The Enforcers are my all-time favorite Spider-Man villains. (Yes, really.) There’s nothing like those Ditko drawings of Spidey leaping and bounding while being attacked from three opponents using three different fighting styles. But without those cool visuals of Spidey coping with those three-fold attacks how well do they translate to the illustration-less page? Well, it’s not really fair to ask since Montana and Ox don’t have much to do with this story. This story is all about Fancy Dan Brito.
Heading home from a battle with the Scorpion, Spidey comes across a bar fight and recognizes the voice of one of the participants. Entering, he finds Fancy Dan standing amidst the wreckage and unconscious bodies. He quickly webs him up and whisks him away. On the way to prison, Dan asks for Spidey’s help. “My kid’s in trouble,” he says, “I’ve got nowhere else to go.”
Dan explains that his son, whom he hasn’t seen since the kid was born, is Rudolph Loyola, a teenage piano virtuoso who was recently kidnapped. He sought his Enforcer partners’ help but couldn’t locate either Montana or the Ox. Spidey agrees to rescue the boy but takes Dan to the police station. Dan warns him, “If my boy gets whacked ‘cause I wasn’t there to help him, I’m gonna find the thing you love the most… and kill it.”
At the Daily Bugle, Peter learns from Ben Urich that Rudolph’s step-father is Atlantic City mobster Joseph “Baby Joe” Loyola and that his mother, Ginger, is holed up her in Fifty-Ninth Street brownstone awaiting ransom demands. Spidey goes over to Ginger’s place where the FBI agents stationed there leer at her, grind their cigarette butts into her rug and use the kidnapping as an excuse to search for evidence to put Baby Joe in jail. Ginger goes to her room to get away from them and Spidey taps at her window. She lets him in but erupts at him when he tells her that Fancy Dan asked him to help out. She tells him that, “If he hadn’t kept running off with those idiots Ox and Montana – constantly trying to prove to me he was a tough guy – we might have had a chance at a normal life…He had a family to support, but from the way he acted, you’d think Ox and Montana were his real family. Rudy and I were an afterthought. When he was busted during one of their “enforcing” jobs…I finally decided enough was enough.” Just then, the FBI agents break in and accost Spidey but he webs them up and goes on his way.
Heading to the Queensboro Bridge, Spidey suddenly finds himself being shot at. He disarms the shooter who turns out to be an ape-like Kingpin goon named Monk. (“You take up target shooting because things were too slow at the monastery?” Spidey quips.) Monk has been instructed to bring Spidey to the Kingpin. The shooting was just to get his attention. Spidey agrees to accompany him and soon finds himself in the Kingpin’s office. There, the Kingpin tells him that Rudy was kidnapped by Best ‘O Times Casino owner Martin Severino, one of Baby Joe’s competitors. Kingpin claims not to know where Rudy is being held but tells Spidey to keep an eye “on an establishment called Howie’s Harmonies in Atlantic City tomorrow morning for a lead.” When Spidey asks why he’s helping out, the Kingpin will only say that “it’s good for business. “
Next morning, Spidey stakes out Howie’s Harmonies, a rundown music shop. He spots someone with long blonde hair and wearing a trench coat heading for the shop. Snagging the figure with his webbing, he discovers him to be Fancy Dan in a wig. Dan reveals that the Kingpin’s lawyer sprung him from jail and told him to case Howie’s Harmonies. It isn’t long before a huge man comes along and enters the music shop: the Ox. Spidey stops Dan from going off half-cocked by telling him the Ox couldn’t plan anything on his own. Dan realizes that Montana must be involved and that this is why he couldn’t locate his old partners.
The Ox exits the music shop with sheet music in hand. Spidey and Dan follow him to the Star World Hotel and Casino. Once there, they surmise that Rudy is probably being held in the penthouse. Spidey climbs the building’s wall with Dan hanging onto his back. (When Spidey mentions “my girlfriend,” Dan asks, “she ever, y’know, put on the tights? Just fer fun?”) They get to the balcony and peek in to find two dozens thugs hanging around. (“It’s like a leg-breaker convention in there,” Dan says.) Amongst the goons is a Steinway piano with Rudy sitting at it. The Ox enters and hands the sheet music to the boy. “Play,” he says. Rudy plays the music Ox has picked out: “Itsy Bitsy Spider.” Severino enters with Montana and they have Baby Joe brought in, badly beaten and tied-up. Rudy calls Baby Joe “Dad!” which makes Dan stiffen. Severino orders Baby Joe to sell him his casino and threatens Rudy with a gun. Dan can’t stand it any longer and he busts in. Spidey is forced to follow. In the fight that ensues, Spidey ties up Montana but the Ox gets him in a bear hug that is slowly killing him. Spidey asks Dan for help. Dan’s loyalties are divided but he finally decides to back Spidey and attack Ox. Spidey slips free. The room’s huge chandelier falls, threatening to land on Baby Joe and Rudy but Spidey rescues them. Ox and Dan end up fighting with Dan taking his partner down. After the police arrive, Dan gets mushy about being a family man and flirts with the idea of a “fresh start” but when Rudy comes over to thank him, Dan discovers that his son thinks his real dad is Baby Joe. Acting tough again, Dan proclaims that “Fresh starts are fer chumps,” but his shoulders sag when he says it.
Afterward, Spidey visits the Kingpin to accuse him of manipulating the whole thing. With Severino in prison and Baby Joe deciding to retire to Florida, there is a power vacuum in the Atlantic City casino scene that the Kingpin is more than happy to fill. “What, exactly, is the problem?” the Kingpin asks Spidey. “Look at the outcome…An evil man is being punished, a good man has found peace, and a man somewhere between the two…Well, it’s a pity Mr. Brito wasted all that time and energy on a boy who will always think of another man as his real father…As you might say, Spider-Man, the good guys won and the bad guys lost…can even you find fault in that?” The wall-crawler leaves but, “The question continued to haunt Spider-Man long into the night.”
In a rundown motel room, Fancy Dan plans to find work as muscle for some super-criminal before getting Ox and Montana sprung from jail and re-forming the Enforcers. “Tomorrow would be a fresh start. Dan buried his face in the lumpy pillow, waiting for the night to end. The morning was long in coming.”
The Enforcers take a long break from comics between their appearance in Amazing Spider-Man #19, December 1964 and their return in Marvel Team-Up #39, November 1975. This story is a nice insert in between, but only just in between since the Continuity Guide in the back of the book tells us that this story “takes place right after Amazing Spider-Man #146(July 1975). That placement carries its own continuity problems, not with the Enforcers, but with the Kingpin. You may recall that the Kingpin goes catatonic in Amazing Spider-Man #85, June 1970 and Spidey doesn’t see him again until Amazing Spider-Man #163, December 1976 and he’s surprised to see him at that. In the meantime, he works with Hydra in Captain America #145-148, January-April 1972, hanging out in Las Vegas. The Kingpin depicted here, the crime boss posing as a New York businessman doesn’t make an appearance until much later. And Spidey, circa ASM #146, would certainly not expect to find him in that role.
That being said, how does the story work otherwise? Well, I have a hard time picturing Fancy Dan with a son who is a piano virtuoso. Which is not to say it couldn’t happen but I wonder at the reasoning that made Ken Grobe and Steven A. Roman go that route. (I couldn’t find much on these writers except that Roman has written some X-Men books.) Of course they needed something nice and big like a grand piano to protect Spidey, Rudy, and Baby Joe from the falling chandelier but could that be the whole reason for the decision? It keeps feeling like it should be thematically significant. The story is called, “The BALLAD of Fancy Dan” after all and Dan seems proud of Rudy’s command of classical music so that he is enraged at the Ox making him play “Itsy Bitsy Spider.” I think Rudy’s virtuosity is supposed to be the background music to Dan’s struggle of the soul but it doesn’t really play out that way and never seems to pull together just right.
There are some nice touches in this story, such as Spidey pining for a nice dry Spider-Mobile while he’s out web-slinging in the rain. There are occasional nice descriptions, such as the Kingpin’s voice sounding like “gravel wrapped in velvet.” No, I’m not sure what that means but I can almost hear that voice. The exchange between Spidey and Monk is pithy and fun. And Dan’s dilemma involving loyalty to family, partners, his tough guy image, and a life of crime pulls him this way and that, presenting more depth to the character than we’ve seen in any of his comic book appearances. But it never really grabs, it never really excites. So, I have to go right down the middle on this one.
Three webs. Serviceable enough but if you’re only going to read half of the stories in this book, you probably shouldn’t bother to read this one.
We're two-thirds of the way through. What's next?
Next: Former Spidey writer Glenn Greenberg brings us the Shocker and, er, his brother.