Marvel Comics’ version of Manhattan is defined by a mixture of familiar real world and fictional fixtures, from structures like Doctor Strange’s Sanctum Sanctorum and the Baxter Building to individuals like Reed Richards, Matt Murdock… and Wilson Fisk.
Better known as the Kingpin, Fisk has controlled and profited for decades from much of the crime New York’s superheroes fought against. Several years back, he lost his underworld throne and fled the city, but recent events saw him return to the Big Apple to reclaim the criminal empire he lost.
Now, Fisk is not only back — he has new territory under his control, and this February his fight to regain all that he lost continues as writer Matthew Rosenberg and artist Ben Torres kick off an all-new ongoing “Kingpin” series, which promises to take a wider and more nuanced look at both its titular character and his activities. We spoke with Rosenberg about writing a villain-focused book, the allies and adversaries that will be drawn into Fisk’s orbit, and how the book’s approach to the character is less “Scarface” and more “The Godfather.”
CBR: With “Kingpin,” you’re in an interesting position writing the monthly adventures of a character who, if he gets what he wants, could change the power balance in New York City, the heart of the Marvel Universe. What’s it like writing such a title? Is this a book where we’ll see Wilson Fisk be able to succeed at some of his grand schemes?
Matthew Rosenberg: Yeah, “Kingpin” is a bit of unique book for Marvel. Books about the bad guys are pretty rare. I’ve actually had a lot of fans reach out to me worried we were making Wilson Fisk an anti-hero of sorts. I just want to be clear that we aren’t doing that. At all. The Kingpin everyone loves will be front and center in the book, but we are trying to explore some other sides of the man, too. I love him because he isn’t a handwringing monster, he’s something else entirely.
As for what it’s like to write the book? It’s amazing and intimidating. Fisk is an important character to the larger world of the Marvel Universe. And yeah, he can have a very profound impact on everything. I can’t say if this is the book where we see Fisk succeed at all his grand schemes, but it should be a fun journey to find out. In the same way I think people don’t pick up an Avengers book to see the Avengers lose, I hope people are picking up “Kingpin” to see Kingpin finally win some. He deserves a win or two. And it’s OK to root for the bad guys — sometimes.
In “Civil War II: Kingpin” you brought Fisk back into the New York underworld in a major way, but the city still has a number of rival crime bosses and would-be usurpers gunning for various territories. What’s the status of Fisk’s empire and ambition when you pick up with him in “Kingpin” #1? Does his power rival other crime lords yet? And is Fisk currently aiming to control everything? Or secure what he’s grabbed?
When “Kingpin” #1 launches, Fisk is pretty secure. He’s not untouchable by the other crime bosses like he used to be, but he is a force to be reckoned with in the city for sure. Kingpin got to be Kingpin by always being smarter and staying ahead of his peers. And this book really explores that.
In the past, Wilson Fisk has approached the crime in the city like he was playing chess while all the other gangsters were playing checkers. With what he has been through, and having to claw his way back up from nothing, Fisk isn’t playing chess with them anymore. He’s taking a flamethrower to the whole board. So don’t expect to see Fisk playing the game the way we have even seen him play it before.
In the past, Marvel titles featuring a headlining villain, like “Tomb of Dracula” and the current “Carnage” series, have been just as much about adversaries hunting or working to bring down the titular character as they have been about the their schemes. Will that be the case with “Kingpin?” Will we see things predominately from Fisk’s perspective? From his adversaries? Or both?
Fisk will definitely have adversaries, some fan favorites, stopping by and staying for a bit. But we are actually approaching the first arc from a different place. This is what Fisk looks like to the average New Yorker.
I talked about this a lot with my editors, Mark Basso and Mark Paniccia, as well as with [Marvel Comics’ editor-in-chief] Axel Alonso. We all agreed that to start we want to see Fisk a little differently. We know how he thinks of himself. We know how Daredevil and Spider-Man think of him. But how do the citizens of the Marvel Universe really see him? How does he deal with them? I’m a huge fan of comics like “Marvels” that give us that other perspective. It’s a good way to show the reader a more unbiased world and to keep them guessing a little bit. And that is our goal really. By the end of this, I want the Kingpin to shock even his biggest fans.
While we’re on the topic of Fisk’s adversaries, can who are some of the opponents he’ll be up against in your inaugural arc?
I can’t say much. There will definitely be some new faces, and some old. Kingpin is going to be traveling in some new circles and making some new enemies, but his old foes will follow him until one of them is in the earth. Anyone is fair game, but really we’re hoping we can stick around for a bit. We really want to build to something and we want the story to get bigger and bigger as it goes. So while you may not get all of your favorite characters on page 1, we have a plan.
Does that plan call for exploring any of the Kingpin’s long standing rivalries with characters like Daredevil, Spider-Man and the Punisher?
Yes, we want to explore them. It’s almost impossible not to. In the same way that the best heroes are defined by their villains, the reverse is also true. So expect some of those folks to show up for sure. But this is Fisk’s story. And he views these superheroes the same way he views the other gangsters, or the law. They are obstacles meant to be overcome.
Fisk doesn’t respect Daredevil any more than he respects the RICO Act or the Vice Squad. Maybe even less, because at least some elected officials made those things up. Vigilantism is just a different branch of organized crime. It just has a more obscured agenda.
What can you tell us about the supporting cast of “Kingpin?” The solicits for issue #1 mentioned a disgraced journalist —
Yes, Sarah Dewey is one of the leads of the series. She was a great reporter who just let it all get away from her. Now, Fisk is offering her a chance to get back on top — and it is tempting. We really explore Fisk through her eyes, the ways he can help and the ways he can hurt.
Beyond that, we’ll see familiar faces in Fisk’s world like Wesley, Turk, Hammerhead and Tombstone. Some new antagonists will have a go at Fisk, too. Plus, some familiar crime fighters will be stopping by.
Artist Ben Torres already played around in the shadowy intersection of street crime and super villainy with his excellent work on the Melvin Potter back up story in this year’s “Daredevil Annual.”
Ben has been amazing to work with. His style is so bold and eye-catching. His work reminds me of a lot of my favorite artists, Frank Miller, Eduardo Risso, Howard Chaykin and others, but Ben’s style is completely his own. His work is dark and moody. You just know you are reading a crime book when you look at it, but there is so much style. His Kingpin is just a cool looking character. There is menace lurking under the surface and hiding in the shadows. I think folks are going to really want to study his art and his characters. And that is a great feeling, knowing that people are going to want to spend time staring at your pages, pouring over them. It makes my job much easier.
Finally, any hints or teases you can leave us with about the action and tone of your initial “Kingpin” stories? What kinds of action does a book like this lend itself towards?
Well, we’re trying to do something a little different with Kingpin, here. A lot of my favorite Kingpin stories, stuff by Frank Miller, [Brian Michael] Bendis and [Alex] Maleev, [Ed] Brubaker and [Michael] Lark, have been about Kingpin going to war. There are lots of stories about Fisk being pushed to the limit and striking back. We are doing it a little different.
This is a Wilson Fisk people will be surprised by. This is the calm, smart, patient Wilson Fisk carefully making his moves. The comparison I made early on is that people are used to “Scarface” and we want to give them “The Godfather.” We also are trying to show a little more of who Kingpin is behind the crime. We want to see his compassionate side, find out why he does what he does, what he cares about. He’s still a bad man, but he’s not *just *a bad man. So that is sort of the basis of what we are doing, but like any good story about bad men things won’t work out perfectly.
I’d urge fans of Kingpin or people who want to see a little bit of a different side of the Marvel universe to give “Kingpin” a try. We are working pretty hard to make a book that scratches all the itches that fans have in a Kingpin book, but do it in a way they won’t expect. My goal is to give people the Kingpin book they didn’t know they wanted.