“The King Of Hell's Kitchen: Part 4”
Writer: Brian Michael Bendis
Artist: Alex Maleev
Matt's in hospital and the Yakuza problem is still threatening to get out of hand in Hell's Kitchen. Can Matt turn to his closest friends for help, or will he remain the stubborn King of Hell's Kitchen to the last?
"What does it look like... when a man who dresses up as the devil... has a nervous breakdown -- What does it look like?"
This issue opens with a bang as Agent Driver gets to know just how dangerous the Yakuza can be. If his fate is as definite as we are led to believe, it's a brave opening gambit by Bendis which serves to convince us just how high the stakes are here. However, it'd be a shame if Bendis has chosen to permanently ditch one of his more effective supporting characters who has become a modern-day equivalent of Frank Miller's Lieutenant Manolis. As the tale continues Ben Urich catches up with Matt and manages to motivate him enough to sort his life out, leading to a fine set-up for a showdown next issue. The "nervous breakdown" angle is an interesting one, and it's to the writer's credit that he chooses to leave this idea ambiguous rather than attempting to quantify Matt's behaviour with a straight yes or no answer.
There are some fine moments on show this issue, veering from beautiful and tender romantic scenes between the two blind lovers (which go some way to convince us just how strong Matt's new wife can be and how well-suited Milla is to his lifestyle) to out-and-out pulp excitement: the final splash page is going to please anyone who feels that Bendis run is still not delivering on the title's promise of superhero escapades. The use of supporting characters is spot-on, with Ben Urich as the moral core of the title and Foggy Nelson as the long-suffering (and fanboy-baitingly tattoo-ed!) best friend who seems willing to put up with Matt whatever the circumstances. These two linchpins of Matt's life have really come into their own under the command of this creative team, showing as much strength with their steely resolve as any fight scene could convey, every inch heroes as much as a man who runs around in a devil costume
Maleev's artwork just gets better and better each issue, achieving levels of subtlety and detail that make his initial work on the title look quite primitive in comparison. The levels of black on display here convey metaphorically the darkness and seriousness that has taken hold of DD ever since the team got on board thirty-three issues ago, adding a real cohesion to the epic arc as a whole as well as making for some cool noir-ish single moments. Here, Maleev is given the opportunity to render a wide range of supporting characters (Luke Cage and Jessica Jones making their trademark Bendis crossover appearances), and he manages to convey a distinct sense of personality in each one. Hitting the right notes in all the minor character moments as well as the big action splashes is so important - especially in this title - that Bendis must think himself lucky to be paired with so well-suited a conspirator.
This comic provides so many great moments for newcomers and longtime fans alike (the "I thought it was yellow" sequence is a lovely throwback to happier times as well as an acknowledgement of DD history) that it is tempting to be so charmed by it that one struggles to find criticism. However, it is fair to say that as an ongoing story, the current "King of Hell's Kitchen" arc has stalled slightly and is a surprisingly low-key follow-up to the promise of Matt as Kingpin of his locality. Hopefully forthcoming stories will explore Matt's year-long absence in a more satisfactory manner, but if this is the direction that Bendis wants to take the comic in, I'm willing to put my trust in what have been shown to be a very safe pair of hands.
All of the usual elements - the solid, unpredictable writing, the perfectly-suited artwork - combine to maintain the classy, realistic approach that we've been used to on this title for so long. Even when the creative team goes for a low-key mid-arc issue, they still manage to turn in a comic which stands head and shoulders above its closest competitors and manages to be genuinely different in a marketplace awash with derivative, cliched ideas.
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