Current Reviews


Kingpin #1

Posted: Tuesday, June 24, 2003
By: Jason Cornwell

Writer: Bruce Jones
Artists: Sean Phillips (p), Klaus Janson (i)

Publisher: Marvel Comics

The book opens in the past where we see Wilson Fisk is a small time hood who has yet to make his mark on the criminal underworld. However, we get a pretty good look at his future promise as we see his gang decimates another in a street brawl, and Fisk makes sure that a very powerful message is sent when he has the members of the other gang executed. However, in a seeming act of charity we see he spares the life of one of the gang members, and he actually recruits this man into his group, as Fisk understands that you'll never find an underling more loyal to your cause than one who believes they owe you their life. We then see Fisk orchestrates an execution of a powerful gang leader in the style of a rival gang, which effectively removes two more groups from the action, as they are now too busy at war with each other to note Fisk is moving in on their territory. He them turns his attention to yet another rival gang, and we see his approach this time is to have set up a meeting between two gangs that he knows are lead by quick tempered fools, knowing that this meeting will fall apart, and the two leaders will likely kill each other, thus creating a power vacuum that he plans on stepping in to fill. He then kills off the man whose life he rescued earlier in the book, thus revealing his willingness to kill off people who are no longer useful to him, but could potentially be a danger to him.

I've always been partial to "year one" stories ever since I stumbled across a trade paperback copy of Frank Miller's "Batman: Year One" miniseries back in the mid-1990s, and that project still stands up as my shining example of a writer who understands the appeal of looking back at a character's past. I mean here was a book that understood that it's far more interesting to see a character stumble their way out of the blocks as they began their race toward becoming the character they're fated to become, as while reading that miniseries I found I was able to fully invest myself in Batman's early missteps, even though simple logic stated that no matter how perilous the situation looked to be, he had to survive to become the Batman in the present. Now turning my attention to this book it would appear that Bruce Jones is of the mind that right from the start of his rise through the criminal ranks, the Kingpin was always one step ahead of his rivals, and as such he never made mistakes as he knew what his rivals were going to do even before they did. From a purely entertainment stand point this makes for a thoroughly boring read, as basically were asked to be impressed by information that we already know. I want this project to show me how the Kingpin came to be the ruthless mastermind he is today, not to learn that he already was one right from the word go.

The other element that this opening issue seems to have forgotten is the inclusion of a bad guy. Now before I get the e-mails pointing out the blatantly obvious fact that Kingpin is the bad guy of this story, I guess I should clarify my statement. In every story there are two fundamental elements that need to be met. One is a lead character that the readers are allowed to invest their interest in, and the second is the obstacle that has to be overcome. Now most times this obstacle takes the form of the main villain, as every good hero is dependent on a great villain, and since the Kingpin is essential been cast into the role of the hero in this book, Bruce Jones needed to introduce an opposing element that would make readers doubt his ability to succeed in his quest to become top dog. Now since this material is set in the past, and we already know he will succeed, Bruce Jones needed to really exercise his writing chops & come up with an opposing force that looked so overwhelming that the readers would be impressed. He needed a threat that was able to change the question from how did the Kingpin make his rise to the top, to the more entertaining how did he overcome that seemingly insurmountable obstacle in his path to the top, and this opening issue utterly fails to accomplish this task. Instead we have the Kingpin messing about with easily manipulated goons, who convey absolutely no sense of real danger.

Sean Phillips is a name that I'm rather familiar with, as he's the artist who provided the art for roughly two-thirds of the Uncanny X-Men issues for the better part of a year & a half, and yet Marvel steadfastly refused to acknowledge he was the book's regular artist. He has a nice dark style that should work exceptionally well on this book, as his work as a nice sense of realism to it that conveys the ruthless qualities of our lead character, and in spite of the Kingpin's imposing physique, this arc makes it rather easy to believe that he's still a young man who lacks the respect of the people around him. In other words unlike the present day material where we see a sense of fear as the Kingpin walks into a room, instead we see a mixture of awe & curiosity, similar to the expression on people's face as they visit a freak show to look at the wolf boy, or the geek who bites the heads off a chicken. There's also a very real difference in that there are moments where the Kingpin is allowed to express emotions, as in the present day his face might as well be etched in stone for all the emotion the character is allowed to express, but in this opening issue, we see Wilson is allowed to look pleased with his actions, and even more surprising there's a panel where he's allowed to look stunned when he learns something he didn't know about a rival of his.

Final Word:
On one hand I must confess I'm quite curious to see how Wilson Fisk managed to rise to the top of the heap in the criminal underworld, but I can't say I'm overly excited by this first issue, as the material has Wilson Fisk accomplishing his various objectives by the simple virtue that the people he's knocking off the ladder on his climb up it are simple buffoons who pose very little danger to Fisk or his rather transparent plans. Now I realize that Wilson Fisk is suppose to be a masterful manipulator, who knows how the game is played, and his entire appeal rests largely in his ability to outthink his opponents. However, at this early stage of the game there's very little entertainment value to offering up such simple victories, as it just reinforces the idea that we know he's going to succeed at his objectives, as Bruce Jones has utterly failed to place any obstacles in his path that leave one curious as to how he made it past them. Now perhaps his journey will grow more difficult as he rises up the ranks, but right now this book is hardly off to a promising beginning.

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