It gets better, Kingpin

Yesterday, I briefly talked about Ultimate Spider-Man.  He not only fights crime, he also struggles to keep a girlfriend, good grades, and keeping his secret identity from his aunt.  You know, basic Saved by the Bell stuff.  Sure, the series has a bit more teenage drama than Spider-Man fans may be used to, but more importantly, child Spider-Man is a dick.

About four or five arcs during the decade plus long run dealt with Spider-Man attempting to thwart mob boss Wilson Fisk, commonly known as The Kingpin (played by Michael Clarke Duncan in the movie Daredevil).

Despite having no superpowers, the giant criminal has been a huge thorn in the side of “street” superheroes since the 1960s.  And I’m not being racist – let me explain.

New York City houses more superheroes than any other city in the Marvel world.  So how do writers justify the severe level of crime in the city that is like a quarter superpowered?  I mean, Gotham City in the DC world is well-known for the almost preposterous amount of bad guys running around, but their only superhero is Batman, and his superhero is throwing bat shurikens.  Well in NYC, different superheroes handle different levels of problems.  The Fantastic Four and the Avengers don’t go around patrolling for purse snatchers.  They have to universes to save and Devourers of Worlds to beat up.

Galactus isn’t going to be mugging anybody.  That’s the Fantastic Four’s job.  But then who stops “street” crime?  Who interferes with bank robbers and drug dealers?  The three main ones are Spider-Man, Daredevil, and The Punisher.  And since The Kingpin is the most powerful crime boss in the city, all three take turns dealing with him.

In the Ultimate line, it’s Spider-Man who clashes with The Kingpin most often.  And despite The Kingpin being a ruthless, remorseless murderer, Peter Parker is downright cruel to him.  Words can sometimes hurt more than fists, buddy.

Sometimes bullying doesn’t stop at high school.  These are premeditated barbs meant only to emotionally wound.  And don’t think Spider-Man is just being brave.  Despite the physical size difference, Spider-Man can bench press an 18-wheeler.  To counter the one-sided fight, it’s become pretty well-established by now that The Kingpin is built almost entirely of crazy muscle.  This way child Spider-Man doesn’t take down a guy five times his weight in two and a half panels.  But it’s not going to prevent our protagonist from racking up the mob boss’ therapy bills.

Have you noticed a recurring theme in these select pages?  Yeah, The Kingpin doesn’t understand why Spider-Man is bothering him.  Y’see, unlike say Norman Osborn or other villains with personal connections to young Peter Parker, The Kingpin’s arcs have all began with Spider-Man reading about the crime leader getting away with stuff he shouldn’t or doing some nasty stuff.  And the kid decides to butt in.  That’s it.  You now know the entire motivations for our hero’s actions.

So how does a normal dude stop a superhero?  Well, connections certainly help.  Which makes their dynamic one of the finest and most complex in the Marvel universe.  Why do superheroes have secret identities in the first place?  The most common answer is to protect their loved ones from amoral baddies.  So how do you create a setting where both Spider-Man and The Kingpin have equal leeway over the other?  Well, eliminate the secret identity and the jokes slowly starts to disappear.  Now the power struggle goes from this:

To something more substantial:

To ultimately a relationship that becomes dark as balls:

The main problem with having superheroes around for over 50 years is that the stories have to remain fresh and interesting to keep readers.  If Spider-Man punches his way to victory in every issue, readers are going to move on, no matter how many arms or tiny mustaches the villains have.  So instead, introduce a bad guy that is untouchable by the law and with repercussions that make fistfights impossible.  How is a kid supposed to defeat a villain like this?  And now you have the readers’ attention.  Though personally, I never tire of punching, but I’m just old fashioned like that.

More importantly, let this post serve as a message of hope.  If you’re bullied but end up growing to seven feet tall and have access to major crime connections, you’ll be fine.  In the main Marvel universe, Wilson Fisk currently runs his own deadly ninja clan, so look into that if the mafia may not be your thing.

Finally, to be fair about The Kingpin’s inappropriate anger and threats, he does constantly get one upped by a tenth grader.  And not a terribly bright one either.

7 Comments on “It gets better, Kingpin”

  1. wwayne says:

    I’ve always thought that a character like Batman needed a villain like Kingpin. Yes, of course Gotham has the greatest “wild bunch” of villains we’ve ever seen in comics, but all of them are psychos: what Batman needs is a normal man who decides to be on the wrong track not because he’s mad, but because he rationally prefers to employ his intelligence and to satisfy his ambition in a criminal way. Batman never met a man like this, and it’s a real shame. There are some villains who have something in common with Kingpin, like Black Mask or the Penguin, but they have not the same appeal, and DC never gave them the deepness and the criminal genious that Kingpin has.

    • Jason Levine says:

      You’re not wrong, as Kingpin doesn’t have a “gimmick” that defines all the Gotham supervillains/mob bosses, relying on far more character development and plot to make him so interesting. Oh, and if you haven’t read Spider-man: Tangled Web #4, that would definitely be worth your time. Thanks for the comment, you’re super awesome!

    • reecemjones says:

      I would guess Hush or Black Mask would be the closest DC have ever come to having normal men who are just crime bosses (as some interpretations just put Black Mask as someone who wears a mask to intimidate others rather than it being his actual face). Its just that DC don’t know what to do with them.

      Even the Penguin, who perhaps could become a Kingpin like character, has just been reduced to a patsy or comedy for the stories he is in.

    • The "Fallen" Angel says:

      I think Deathstroke might (might) fall into that category, though as an assassin, not a Kingpin, or even a kingpin for that matter.

      • wwayne says:

        That is some stellar insight. I had never thought about it until now. Let’s hope some DC guys will read your comment. Thank you for your reply! : )

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