inspiration for Don Draper? Talk about art imitating art....

Anonymous said...

Trying to give the Thing a bare-knuckled "belt in the labonzza" is never a smart move.


Rick said...

It's interesting the number of times someone succeeds where Reed kept failing . . coming up with a device to turn The Thing back into Ben Grimm. They make it seem so easy.

Comicsfan said...

That's actually not a half-bad idea for a post, Rick! Though I guess it's really "easy" insofar as the cures are only temporary, as this one was. The only one that I recall succeeding to any degree was when the stranger from FF #51 "switched places" with the Thing, taking his form while Ben returned to his human state--but with Ben reverting back when his benefactor met his death.

Iain said...

Dr Doom succeeded in transforming the she Thing to human form too, he seems to do well at practical stuff whereas Reed is more theory or maybe Doom just wants to make Reed look bad by doing what he cannot seem to do on a regular basis.