Marvel Comics, Feb-March, 2017
Writer: Matthew Rosenberg
“Kingpin” is a new comic book miniseries from American publisher Marvel Comics focusing on the character Wilson Fisk. Fisk is a hulking, bald crime boss frequently used as the main antagonist for Marvel superheroes Daredevil and Spider-Man. Kingpin very recently gained mainstream attention outside of comic books due to the successful “Daredevil” Netflix television series, with actor Vincent D’Onofrio playing a more grounded and sympathetic (yet still clearly iniquitous) version of the villain.
The “Kingpin” comic book miniseries will be familiar to readers conveyed to the comic from the Netflix series, in a sense working as a more extensive iteration of the Netflix series’ attempt to peel back the myth and provide a look at the man behind the “Kingpin” name.
But where the TV series relegated Fisk’s public relations machinations to the sidelines – relying more on off-screen examples – the comic book series is more direct: here we have the Kingpin specifically working towards getting a biography published, and expressing a desire to have his true story told and the motivation behind the mountain of criminal deeds he has committed explained.
As for who is going to tell the story, Fisk has set his sights on a new character, a struggling writer named Sarah Dewey. Deway is described as a Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist who used to tackle U.S. foreign policy but has since been relegated to covering sports. It is very clear why Fisk chose Dewey – the writer has the reputation and the talent, but is desperate and in financial ruin after going through substance abuse and a failed marriage.
Writer Matthew Rosenberg is in top form in this comic, crafting a Faustian story that is light on action but oozing with tension, most notably in the tug of war between Dewey and Fisk – the former, as expected of a journalist, is aware of the Kingpin’s reputation and is determined to reject any offer, while the latter is very persuasive to the point of being seductive, making full use of his stature, charm, and financial resources to earn Dewey’s trust and sympathy. Along the way, there is also a wildcard in the appearance of the hero Daredevil, who makes a couple of minor appearances in both his costumed persona and his alter ego as the blind lawyer Matt Murdock, attempting to dissuade Dewey from accepting Fisk’s offer.
There is potential to take the story in different directions. We get to see Fisk calmly surrender his money and expensive watch to a mugger, on the reasoning that the items are worth very little to him but would be a big help to the mugger. Then we later see the same mugger dead, with a syringe stuck in his arm. Did the mugger die on his own through overdose? Or did Fisk take his revenge after Dewey has left? There’s also a scene that has Fisk playing with a group of orphans, which is intentionally cheesy and designed to tell readers that the villain is putting on a show.
The main draw of the “Kingpin” miniseries is not the opportunity to see a villain redeem himself, or to see any hidden layers in the character. Any one familiar with the “Daredevil” mythos, and the inherent nature of the American comic book industry, will expect any moral inversion on such an iconic villain to be a farcical plot device or at best, a gimmick that will be reverted eventually. Mr Rosenberg has peppered the story with obvious hints that Fisk is manipulating events and people in order to earn Dewey’s trust or at least pique her curiosity. The comic is best approached as a mystery thriller. As each layer peels away, we are still left guessing as to the Kingpin’s true intentions. The slowly dropped clues reveal just how dangerous the character really is.