Friday, March 13, 2009

Return of the King: Prologue:
On The Costa Da Morte (Marvel)
Daredevil #116 When: May 2009
Why: Ed Brubaker How: David Aja

The Story So Far...
In New York City, Wilson Fisk was once the all-powerful Kingpin of crime, but when a plot to take down his arch-nemesis resulted in his own incarceration alongside his enemy, everything changed. Amidst the crumbling of his empire, the Kingpin grasped at his fading connections, whilst watching Daredevil leave prison, only to unwittingly battle his beloved wife.

An embittered Vanessa Fisk had orchestrated events to pit her husband and his nemesis against one another in mortal combat, but when the pair failed to kill each other, Daredevil was able unravel her schemes, following clues to Spain. Face to face with his Vanessa on her deathbed, Daredevil was forced out of moral obligation to use his skills as a lawyer to free her husband from prison.

Murdock arranged freedom for his nemesis on the condition that he relinquish his criminal empire and leave the country for good. Though this final act of peace was to honor Vanessa Fisk's memory, it was inevitably short lived. Wilson Fisk found for himself a new life in Spain, where he and Vanessa had shared fond memories, but the sins of the past are not so easily forgotten for a Kingpin.

Discovered in Spain by Lady Bullseye and the Hand, Fisk returns to the humble abode of a new surrogate family, only to find them dead. Unsurprised by their grim fate, he meets his enemies with an accepting fury, and powerful fist.

Tale of the Tape...
Strength: Kingpin 3 (Athlete)
Intelligence: Kingpin 4 (Tactician)
Speed: Kingpin 2 (Average)
Stamina: Kingpin 4 (Athlete)
Agility: Kingpin 2 (Average)
Fighting Ability: Kingpin 5 (Martial Artist)
Energy Power: Kingpin 1 (None)

- In sixteenth century Japan, a swordsman named Kagenobu Yoshioka, growing frustrated with increasing foreign influence and corruption within his government, transformed his fighting school into a nationalistic training ground for samurai dedicated to restoring Japanese pride. This group became known as The Hand.
The samurai forces were quickly betrayed by one of their own, allowing a reclusive ninja cult to infiltrate their number and assume control.

This new incarnation of The Hand was dedicated to their own empowerment, offering their services as mercenaries for their own gain.
Utilizing dark powers granted by a demonic beast worshipped by the cult, the endless hordes of highly skilled ninja become a powerful army unto themselves. Their dark magics allow not only endless hordes of ninja who turn dust upon death, but also the resurrection of recently deceased as pawns under their influence. During the Second World War, the Hand spawned a terrorist branch called HYDRA, dedicated to political readjustments in Japan.

Prominent figures recruited as assassins for the Hand include: Elektra, Wolverine, Psylocke, Revanche, The Gorgon, Echo, and Lady Bullseye.
Most recently the ninja have been led in America by Lady Bullseye, who killed and recruited Black Tarantula and White Tiger, while pursuing Daredevil and Kingpin.

- A childhood of ridicule for being overweight galvanized a young Wilson Fisk's resolve to possess power over his fellow men. As a young man he began a gang and trained himself to utilize his size and strength as an advantage. These skills made the transition from street bully to mobster an easy one. Fisk was recruited as a bodyguard by New York crime boss, Don Rigoletto, and eventually killed him.

Fisk quickly ushered in a new era of organized crime in New York City, amassing a great fortune, as he enforced his rule as the new Kingpin of crime.
Along the way he earned for himself powerful criminal rivals, as well as more expansive threats, such as the international terrorist organization, HYDRA, and their mysterious ninja army, the Hand. The Kingpin also found bitter personal enemies in costumed vigilantes such as; Daredevil, Spider-man, and Punisher.

Fisk combats his nemesis with his own expansive army of thugs, henchmen, and superhuman assassins. Among those who have served as his deadly minions; Bullseye, Elektra, Nuke, Typhoid Mary, Jack O'Lantern, Shocker, and Puma.
Though rarely required to enter battle himself, the Kingpin is a highly skilled hand-to-hand combatant, capable of utilizing his fantastic size and strength to tremendous advantage. He is also deceptively quick, for a man of his bulk.

Math: Kingpin (Avg) Ranking: Kingpin (#462)

What Went Down...
Arriving home from the night time rain, the Kingpin's dreaded expectations are confirmed. The lives of a kind woman and an innocent child, the price of the Kingpin's love. Still present, the Hand ninja stand lit by lightning, swords drawn ready to engage the fading Wilson Fisk, who is again becoming a Kingpin.

The ninja scatter like skittles as the Kingpin throws himself at their number.
The bulky man moves with incredible speed and strength, swatting great numbers of the ninja with a single swing of his fist. Their weapons give them an advantage, but the Kingpin has a passionate resolve to end their lives, and the pent-up bloodlust of a crime boss who was swept away by overwhelming peace.

Steel tips run red with blood, as shuriken fly, and swords slash.
Though the ninja suffer the physical dominance of a raging bull, Wilson Fisk is fighting on borrowed time. Powerful and skilled, though he may be, the sheer number of ninja weighs down upon him until the fateful blow is struck.

Fated, a single ninja escapes the mighty Kingpin's grasp, and with unforgiving precision, the blade is driven deep into his flesh. The wound causes pause in the Kingpin's rage as he begins to fall and accept the cure to his plague of death.

Another ninja leaps through the air to drive a second sword into his back.
A wobble becomes a stagger and the Kingpin does as he never has before, and drops to his knees. Before him lies the body of the woman he had allowed himself to love. Marta, was her name. Paralyzed, he whispers her name, while the red clad assassins bare down around him like a ring of fire.

With as many ninja scattered around the room as there are standing, Lady Bullseye emerges from the shadows. If her goal had been to kill the Kingpin, then she no doubt would have already done so, herself. Instead, she merely confronts the defeated man, provoking his captive audience to escape boyish naivity, and accept that he must return to New York City to face Daredevil.

The Hammer...
Despite clobbering his fair share of ninja, I'm afraid the Kingpin must concede defeat to The Hand. I feel compelled to grant Lady Bullseye an assist stat, if only for her directorial role and final interjection. It's a highly debatable interpretation, but we'll live.

A harsh assessment of a title like Daredevil might accuse it of having an inglorious sense of expectation. You could almost read a sense of it all taking for granted an assumed sense of instant credibility in a title that's offered superhero readers a trendy deadpan alternative to more colourful books.

Giving an entire issue to the Kingpin's narrated journey into peaceful, brooding self-fulfilment is the kind of poseur-pandering given we've come to expect from a title like this, but there's just one thing keeping the cynical wolves at bay -- it's actually quite logical, quite enjoyable, and quite good.

Over the course of his run on the title, Ed Brubaker has taken DD from the dazzling heights of the lead character's incarceration, to the much less inspiring grind of grey-toned superheroics and emotional squabbles. With an end in sight, it seems the parabola is back on the upswing, finally giving us a reason to talk about the book again for the first time in two years. It started with an unlikely boost, the introduction of Lady Bullseye -- female counterpart to Daredevil's most famous nemesis with a Kill Bill origin, and sexier wasteline than the original.

Since then, we've learnt that Andy Diggle is next in line to take over the revered title, making Return of the Kingpin a nice little full circle footnote to Brubaker's run. Just as Brian Bendis left Brubaker holding the gun with his departing story, The Murdock Papers, so to does Brubaker promise an intriguing hook for Diggle to rationalize as he comes aboard for a newly reverted issue #500.

What that hook might be is just one of the intrigues driving Brubaker's swansong which sees the unlikely team-up of Kingpin and Daredevil in the first official issue of the arc-proper [#117]. If their agreement is telegraphing anything, it's that Kingpin doesn't plan to live through the affair. A promise that could regrettably be only as good as the writers that follow, but an interesting end, none the less.

To the issue at hand, marked as "Part 1" on the cover, but as "Prologue" in the interiors, there can mostly be good things said. As a prologue, revealing Kingpin's time away from the United States is not only a great piece of the puzzle to have, but also does well to frame his state of mind in the current story. Sentimentality and romance have long been underlying traits of the Wilson Fisk character, making his acceptance of a new life in Spain a natural twist for the character.

Michael Lark's absence from the book goes unnoticed.
As with his pencils on Iron Fist, David Aja makes for a convincingly seamless stand-in. Whether or not this proves critical acclaim is a colourist away, depends on whether or not you attribute the value of layouts to the penciller. Jose Villarrubia deserves considerable credit for the evocative nature of his colours, borrowing from the Matt Hollingsworth palette for standard scenes, while a warm sepia array takes over for lighter moments in the Kingpin's domestic new life.

At times, the narration gets a little obvious, and a little silly with how carried away with itself it gets. Wilson Fisk has always been a man of imposing stature and intelligence, and his insights veer a little too far from a raw and exposed glimpse at his personality, hitting the edge of adolescent writing.

As a stand-alone issue, it's a pretty darn good story, if a little bit obvious.
On a site like this, the action is a given. As the black and white panel might suggest, fight scenes play with the format. Panels not featured utilize isolated imagery relevant to the action, showing much less than is actually occurring. This communicates the Kingpin's perspective well, but might be a little bit too vague for it's own good, at times. You'd be hard pressed to resist the next issue, however.

The Fight: 4 The Issue: 5.5
Winner: The Hand (w/ Lady Bullseye)

Return of the King still has a few months to go, but if you're keen, you can pre-order the trade paperback collection through Amazon. By using purchase links provided on the site, you help sponsor future entries on the Infinite Wars. You'll find plenty more in the Amazonian Gift Shoppe, including collected editions of most stories featured previously in the Secret Archives.

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