Thursday, February 9, 2017

The Original Kingpin: Kingpin #1

The following is my review of Kingpin #1, which was posted on PopMatters.com.


Before Walter White, before Tony Soprano, and before Dexter Morgan, there was another criminal mastermind who set the bar for fictional crime lords. He's big, he's tough, he's ruthless, he's intimidating, and he's cunning on a level that frustrates every prosecutor from Hell's Kitchen to Harvard Law School. His name is Wilson Fisk, the original Kingpin. He is to crime lords what Captain America is to patriots. He is the standard by which all others are measured.

At a time when superheroes are more prone to fighting cosmic tyrants and/or each other, criminals like the Kingpin tend to fall to the wayside. In a sense, that creates a perfect environment for a competent and cunning crime lord to make a bold move. Wilson Fisk put himself in a position to make such a move during the events of Civil War II. Now, with the superhero community in a state of division and disarray, Fisk stands ready to make that move.

This is the narrative Matthew Rosenberg and Ben Torres forge in Kingpin #1. In many respects, their timing couldn't be better. This is an era where Lex Luthor is a member of the Justice League, Dr. Doom is the new Iron Man, and Donald Trump is President of the United States. It's an era defined by heroes becoming villains and villains becoming every bit as interesting as heroes. This creates a perfect opportunity for Wilson Fisk and if there's one thing crime lords know how to do, it's exploit an opportunity.

If Kingpin has a weakness, it's that he can only be so complex as someone whose entire persona is build around being a crime lord. The challenge for Rosenberg in Kingpin #1 is to add those layers of complexity without making Wilson Fisk something he's not. He can't turn him into Walter White. He can't turn him into Tony Soprano either, if only because that would be redundant. Despite these challenges, Rosenberg manages to give Fisk the extra complexity he needs while still making clear that he's the same ruthless Kingpin he's always been. Walter White can rest easy.


The story itself is told through the eyes of Sarah Dewey, a reporter in a city where the J. Jonah Jamesons of the world tend to stomp all over the souls of those who try to write objectively. She also happens to be down on her luck, divorced, and in need of money to mend an unbalanced custody arrangement with her son. In any other context, she's low-hanging fruit for someone like Wilson Fisk.

However, Rosenberg does not paint Sarah as the kind of character who will look at Fisk through rose-colored glasses. He makes a concerted effort to establish that this character has a point of view and that point of view is basically the same as anyone who has ever read Fisk's Wikipedia page. She knows his reputation. She knows his history, both the public persona as Wilson Fisk and the private persona as the Kingpin. She understands that getting involved with someone like him puts a target on her back and it doesn't take the skills of Bullseye for someone to hit it.

Despite knowing full-well that this is a dangerous man who tends to attract both drug dealers and costumed vigilantes, Sarah chooses to explore this world. She chooses to learn about this man. Along the way, she shows a fair amount of reluctance. She's still very much the average person who knows enough about Wilson Fisk to understands that it's good for her long-term health that she stay away from him.

This is where Kingpin #1 reveals its greatest strength. In addition to not hiding the obvious dangers that come with being around Wilson Fisk, Rosenberg creates a situation where Sarah Dewey make a believable, understandable decision to enter his world. She never gives the impression that she's overlooking that danger. She's taking a chance at getting to know both the man and the crime lord. It may still be hazardous to her health and lead to one too many encounters with costumed heroes, but it's a chance she's willing to take.

In doing so, Kingpin #1 also sets a different tone for Wilson Fisk as a character. He's not trying to redeem himself. He's not trying to make the public love him. He's not even trying to gloss over his crimes. Through Sarah Dewey, he's trying to present the objective, bias truth about who he is. There can't be a J. Jonah Jameson influence on the story. There can't be any alternative facts either. He wants to put his story out there and let it speak for itself.


It's an intriguing concept, one that creates a tone and theme for the series as a whole. However, while the intrigue is there, the substance is lacking in some areas. Other than Sarah Dewey's constant reluctance, there aren't a whole lot of memorable moments that make the story stand out. Kingpin #1 is more of a pilot episode in a sense. It doesn't try to do too much, but it doesn't necessarily do enough to tell a complete, self-contained story.

There are some moments that highlight the new layers of Wilson Fisk. They take him from fancy parties to donut shops. It's not exactly Latveria or the Savage Land, but it does fit the context of the story. There is also a moment that makes clear that Fisk isn't looking to change his Kingpin ways anytime soon. Given his uncanny ability to avoid Spider-Man's webs and the Punishers bullets, why should he?

Kingpin #1 sets up plenty of intrigue and creates a great deal of long-term potential. Not much of that potential is realized, but there's enough there to make the story feel engaging. This is a story that doesn't try to fit into the mold of Breaking Bad, The Sopranos, or House of Cards. It really does try to be its own story. Even if that story is centered around an unapologetic crime lord, it's still a story worth telling.

Final Score: 6 out of 10

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