Thursday, October 16, 2003

Kingpin #5 - A Review

Written by: Bruce Jones
Penciled by: Sean Phillips
Inked by: Klaus Janson
Colored by: Lee Loughridge
Lettered by: Cory Petit
Editor: Alex Alonso
Publisher: Marvel Comics

Call me old-fashioned, but I long for the days when the cover of a comic gave you some idea of what was going to happen inside the book. Maybe not to the extremes of such “talk to the readers” covers like the recent cover of Outsiders #3, but I do like an idea of what I am getting into. I like to see a depiction of the battle that is going to take place in the issue or the character upon whom the issue centers. And by that same token, under no circumstances should you show characters that aren’t in the issue or things that never happen.

I bring this up because for the last four months, Spider-Man has prominently appeared on the cover of this book and for four months, we’ve been luck to get so much as a cameo appearance of old Spidey, much less a speaking role. Well, rejoice True Believers for our favorite wall-crawler finally gets to take action in this issue! Sadly, he doesn’t get into a slugfest against The Big One as per the cover… but then again, we have yet to see Wilson Fisk in a suit in this book either… or seen him with the famous cane that makes up the “I” of the book’s title logo.

In fact, the biggest problem with this book is that it is fighting against the past images of these characters while trying to give us something new and different. And you know what? That’s just fine by me. Sure, a part of me wishes they had left Spider-Man out of this story as (until this issue) he didn’t really add anything to the story. And his presence as a “newbie hero” here drives a rather thick stake into the heart of continuity that had Wilson Fisk established as a major crime lord. Not to mention a decade or two older than he seems to be depicted here and old enough to have a son who had finished college… or are Brian Michael Bendis and I the only ones who remember Richard “The Rose” Fisk?

Still, these are all rather petty complaints. Yes, the covers have been rather shameless about pushing the fact that Spider-Man is in the book, if barely. Yes, this book does violate so many points of Marvel history it is hard to track them all without having religiously reread the original Stan Lee issues of Amazing Spider-Man. All of these points are ultimately irrelevant to the question of whether or not the book is well written, has interesting characters and is drawn well.

The answer to all three of those points is a resounding YES!

The story thus far, dealing with the rise of Wilson Fisk among the gangs as he manipulates the mayoral election of New York City for his own means is as complex and involving as any episode of Sopranos or Law and Order. The action follows the mixing and mingling of four respective sides... if they can be considered sides in a battle where everyone is fighting for themselves.

On the one side, we have Fisk, who has allied himself with Senator Myles Clennon; candidate for mayor of NYC. They have a very simple “scratch my back, I scratch yours” partnership. In the other corner, is Clennon’s main opponent; Senator Bianco, who is closely affiliated with the five big families of the Mafia (no longer the Magia, eh?). And then there’s Portia; Senator Clennon’s ex-wife, who is working on a book that will expose the corruption of the man who abandoned her as well as the street crime problems And finally there is Spider-Man, who is trying to sort through who is a bad guy… or at the very least who is the biggest threat.

In order to weaken Bianco’s position, Fisk arranges to kidnap his son, showing that the man cannot manage his own family, much less a city. This in turn will aggrevate the Mafia, whom Fisk has already made some daring attacks against, having arranged for his own second-in-command to kill the nephew of Don Sanguino. Said second-in-command, Rocko, was stabbed and left for dead back in Kingpin #1, but was found and rescued by Portia, who is using Rocko as her “in” to the world of Fisk and the JV crimes she is investigating.

All of this is neatly explained in this issue, either on the “previously on” Title Page or to a still-confused Spidey as he questions a detective Portia hired in the past. So don’t worry about not knowing anything about the characters or having missed the first few issues- it will all get explained without being too wordy.

I cannot say enough good things about the art. The covers by Tony Harris, while portraying the classic Kingpin, are gorgeous and I think any fault in the depiction probably lies with the editorial staff and not Mr. Harris, who likely painted the covers months ago. The interior artwork is just as gorgeous, with Janson’s inks giving Phillips pencils an appropriately dark aura not unlike that of a more gritty Steve Ditko.

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