Category Archives: Conspectus
A broad look back at comics and characters, and where they fit in comic book history.
X-Men: Apocalypse arrives in theaters this week, and while reviews have been mixed, there’s no denying that the X-Men have become a major movie franchise, with a half-dozen films so far, and plenty more on the way. It’s hard to believe these many movies began with a single comic series published by Marvel a half-century ago!
I recently re-read the first several issues of X-Men, and it was fascinating to see where and how this modern franchise was born. In celebration of the X-Men’s pending Apocalypse, I thought it would be fun to look at the team’s Genesis, in terms of the major mutant tropes that emerged in the earliest days of the X-Men!
Now, I have a confession to make. Despite my love of all things Marvel, I’ve never been a huge X-Men fan, and I’ve considered the earliest run of the book among the lesser works of Stan Lee and Jack Kirby. It had been several years since I read this book, and I went into my re-read expecting unsophisticated stories and a lot of growing pains as the X-Men formula gradually took shape.
What surprised me was how much of the modern X-Men storytelling DNA was baked into this series right from the start. And the most magical moment of all was when the most important element of the X-Men ethos flowered into full life in issue #5.
But that’s getting ahead of myself …
The concept of mutant student/heroes was on display right from the start. From the first page of issue #1, class was in session!
And “class,” for the most part, meant the Danger Room … though it wasn’t called by that name quite yet.
Some of the X-Men’s personalities were also on early display. Scott Summers was already a humorless hall monitor. The Beast, conversely, was initially a rough-and-tumble thuggish type … but more about him in a moment.
The X-Men were united in their admiration of the school’s newest pupil — Jean Grey. Maybe not quite united — Bobby Drake, the Iceman, was vocal in his disinterest. I’m certain Stan Lee and Jack Kirby didn’t mean for this to be more than an adolescent male expressing that girls are icky … but given that Bobby has come out as gay in recent Marvel continuity, this makes for an interesting footnote.
Most important, this first issue laid the groundwork for the core element of the X-Men mythos — that mutants are different than humans, and feared by them.
And mutants are feared with good reason! That’s right, there are evil mutants, too … And right on cue, we get a gloriously deranged Magneto, ranting about Homo Superior.
Our heroes put Magneto to flight, which earns them the appreciation of the Army. While hinted at earlier, that critical element of the X-Men — that society hates all mutants, good or evil, just for being mutants — hasn’t quite coalesced yet.
Issue #2 further wedded the X-Men with the mainstream. Cyclops and Iceman received the kind of welcome normally reserved for the likes of the Fantastic Four …
And Professor X was working directly with the F.B.I. to capture the Vanisher, communicating via some high-tech telepathic gizmo. (It might be easier to use the phone next time, Chuck!)
But there was one bit of X-Men lore that got well and truly locked in this issue — the Danger Room got its name!
Issue #3 saw the X-Men’s mission of reaching out to the world’s mutants start to come into focus, though the way Professor X was shown to do it was kind of creepy.
The Mutant-Of-The-Month was the Blob. It was amusing that Professor X had no “Plan B” if someone had the temerity of turning down an invitation to the X-Men. Someone might take a dim view of risking his neck in the Danger Room and getting bossed around by Scott Summers? Inconceivable!
The Blob clearly wasn’t X-Men material. That he used his newfound status to try to take over a circus speaks volumes … and also serves to underscore the emerging good-mutants-versus-bad-mutants theme taking root in the book.
This issue also saw the Beast reinterpreted as educated and sophisticated. In Son of Origins, Stan Lee wrote this change was because the original, rough-hewn Beast seemed too much like The Thing, from the Fantastic Four. And so the Beast started using big words and reading an advanced calculus book with his feet!
Issue #3 also introduced a pervy subplot where Professor X secretly pined for the teenage Jean Grey … but we will just pretend this never happened …
Issue #4 featured the return of Magneto, now in command of the Brotherhood of Evil Mutants! Chief among Magneto’s crew were Quicksilver and the Scarlet Witch — pretty much the odd-mutants-out in Magneto’s Brotherhood, and destined to to respond to the better angels of their natures and become heroes after an issue or two. But they did provide the perfect audience for Magneto to blast off again about the secret mutant war that was becoming the heart of the book.
That plot line continued into Issue #5, where there was a subtle change that really defined what made the X-Men special …
Did you catch it?
“Normal humans fear and distrust anyone with super-mutant powers! … If he’s a fellow mutant, we’ve got to help him! … We’ve got to help anyone who’s in trouble! That’s our oath!”
The friendly men-on-the-street and allied authority figures of the first few issues have given way to an ugly mob that turns against mutants because they are different … while the X-Men emerge as heroes who look out for their own kind, but also defend anyone who is in trouble, even the people who hate them.
With these two panels, the X-Men are well and truly born. The idea that our heroes were mutants, and that they were students in a school, did help to set the book apart right from the start — but these were external elements, and over time they would have been little more than gimmicks. By providing the X-Men with the internal dynamic of being hated by the outside world while still pledging to serve the common good — well, that’s a concept that could (and did!) sustain these heroes for decades to come.
Suddenly, X-Men was more than a superhero fist opera. It was a battle for hearts and minds! And the stakes couldn’t be higher, because that battle was fought inside the team itself — like in issue #8, where Beast stormed off the team after being set-upon by a bigoted mob.
“I think Magneto and his evil mutants are right!”
That’s an argument we’ve been having in X-Men to this day.
This is interesting stuff! Our four-color world is suddenly cast in shades of grey. And while it would still be a decade before the X-Men as we know them today really came together …
… you can still trace the genesis of this beloved Marvel super-team to those first, at-times-awkward issues by Stan Lee and Jack Kirby. Was there anything those two guys couldn’t do?
And has there ever been a longer-gestating comic book hit than the X-Men? The book was ten years in the wilderness before it turned into a phenomenon with that new team, above — ten years where the series flirted with cancellation, and was even a reprint book for a time. The reintroduction of the X-Men under Len Wein and Dave Cockrum (and Chris Claremont, who took the ball and ran with it) was pitch-perfect, using the core ideas and history of series as a jumping-off point, and introducing a colorful and (mostly) new cast of characters that connected with the audience in ways the originals never quite managed.
Given Marvel’s nature — and the necessity of keeping those trademarks fresh — I expect the X-Men would have continued to get times at bat even if the 1974 series had fizzled, but that would have been no guarantee of success. How many times has Marvel tried (and failed) to make us fall in love with the Inhumans? Deathlok, Blade, Ghost Rider … every couple years, these characters get a chance to seize the spotlight, but they’ve never pulled it off, certainly not to the degree the X-Men have enjoyed. In terms of unlikely success, I expect only the Guardians of the Galaxy rank higher in Marvel’s oeuvre, and while the Guardians used a clever comics reboot as a springboard for their success, that property has really been more of a movie phenomenon than a comic book success.
Anyway, it just goes to show that sometimes it take awhile to get it right … and that you can’t rush success. The idea and the moment have to meet, and even then, you need a lot of luck. But hope springs eternal, and one of the pleasures of being a comics fan is watching a tertiary book like X-Men or the Guardians turn into a runaway success. It’s the kind of thing that inspires collectors to hang on to even their most obscure comic books — you never know when some lame old first issue is going to turn into solid gold.
(And personally, I’m keeping my fingers crossed for the Invaders, Son of Satan, and the Legion of Monsters!)
NEXT MONTH: #161 The Superman Novels of Elliot S! Maggin
These are tough times for the World’s Greatest Comic Magazine. The Fantastic Four are conspicuous by their absence from Marvel’s next big reboot, and their new movie is supposed to stink (putting it in good company with the ones that have come before). While the series has enjoyed signature runs under creators like John Byrne and Jonathan Hickman, you could argue that the Fantastic Four went into decline when Jack Kirby left the book with issue #102 in 1970 (if not earlier).
Classic heroes. Great villains. Galaxy-spanning adventures of lasting importance. A sprawling supporting cast that’s better than the headliners of many other books. And yet, today the Fantastic Four feels like a second-tier property (and maybe that’s giving them too much credit). How can Reed, Ben, Johnny, and Sue regain their mojo?
I’m far from an expert on this series, but on the eve of their bound-to-be-disappointing third (fourth?) film outing, I thought I’d look at key aspects of the Fantastic Four — the things that make them special, and the things I think need to be front-and-center in any interpretation of this property. I’m certain I’ll miss a few things (and overstate others), so be sure to give me your impressions, additions, and push-backs in the comments section, below.
But without further apology … here’s what I regard as the Core of the Four!
There is a special magic in the partnering of Mr. Fantastic, the Invisible Woman, the Human Torch, and the Thing. They’re primal elementals … brains, heart, charisma, and brawn … husband, wife, brother, and best friend.
From time to time a member will leave the group, but the Fantastic Four just don’t feel like the Fantastic Four without their four founding members front-and-center. The team has had its share of membership changes and roster shake-ups, but while I like She-Hulk as much as the the next guy, for me the Fantastic Four has to center on the original four canonical characters. The book can and should have a robust supporting cast — but Ben, Reed, Johnny, and Susan have got to hold the center stage. Without these guys, you don’t have the Fantastic Four.
Not Just A World — A Whole Universe
The Fantastic Four shouldn’t feel like a part of the Marvel Universe — they ARE the Marvel Universe. Actually, they’re bigger than the Marvel Universe! Anchored by their Baxter Building HQ, the Fantastic Four enjoy the same New York City playground as most of Marvel’s other characters … but they also have the limitless reaches of outer space, strange alternate dimensions, and hidden enclaves like Attilan, Latveria, Atlantis, and Wakanda as their domain.
One of the great charms of this series is that it is as at home on Yancy Street as Ego the Living Planet, and everyplace in between. From month to month, a reader shouldn’t be able to guess where an adventure is going to start, or where it is going to lead. This series should have the broadest canvas in comics.
The Fantastic Four can tackle serious threats — you don’t get much more serious than Galactus trying to eat the planet! — but this is a sunlit series long on adventure and … well … fun. It is a rational world where science can solve anything (and cause a few problems along the way); it’s a trivial world where the Fantastic Four are celebrities at the heart of the world’s biggest reality show; it’s a childish world where the Thing and the Torch wreck their headquarters over some silly prank; it’s a flexible world where characters like Doctor Doom and the Impossible Man can share the same stage.
At the core, the Fantastic Four is an unapologetic Silver Age adventure story, a kitchen sink of space gods, bank robbers, killer robots, villainous landlords, mad science, and romantic melodrama. There is angst, disappointment, and heartbreak along the way, but the Fantastic Four isn’t grim, miserable, or violent — it is the story of four optimistic souls who love each other and love having superpowers (even Ben Grimm, who over time has evolved from a wretched man trapped inside a monster into a wise old brawler who is — most of the time — comfortable in his own skin). The Fantastic Four should have fun on their adventures, and their adventures should be fun to read.
It’s not such a dirty word. Say it with me, now — FUN!
The Beating Heart of the Marvel Universe
The Fantastic Four are Marvel’s First Family — they can and should be at the center of everything that happens in the Marvel Universe. Over the decades, the X-Men and (more recently) the Avengers have grown into Marvel’s go-to teams when disaster threatens, but really, it is the Fantastic Four that you want when it is time to get things done. They’re the team with the unimpeachable reputation, with connections around the globe (and around the universe!), with the cutting-edge tech, and the unmatchable reserve of experience and talent for tackling any problem.
They can be diplomats, they can be scientists, they can be explorers, and they can be a wrecking crew with equal aplomb. They’re privately funded and committed to the public good in ways that less organic super teams cannot match. The biggest events of the Marvel Universe — from dimensional rifts to alien invasions to the wedding receptions of super-spouses — really only feel big if they happen to or with the Fantastic Four. That the Fantastic Four have been pushed to the margins of the Marvel Universe is a tragedy for the title, and an even greater loss for Marvel, as it denies the larger part of the heritage that makes Marvel great. Get this book back on the schedule! Free the Fantastic Four!
That’s your core — big adventures with intimate characters. A legacy of heroism and adventure. A sense of destiny and duty. Unbreakable family bonds. Fun! Give me those things, or you’re not giving me the Fantastic Four!
It might seem that I’m advocating for a strictly Silver Age Fantastic Four — and those hundred-odd Silver Age issues by Stan and Jack are still tops in my book — but this needn’t be the case. Sure, I’d love to see a 1960s-era Fantastic Four movie with a Mad Men visual sensibility, but there are some core elements of the original series (like the Cold War competition with “the Reds,” or the sexist portrayal of Sue Storm as a weak and superfluous member of the group) that are best forgotten.
The wildest excesses of the Silver Age can and should likewise be tempered for contemporary audiences. But the soul and spirit of that era should proudly remain at the heart of the Fantastic Four. This is a great property … a great series with a great heritage. All that really remains is for the Fantastic Four (and Marvel!) to recognize that greatness — and embrace it. Depict the Fantastic Four with confidence and swagger and prove they aren’t a relic of a bygone age, and that their greatest adventures are yet to come.
I’m ready to join them! How about you? Give me your own reboot ideas in the comments section, below!
NEXT MONTH: #151 Fantastic Four Annuals #1-3
Once again, Paul has allowed me, your old pal, Dean Compton, to venture into the Bronze Age with you guys! It’s funny, but I have noticed that whenever I get out of my 90’s comics bubble, (which all of you can read more about at The Unspoken Decade) and come here to chronicle some Bronze Age favorites, I only deal in the very bright (as my prior articles on SHAZAM! and All-Star Squadron prove) or the very seedy (Punisher, this article) elements of the age. Just like Billy Joel, I don’t know why I go to extremes, but unlike Billy Joel, I allow characters like Hulk to take me to extremes. Also unlike Billy Joel, I cannot play the piano.
Another thing Billy Joel and I do not have in common is the fact that he was a living, breathing being when The Rampaging Hulk debuted in 1977, while the world would have to wait with bated breath for two more years for me to emerge. That’s just another reason for me to be jealous of Billy Joel. I mean, he had a great career, he married Christie Brinkley, and he also had the chance to buy something as cool as The Rampaging Hulk right off the shelf.
There’s no proof that Billy Joel frequented 7-11 after 7-11 while on tour, pushing back magazine after magazine until they were dog-eared so that he might find these Hulk comic books, but there really isn’t any proof that he didn’t either, and I prefer to think that we live in a world where the Piano Man demanded his tour bus stop at newsstands as he tried to find these. I also prefer to think that his tour bus is shaped like a giant piano, so my thoughts are most likely not worth much. Besides, isn’t that a funny image to have in your head now?
The images in The Rampaging Hulk usually are not so funny. They tend to be somewhat visceral, as black and white does Bruce Banner’s green alter ego very well! Of course, it does not hurt that we get some great art by several masters. The first few issues are done by Walt Simonson in what i think may be his most underrated work ever, which is nothing short of a war crime in my book.
Before I show you any of that though, let’s discuss the magazine…I hear you whining, Ok, one picture from Simonson, but then it is right back to the background behind The Rampaging Hulk!
Now that your appetite for Walt Simonson has been momentarily sated, let’s chat a bit about the background of this magazine. It started in January of 1977, which is a good year and a half before Hulk debuted on TV. With issue #10 of the magazine’s run, the magazine will become full color and start to focus more on adventures like the ones TV Hulk would have, and it would also start to have lots of interviews with the cast and crew of the show. After those changes, I find myself disenchanted with the magazine. I know this is probably blasphemous, but I have never cared for the Lou Ferrigno/Bill Bixby Hulk TV show. Even as a youngster, I thought them to be cheesy and silly. Later, when I saw the made-for-TV movies with Daredevil and Thor, I liked them more due to my penchant for crossovers, but I still hated the changes that were made to Thor and Daredevil.
That having been said, I wonder why this was launched when it was. Was there an outcry for more Hulk material in 1976 and 1977? Was this just added in anticipation of the TV show? If it was added for the TV show, they did it in a rather odd way, as the first none issues deal with filling in gaps in Hulk’s history.
That’s right. This title is set YEARS earlier than when it is released. In fact, it is designed to fill in gaps between the end of Hulk’s original series (which only lasted six issues, believe it or not) and when he started appearing regularly in Tales to Astonish,so in many ways, this is one of the first “retcon” type of title. Of course, it apparently caused more harm than good, and so later it was determined that these stories were all fake, told by one of the characters located therein. I find it sad that they could not work any of these into continuity (for whatever that is worth) because these issues are very fun and very solid. Doug Moench writes most of them (Jim Starlin writes a GREAT issue) and while I do not think it stacks against his Master of Kung Fu or Moon Knight work, I still like it a lot, and it is probably unfair to make the comparison. It is sort of like comparing albums by The Beatles. I mean, Rubber Soul isn’t as good as Revolver, but they are both amazing albums by amazing creators.
One big complaint that I have about the magazine is that it did not really take advantage of its medium. When I did my Punisher article here at LBG, I noted that the black and white magazines put out by Warren, Marvel, Skywald, and others during the 70’s had a dangerous vibe to them. Many of them were a little more violent and offered a little more sexuality than color comic books (regulated by the code) could. I was not interested in the Cinemax adventures of The Hulk, but I would have liked to have seen this medium used more effectively, even if the storylines were a little more mature with some social commentary and whatnot. This magazine cost a buck in 1977, which means that the people who could afford it not only wanted more for their money, but they also were almost certainly an audience of an older age, one who would have expected some meatier stuff than what they got. Jim Starlin’s issue has some excellent death/outer space imagery (IMAGINE THAT) that fits into the grindhouse/nigh-seedy feel of 1970’s black and white magazines, but the rest of the series sort of falls flat.
That doesn’t make it a bad read though, and in fact, I highly recommend it just for the art of Walk Simonson, George Perez, Jim Starlin, Kieth Giffen, and more! In fact, there’s so much incredible imagery that it is going to be beyond difficult to keep this article to a manageable level; some of you probably already find it too wordy, so here’s some more Simonson!!!
I also want to give props to Alfredo Alcala for his great inking job; he makes Simonson come alive in a way I think many others could not. Alcala is a favorite of many pros I know, and this really makes one see why.
The basic story is that Hulk is thwarting a secret invasion of Krylorians. He does this working alongside his pal and the mascot of the Marvel Universe, Rick Jones. Of course, we all are probably aware of how intertwined Bruce Banner and Rick Jones are due to Rick basically being the catalyst for the chain of events that formed Hulk, but in case you didn’t know, Walt Simonson and Doug Moench break it down in a really cool manner.
We see very little of the traditional Hulk supporting cast. After issue #1, there’s no Better Ross, Thunderbolt Ross, or Glenn Talbot. Due to flying saucers being spotted over London, Hulk and Rick Jones head for Italy. What I especially enjoy though, is how jingoistic Thunderbolt Ross is. I mean, there’s certainly no surprise that a general in the U.S. Army is very blindly patriotic, but few would convey it in as humorous a fashion as good ‘ol Thunderbolt.
I have no idea what a milksop is, but I am working that into my everyday insult collection. Instead of hurling expletives at the drivers in Atlanta, I will shoot a milksop or two at them. My road rage is becoming more refined, and I feel like that makes me a better person. It doesn’t, but at least it makes me feel like it.
That’s really the last we see of the usual gang of Hulk Hangers-On! (Hello Stan Lee alliteration) Instead, Hulk and Rock head for Europe, where they meet the Krylorian who is on our side, Bereet!
That name may sound familiar, because she was the alien Starlord forgot he had aboard in the incredible Guardians of the Galaxy movie. She is a neat character, and due to her gentle nature, status as a techno-artist, and neat tricks like a spatial distorter and a banshee mask that doubles as a supersonic ship!
Once this trio joins forces, they gallant all across Europe, thwarting Krylorian plan after Krlylorian plan. Their adventures also lead them to meet The
Uncanny Original X-Men! I do not know if Walt Simonson ever got to do the original X-Men elsewhere (other than a stint on X-Factor, which only sort of counts in my eyes), but he does them justice here. His Danger Room sequence packs in more excitement than many other artists rendition of the X-Men in action against actual foes!
The Danger Room sometimes seems like a false danger, in that they are holograms and the like. I know that these holograms can be deadly, but there’s something much more viscerally satisfying about watching these young mutants dodge spiked balls and knives on poles. The danger comes to life, as it does when Simonson draws the Hulk completely unleashed!
Moments like the X-Men’s arrival propel this title, but I think the best overall issue is the one Jim Starlin wrote and drew. Jim Starlin has so much talent; I wonder if he could lend me some. We often discuss Starlin and his greatness, and I think nearly everyone would agree that he is indeed one of the all-time greats, but I think we often overlook his ability to do good Hulk stories. One of my favorite Hulk moments of all time happened in Infinity Gauntlet, where he and Wolvering are chatting on the roof of Avengers Mansion. The dialogue is perfect, and the if the characterization where anymore spot on, Gordon Ramsay would be here to tell you all about it,
Jim Starlin also draws a tremendous Hulk, as evidenced by his bittersweet standalone story in The Rampaging Hulk.
That’s some of my favorite Starlin work, and if that double-page splash doesn’t convince you of Starlin’s greatness, then I guess you only have about 439783498734983 other great things he did to convince you. Something about the black and white of this magazine makes Starlin’s work sinister at the edges; that’s perfect for this book and the story he tells here, which takes Hulk away from the main tale of beating up Krylorians left and right. Starlin does not ignore the main story though, as he bookends his tale of outer space and magic with how Hulk got there and how Hulk got home in one of those bittersweet tales that Jim Starlin is really good at doing.
The other two big highlights of the series are Hulk meeting people from the rest of the Marvel Universe before he “actually” would have met them. His meeting with Namor, the Sub-Mariner is a 2-parter, and it is one of the highlights of the book to me. Namor is a favorite of mine, and I love the line of nobility and savagery that he manages to walk! Or is that swim? OR EVEN FLY? The possibilities remain endless!!!
A Hulk vs. Namor fight almost always delivers. Namor’s arrogance and prodigious strength of his own almost never allow him to admit defeat in the face of a foe, even one as superior in strength as the Incredible Hulk, while Hulk, well, HUlk just wants to smash, of course.
I am unsure when Namor got all He-Man/Conan, but that is what he decided is necessary to beat Hulk on this cover.
One thing is for sure, though; I have no problem believing that indeed, is the axe of Namor. Look at how ornate it is. Also, did they build a replica of the domed cities of Atlantis on his shield? That seems pointless, seeing as how while it may look beautiful, that part of the shield is just gonna get crushed, unless you are fighting Hulk, in which case it will get SMASHED.
I especially like the post fight sequence where Namor sees off the Hulk and the Hulk’s pals.
Also, Namor obviously lays down his smooth game on Bereet, as they become smitten with each other. I am glad Namor is not real, lest he would steal every single lady living on the surface…and some of the married ones too! Just ask poor Reed Richards! (By the way, I think there is no contest. As much as I love Namor, Sue and Reed belong together. Butt out Atlantean!!!!)
Also, isn’t it funny how Namor is talking up how green Hulk is? I mean, we all know he is green and all, but it tickles my funny bone to see Namor refer to him as green when the comic book is black and white. It shouldn’t, but hey, it’s a little pleasure, and if life isn’t about little pleasures, what do we have? Maybe a Hulk vs. Avengers story?
The last two issues before the magazine went color featured Hulk taking on/teaming up with the original Avengers…BEFORE THEY WERE AVENGERS! I find it a smidge surreal to see, but it gets pulled off fairly well, and if you say you aren’t intrigued by this cover featuring the funeral of crystal-encased Hulk, you’re guilty of perjury in the court of comic books, son!
Sal Buscema does a great job on this issue, as we wrap up the retcon portion of The Rampaging Hulk (which would be renamed “HULK” with the following issue) with a bang. The story starts in #8, and it is a really good example of the Marvel “when heroes meet” formula, in that when heroes meet in the Marvel Universe, they fight.
One of those fights that I think we all love, is Hulk vs. Thor. Thor, the noble warrior, the scion of Asgard, and the sort of arrogant prick, takes on Hulk, who is savage, unrelenting, and uncaring. I think that on the surface, we are all required to cheer for Thor, but deep down, many of us hope Thor gets put in his damn place. It’s sort of like watching a car chase on Cops. I mean, we know that the people speeding away did something wrong and are causing problems, but man, those cops act so full of themselves and righteous that I’ll be damned if we don’t start cheering for the bad guys to get away about 3 minutes into the chase.
Unless you are me, then you are cheering for the bad guys the whole time (unless they murdered someone or are putting too many other drivers/people in danger). But I am of the 90’s folks, when things were extreme and we loved “Stone Cold” Steve Austin for being the bad guy! To the kids reading, I have two things to say: Mine is not the example to follow, and also, go read an actual comic book!
For the rest of you, here’s Thor and Hulk punching on one another.
So we get to see “The Avengers” team up and stave off a threat to the planet before they even existed! I find great comfort in the fact that Hulk treats them about the same before, during, and after his tenure as an Avenger. I like the world to be a simple place…at least sometimes.
The editor of the book provided an epitaph of sorts for The Rampaging Hulk era of this magazine:
It is very true that some of the greatest artists stepped in to try their hand at Hulk. I have already mentioned several of them, but I would be remiss if I did not show you some of what George Perez did. Perez is, in my opinion, the best artist in comic book history not named Jack Kirby. Controversial? Perhaps, but no one makes the page live for me like him.
He never did a regular feature on The Rampaging Hulk, but he did do a pin-up gallery featuring the history of a few of Hulk’s associates and enemies:
One thing I found fascinating about this gallery (and there are a couple more Perez Pin-Ups in the book) is that one can see the vast impact different inkers can have on the same penciller. That’s something that can be hard to notice for the artistically disinclined such as myself. Here though, it’s as blatant as a bank robbery in broad daylight where the perpetrator is dressed like the Hamburglar and is carrying big sacks with “$” on them. The Stranger looks mighty different than the Silver Surfer. Kieth Giffen gets to do his own gallery in issue #4, and he channels his best Jack Kirby!
I love Giffen’s work and how he has the ability to take on so many different styles. Look at this next to his stuff from the 90’s, like Trencher, and one would be astonished to find out it was the same guy working on both.
The only other thing to really mention is the back-ups, but I won’t spend too much time on them. For those picking up the magazine, like say, Billy Joel, they’d get treated to some sweet back-ups featuring Bloodstone, Man-Thing, and Shanna, the She-Devil, among others.
The back-ups are one of the most enticing elements to the black and white magazine boom of the 70’s. I have heard many folks talk to me about Bloodstone. I am not a huge fan, but just even just skimming through it made me realize that I will be back into these soon to learn more about this guy. The Man-Thing stuff interested me a great deal, as Steve Gerber can really write that sort of character just so much better than anyone else. Of course, it still could never live up to this pin-up:
All in all, I’d say the series is solid. I’d say it is must-read for Hulk fans, and a I would say the Simonson and Starlin issues (#1-4) are must read for any fans. The rest is good, but one would not be missing out on something spectacular if one were not to grab them. The series is a fun read, and the arch does definitively conclude in issue #9, so if you have the completionist bug and get #1, you will find it enticing enough to grab all 9. I also think that these have been re-printed in an Essentials volume, which would be one of the rare Essentials that would not lose anything by now being in black and white.
I want to thank Paul again for letting me write about these Bronze Age gems! I highly encourage you to check out all the cool stuff here if you haven’t, and when you are out of cool stuff here, come check out The Unspoken Decade! JNCO Jeans are coming back, so why not check out some 90’s comic book action as well? You’ll find it at The Unspoken Decade! Let Paul and I know what you think below, and I am looking forward to my next article here at The Longbox Graveyard! Hell, I am looking forward to Paul’s too!
It is always a happy day when guest columnist Dean Compton graces the pages of Longbox Graveyard! This time, Dean reveals his deep affection for a series he and I both admire — Roy Thomas’ All-Star Squadron. I previously wrote about Thomas’ reverence for the past through his creation of this book; now, Dean takes a deep dive into what made this series so special for him. Welcome back, Dean!
When I was a very young man, nothing was as exciting to me as this set of 1965 World Book encyclopedias that we had in the house. One of, if not the first, things I ever read was the machine gun article in the World Book. I read anything and everything in each one of them, but my favorite article had to be the one on World War II. I loved everything about it. I loved the sections on how the 1930’s led up to the war, the rise of totalitarianism, the rationing of goods in the US, but the thing I loved most was the section with the maps detailing the expansion and then retraction of the German and Japanese empires. Speaking of, how awesome and wrong is the “Greater East Asia Co-Prosperity Sphere” as a name for their empire? I mean, obviously this empire was awful for everyone it conquered and oppressed, but that is a bad ass name. The fact that the name completely belies the negative impact of the Fascist Japanese Empire somehow makes it sound even cooler.
I promise, though, this isn’t an article about how great the Japanese Empire was. I’m an ardent antifascist, and therein lay my utter fascination with the Second World War. Many wars are useless and only fought to line the pockets of the elite. World War II certainly is not bereft of profit incentives, but this was truly a war against the fascist countries of that era that needed to be fought, lest their reach envelop the planet.
So when I walked into the flea market when I was in 2nd grade and saw All-Star Squadron comics in longbox after glorious longbox, I was immediately enchanted by the notion that these masked men were the heroes of World War II. I tried to get a few, but I was not allowed to have comics that day for some reason, and those heroes were forgotten until 1992 …
is Sandman trying to put that monster to sleep? How will that work? Also, why is Flash running away?
I fell in love with the Justice Society of America the instant I learned of them. When I first laid eyes on them, I was confused and excited. Not unlike the first time I first time I kissed a girl, but there was decidedly less Justice Society involved with that.
I knew who Green Lantern and Flash were, and I could tell that these guys were similar, but they couldn’t be Green Lantern and Flash could they?
Indeed, they could be. I was astonished and excited as the entire history of the DC Universe lay before me. I wanted to know more and more, and I soaked up information via all sorts of paradigms. I used cards, I asked my friends, and I bugged our local morning DJ, Ben Johnson, who I had somehow struck up a friendship with, about it. He had revealed he was a huge comic book fan, and he was always willing to answer a question or two when he had the time.
(He really went out of his way to help sate my curiosity, and I think that those of us entranced by the allure of the comic book could learn a great deal from Ben, as that is how you make fans. Too often, we become annoyed at those who know less than us instead of taking questions as a sign of interest. Let’s try and make, not break, fans.)
Now that that public service announcement is over, I reckon we can get back to All-Star Squadron. Ben told me of the JSA and the All-Star Squadron after I saw the above comic and because of memories of the WWII comics I had seen at the flea market. He explained how the DC Universe had once been a multiverse, and in this multiverse the heroes of the Justice Society of America lived on Earth-2. They had their glory days in WWII, and they had aged, while the heroes of Earth-1 were the heroes that I knew.
So since they came first, why did the Justice Society and the Earth-2 gang simply allow themselves to be Earth-2? Why wasn’t there a huge rumble over this? Maybe someone knows, but I do know that we have crossovers now for much less of a reason. Who would not have wanted to see an all-out fight between the JSA and the JLA? Some jerky hater, that’s who. I would never accept just being second best, so I am unsure why the GOLDEN AGE SUPERMAN did.
One day after talking with Ben extensively about the JSA, I sauntered into the flea market, and I was greeted by a 25-CENT BOX of All-Star Squadron! Chock full! Is there any set of syllables more heavenly to comic book fans than 25-CENT BOX? What if you found this fantastic Rich Buckler cover in one? Would you be even more jealous of me than you already are?
the Idea that The Atom is deciding Superman’s fate in a team is hilarious. “Gee, I dunno if he cuts it” said the short guy in really good shape about a veritable God.
The answer would indeed astound me, as while the JSA plays a prominent role, they aren’t necessarily the stars of All-Star Squadron. Roy Thomas, the greatest writer of Golden Age characters who didn’t write them in the Golden Age, took this chance to shine a light on a few of the lesser known superheroes of the Second World War, and I thank him for it. This series is good, and his love and reverence for the characters always shines through, even in the waning issues of the series where it was basically eviscerated by Crisis on Infinite Earths, when post-Crisis continuity altered the DC Universe drastically. Now Thomas would no longer be allowed to play with Superman, Batman, Aquaman, Green Arrow, Wonder Woman, and more. This changed almost the entire framework upon which the All-Star Squadron was built, and so it quietly faded away, with the last few issues being origin stories of the group.
But Bloody Hell, I am getting ahead of myself! You don’t even know who is in the group that disbanded yet! Well, wait no longer!
TAKE THAT, NEWSPAPER!!!
Look at that lineup! Johnny Quick! Robotman! Firebrand! Shining Knight! Liberty Belle! Hawkgirl! And The Atom returns for this mission here! The Squadron would serve on the home front for the war, because the JSA disbanded and enlisted. Of course, JSA guys are always hanging around, getting special permission from FDR, who along with Churchill, makes copious appearances in the book, to assist when their special abilities as superheroes (or Mystery Men, as they were called at this time) are needed more than their skills as soldiers in the armed forces. Other folks would filter in and out of the All-Star Squadron, and over time, it seemed that any character even loosely associated with the DC Universe circa WWII would meander their way into the book. It would take me awhile to find that out, though, because …
There was a large gap in issues available at the flea market. I was almost always trying to piece together the collection the same way someone tries to piece together a document they accidentally shredded: painstakingly, tediously, and annoyingly. I’d get a # 7 here, a #46 here, but it was always difficult to put together runs. I do recall lots of issues jumping out at me, though, like one featuring Robotman on trial. Not much more exciting than the meeting of a Robot with a human brain and the US JUSTICE SYSTEM!
guilty of being a robot? A monster? The law sure was different in the 40’s.
My favorite surprise though had to be the introduction of Infinity Inc., a superhero team comprised of the progeny of the Justice Society of America! They went back in time to help the JSA and the All-Star Squadron after they had been completely overwhelmed by the machinations of the Ultra-Humanite (a very underrated super-villain if you ask me, and since you are reading this you sort of did), who was assisted by his (some unwilling) henchmen, Deathbolt, Cyclotron, and Amazing Man! If you don’t believe me, scope this ragtag team tossed together to save the day after heavyweights like the Golden Age Superman were taken down!
how long did they have to practice to get that in unison?
The work on this is amazing. If you think of this as a baseball lineup, it may not be murderer’s row, but it has to be one of the more formidable lineups. Roy Thomas, Rich Buckler (Deathlok creator), Jerry Ordway, and Todd McFarlane all had great runs, and watching Jerry Ordway grow in particular is very fun to me. The talent gets a bit sparser later in the run, but it never gets lackluster. The work is always solid, and you never know what is going to happen.
This was almost a primer for neophyte comics fans like I was. There was always a sense of history and (good) continuity in All-Star Squadron. Thomas was excellent at simultaneously showing and telling the history of the JSA/Squadron, and he also excelled at demonstrating why said history was important. Of course, he also managed to drop in little forgotten nuggets here and yon among the way, like when he taught a 14-year-old young man who the Seven Soldiers of Victory were …
if your team doesn’t have a cowboy, how can it possibly be as cool as the Seven Soldiers of Victory? I’m looking at you, every other superhero team except The Avengers.
The Seven Soldiers of Victory touched my heart, and to this day, Green Arrow, the leader of the team, remains my second favorite superhero. If you haven’t seen it, you should watch the episode “Patriot Act” from Justice League Unlimited. It features the Seven Soldiers, and it does a great job displaying just what makes them so courageous.
Roy Thomas also looked at the racial inequality of the era, sometimes with more success than others. He did a great job introducing us to the African-American Amazing Man, who I instantly loved, and who was a decent influence on me. I grew up in a small Arkansas town that was 97% white, so I had very little interaction with folks of African-American descent. Luckily, though, I was surrounded by racists who made up things about black people so I could have NO IDEA what reality was like. Thanks! On a genuinely lucky level though, I was able to see some culture that refuted such notions. One place was here, and another place was the great Milestone imprint. I am sure I would have seen past that bigotry sooner rather than later, but comics helped me see past it that much sooner.
Roy Thomas also used real world events in the All-Star Squadron in relation to race. For instance, they did a whole storyline about the Detroit Race Riots that occurred during WWII, which is an event glossed over in our history.
wow, that whip isn’t overkill or anything
And as you see, here is where the mistakes lie. The attempt to not be racist almost has more racist overtones as we see a guy in a KKK mask whipping a black man. I get what we are going for here, but it is a little off-putting. However, a little off-putting is nothing compared to how Japanese villains were treated.
the villains look like castoffs from the 80’s cartoon, Chuck Norris Karate Kommandos
Sumo the Samurai? COME ON MAN! That was unacceptable then and now. Roy just put two things together that happen to be Japanese terms. Why not, “Fuji the Ninja”? or, “Rice the Shogun”? This was just awful. Also awful was a subplot where Firebrand becomes racist against Japanese people because her brother (the original Firebrand) was seriously hurt at Pearl Harbor. She then carries resentment toward Japan until talking to her brother, who tells her that he was saved at Pearl Harbor … by a Japanese-American! I wish hackneyed would describe that properly. Conversely though, Roy Thomas does a good job with Tsunami, whose parents and family are being shipped off to internment camps. It was a different time, and even though I don’t feel like he always made contact on racial issues, I appreciate Roy Thomas here at least stepping to the plate.
I also appreciate the appearance of Captain Marvel, the one true Captain Marvel, (little jab there Paul!). If you haven’t seen my piece on him right here at Longbox Graveyard, take a look here. I am a huge Captain Marvel fan, and I first got to see a possessed Captain Marvel going toe to toe with the Golden Age Superman right here in the pages of All-Star Squadron. I think it is the only time in my life I have ever rooted for anyone even tangentially associated with Nazis; that’s how much I wanted the World’s Mightiest Mortal to defeat Superman.
I look at that zeppelin in the background and I seriously wish we still flew in those
I think most All-Star Squadron and JSA fans think the best moment of the series, though, was the massive roll call that took place in issue #31. Nearly every WWII Mystery Man was there. I recall getting my hands on this issue and just swooning. There was so much history on these pages and just so much fun. I wanted to go back to WWII and somehow be a part of this gathering that never actually existed. These pages also reflect Roy Thomas’s love for this era and these characters. I don’t think he leaves any out except for in-story reasons, including both the Quality Comics and DC Comics versions of Manhunter, two different characters who were created by two different companies in 40’s at the same time, and he also manages to start easing the idea of the multiverse affecting Earth-2 in long lasting ways here, as several of the folks at this meeting would leave Earth-2 to go to Earth-X to fight on a world where the Nazis won the Second World War! They also tangled with Baron Blitzkrieg there, who is one of the most awesome looking villains of all time.
I wish I knew what side of WWII that guy was on
No article on All-Star Squadron would be complete without a look at what many folks believe to be the finest issue in All-Star Squadron history! All-Star Squadron #20 featured the villain Brainwave. Using his vast mental might, he enslaved the JSA and was killing them mentally. He made them believe that they were pitted against scenarios where they failed, and if he got them all to believe …they’d die. Of course, one member of the JSA just had too much willpower to give up …
The cover is haunting, yes, but so is what occurs inside. They all face their fears and fail, but none fail so horrifically as Green Lantern. He becomes so enraged that he massacres the entire Japanese population.
Green Lantern has caused a holocaust, and nearly allows himself to succumb, but the other JSAers and members of the All-Star squadron are able to reach out to him and encourage him not to give up. And once Green Lantern finds his willpower, it’s like Uma Thurman when she was stuck in the coffin in Kill Bill Vol. 2 — there will be no stopping him, regardless of what must break!
But now as promised, the greatest moment in All-Star Squadron history …
no snarky joke here … too in awe …
The series went downhill from here. The artists, while not bad, just were never in the league of Buckler, Ordway, or McFarlane. That’s no knock on them; very few artists are that good. And no matter who was drawing the book, this book could not have survived the paradigm shift that was Crisis on Infinite Earths. Without being able to be secluded with its own variants of the DC powerhouses, All-Star Squadron faded out after the Crisis. It did give some of the best moments of the Crisis that did not occur in the main series, such as this cover, which is my favorite of the entire run.
Robotman’s look of horror at the idea of Superman fighting the Monster Society of Evil alone makes him look like a creepy Drama Mask robot
There are probably better covers, but this is my favorite. This is also one of the last times we’d see the Golden Age Superman until 2005 when that aberration known as Infinite Crisis did its best to destroy everything everyone ever loved about comics; of course, in comparison to Identity Crisis, Infinite Crisis looks like Fantastic Four #1-100.
Paul and I talked about All-Star Squadron before, and he mentioned that it had a real Silver Age vibe. After re-reading all of this, I must agree. Roy Thomas, sometimes for better and sometimes for worse, kept a Silver Age book going all the way into the mid 1980’s with this one. While the Silver Age itself was long gone by the time even the first issue of All-Star Squadron saw print, I think one could make a fairly strong argument that it was the last Silver Age book that existed. While the Silver Age was long dead, All-Star Squadron continued, like the light we see here on Earth from stars that have gone out years prior. Thanks to Roy Thomas, the star that was Earth-2 provided light for us all to enjoy just a little longer.
thanks for not going gently into that good night gentlemen
Thanks for reading! Join me for my LIVE radio shows on www.vocnation.com. Compton After Dark is a show focusing on wrestling, politics, comics, and more every Sunday night from 11:30-130 EDT. I’m also on at Midnight on Thursdays with Her Dork World, His Dork World, where Emily Scott and I tackle gender dynamics in dork culture. Don’t forget to scope out my 90’s comics blog at www.theunspokendecade.com. I am sure that I will be around here with more Bronze Age stuff too. I’m planning to take a look at The Rampaging Hulk for Longbox Graveyard soon! Try and contain your excitement!
NEXT MONTH: #136 Six Signature Superhero Sound Effects!
It’s always a special day when Chasing Amazing’s Mark Ginoccho favors Longbox Graveyard with a guest blog! Take it away, Mark!
Paul has been generous enough to once again allow me to have the run of the Longbox Graveyard so I could conduct a blogging experiment of sorts that connects LBG with my personal site, Chasing Amazing. Today, as part of my month-long acknowledgement/celebration of Daredevil’s 50th anniversary, I’ve written two concurrently published blog entries that put one of the great Marvel villains on a pedestal, Wilson Fisk, aka the “Kingpin” of crime. My Chasing Amazing post will examine Kingpin’s adversarial relationship with Spider-Man, while this one will shine a light on the Fisk/Daredevil dynamic.
Modern readers likely associate Kingpin as a Daredevil villain, and while they would be mostly right, it can not be forgotten that Fisk was first introduced as a villain for Spidey in 1967’s Amazing Spider-Man #50 and was a non-factor in the life of Matt Murdock/Daredevil until Frank Miller/Klaus Janson’s revolutionary run on Daredevil (Kingpin first appeared in ‘Ol Hornhead’s book in issue #170 in 1981).
Spider-Man and Daredevil are two of Marvel’s premiere “street level” heroes, so it makes sense for both to have a major beef with the New York City’s Kingpin of organized crime (not to mention Fisk’s blood feud with Frank Castle, aka the Punisher). But despite Fisk getting a 14-year head start tormenting the friendly neighborhoods of Spider-Man, his time going toe-to-toe with Daredevil is significantly elevated by the fact that Daredevil/Kingpin had far more groundbreaking creators crafting their stories over the past 30-plus years – most notably Miller and Brian Michael Bendis.
When Miller first took over on lead pencils on Daredevil in 1979, he immediately infused Roger McKenzie’s scripts with a film noir style that would become a trademark for the title. As Daredevil continued to struggle with declining sales, Miller was eventually given both scripting and penciling duties (with Klaus Janson providing inks), which is when the aesthetic and tone of the book would change for good.
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Gone was the glossy Silver Age-isms leftover from the 1960s and 70s, and in its place was a griminess and grittiness that probably smacks of “been there done that” to today’s audiences where everything related to comics (books, films, television, et al) is supposed to be DARK. But at the time these tonal changes were quite extraordinary. Miller’s style put the “Hell” in Hell’s Kitchen and while the sociopathic assassin Bullseye was certainly a worthwhile adversary for Daredevil to square off against, what the title really needed to ascend to the next level was a kingpin. Enter, Wilson Fisk.
The inaugural Kingpin/Daredevil arc spins off from a previous Amazing Spider-Man storyline where Fisk gives up the life of crime at the request of his wife, Vanessa. Miller and Janson introduce us to Kingpin in Daredevil #170 as a sumo-sized behemoth, tossing around his lackeys like ragdolls, while simultaneously making it clear to whoever is within earshot that he had officially divorced himself from his former life working as the “K” guy.
But like every mob boss in the history of media, Fisk learns the hard and fast way that one doesn’t just “leave” the criminal underworld. A full-blown gang war breaks out with rival bosses seeking the Kingpin’s “files.” At one point, Fisk is drawn out to make a deal and it turns out to be an ambush. A sonic blast causes a building to fall down, assumedly burying Vanessa underneath and leading Fisk to embark on a warpath of vengeance unlike any the criminal underworld has ever seen.
In the midst of all this, Daredevil has his first encounter with Fisk under the guise of “Shades,” a wannabe mobster trying out for Team Kingpin. Matt, of course, is just trying to gain access to Fisk’s files and learns rather quickly that Kingpin is not a man to be trifled with. After trying to break into his vault, Kingpin and Daredevil engaged in their first of many battles, with Fisk decisively getting the better of the hero and dumping him into a sewer pipe.
And thus marks the beginning of a very long and winding, complex hero/villain relationship. Miller’s characterization of the underworld plays into the wheelhouse of the Daredevil/Kingpin dynamic. There’s muck, dirt and grime everywhere. It’s unsightly. Daredevil, by definition, is a hero who lives in a world of darkness. The accident that caused him to become blind but also enhanced his remaining senses, gives him a unique power-set, but not the standard superhero skillset of super-strength, flying, advanced technology, etc. Kingpin, despite his rotund figure, is incredibly strong, but again, not “super-powered.” Plus, how fitting is it for a superhero who spends his “normal” life outside of his tights working as an attorney, to have an arch-nemesis that bends the law to his will?
Still, there’s more to the Daredevil/Kingpin dynamic that just the poetry of their interaction. At the onset of this inaugural “Gang War” arc, Miller sets out to connect Murdock and Fisk on an extraordinarily personal level. There’s a cat and mouse game going on that extends beyond the punches and kicks that are thrown. At the end of Daredevil #172, Fisk hands over the precious files to Daredevil, telling him to do what he pleases with it – that he will just rebuild into a stronger, meaner organization. And Daredevil realizes there’s nothing he can do to combat the tidal wave that is the Kingpin.
Miller/Janson ratchet up the drama between Daredevil and Kingpin during run of issues dubbed “The Elektra Saga,” which also marks the introduction of one of Marvel’s most famous femme fatales, Elektra Natchios. Elektra, a former love of Matt’s from college, has been hired as the Kingpin’s personal assassin.
During “The Elektra Saga,” readers learn that Fisk has a hand-picked mayoral candidate, the crooked Randolph Cherryh. When Daily Bugle ace reporter Ben Urich starts to reveal the scandalous link between Fisk and Cherryh, Elektra is deployed to send a message with one of her trusty sai. Urich backs off his story, but not before handing some of his research over to Daredevil. Among a pile of photos is one that shows Kingpin’s thought-to-be-dead Vanessa lurking in the sewers as a vagabond. Daredevil is able to use this information to gain total leverage over Fisk, getting him to pull Cherryh from the New York City mayoral race in exchange for Vanessa’s whereabouts.
These are the kinds of storylines that have the Daredevil/Kingpin relationship mimic a game of chess. In the penultimate issue of the inaugural Miller run on Daredevil, he even adds a scene where Kingpin tells Daredevil that the two of them are inextricably linked and are not that different from each other. But the mutual admiration society ends in brutal fashion during what many consider to be one of the greatest storylines in comic book history: 1986’s “Born Again” by Frank Miller with art by David Mazzucchelli.
If you’re a devotee of the “House of Ideas” and have never read “Born Again,” stop everything that you’re doing, run out to the store and pick yourself up a trade paperback copy (or find it on the Marvel Unlimited app) and then get back to me.
Thanks for doing that.
Seriously, “Born Again,” encapsulates everything that is wonderful about this sometimes-satisfying, often-maddening world of superhero comics. For the uninitiated, “Born Again” starts with Matt’s former love, Karen Page, hooked on drugs and in need of a fix. She sells Matt’s biggest secret – his Daredevil identity – in exchange for some drugs, and this information naturally finds its way to Fisk. Fisk uses this information to systematically destroy Murdock piece by piece: his home, his law practice… everything. Matt is so broken, when he goes to confront Fisk, he gets a beating that’s even more brutal than the first time the two squared off. Kingpin assumes victory, and goes on to live a life as a “legitimate” businessman.
Except as Fisk rightly notes, “there is no corpse,” and of course Matt finds a way to rise from the ashes. Daredevil completely rebuilds his life as gradually and systematically as it was destroyed, and even reconciles with Karen along the way. Daredevil dispatches of an evil Captain America-esque super soldier, Nuke, who had been hired by Fisk to go on a killing spree in Hell’s Kitchen. Together, Daredevil and Captain America produce evidence that connects Nuke and Fisk, thereby destroying his public image as a legit titan of the business world.
The storyline demonstrates just how far both Kingpin and Daredevil are willing to go to destroy the other, and while it ends on a note of optimism for Matt, the arc comes across as the end of the road for Fisk, whose grand plans that have been building since Miller first worked him into the Daredevil univrese have finally been ruined. Other writers continued to tackle the Daredevil/Kingpin dynamic, including a fun arc during the Ann Nocenti/John Romita Jr. that introduced another femme fatale in Typhoid Mary, but none were able to match Miller’s portrayal of the relationship.
Then Brian Michael Bendis came along.
Similar to Miller, Bendis is known for saving Daredevil from near-certain cancellation (though to be fair, BMB’s predecessor, filmmaker Kevin Smith, is who truly resuscitated Daredevil from a commercial standpoint). And like Miller, Bendis had a brilliant grasp of what made Daredevil/Kingpin such an effective hero/villain pairing. During the Bendis run, it wasn’t just about hackneyed world domination, but rather a slow moving game that was constantly being played out seven moves in advance.
Bendis (and artist Alex Maleev) had a fantastic grasp on the tone and rhythm of the underworld. A lot of Bendis’s most successful stories don’t even read like comic books as much as television/film scripts starring characters like Tony Soprano and Don Corleone. The first Bendis Kingpin story, “Underboss,” shows a weakening Kingpin who tries to maintain what little leverage he has left on Daredevil by hanging the threat of outing his secret identity over his head. When an arrogant wannabe mob boss demands that Kingpin reveal this information, it leads to Fisk’s (temporary) removal from his position of power when his entire crew betrays him and attempts to murder him.
Fisk returns to the throne eventually, as featured in the Bendis/Maleev arc “Hardcore.” But in a unique twist that demonstrates how the Kingpin/Daredevil dynamic continually finds way to evolve, Matt decides that he’s tired of the same old “cycle” with Fisk. He confronts Fisk and beats him within inches of his life, claiming that Hell’s Kitchen now belongs to Daredevil. It’s a shockingly brutal role reversal, and one of the few times the usually more passive Matt comes out on top when it comes to his physical altercations with Fisk.
Similar to how Miller leaves things at the end of “Born Again,” Bendis would go on to script a Kingpin on the ropes. With nothing left to lose, Fisk turns himself over to authorities. But in exchange for immunity, he promises to produce evidence that Matt is Daredevil and has obstructed justice many times over the years under the guise of this dual life. Fisk successfully sets Daredevil up to out his secret to the authorities, and the Bendis-era ends oddly, yet appropriately enough, with both Murdock and Fisk in jail.
Again, other creative teams would get a turn on Daredevil, and would go on to develop successful and interesting stories about Daredevil and Kingpin, but none would go on to be as riveting and significant as Miller and Bendis. These two indisputably defined the two characters and their relationship with each other in a way where Kingpin is now unblinkingly synonymous with Daredevil.
Perhaps if the Spider-verse ever had creators who had the long-game vision for Kingpin that Miller and Bendis did, the villain would still be better associated with the series in which he made his debut. Fortunately, Spider-Man would go on to have very successful inter-personal relationships with his own unique villains, while Daredevil’s existence in the Marvel Universe was likely saved by the addition of Fisk and the grittiness of his criminal underworld.
Thanks, Mark, for another outstanding contribution to Longbox Graveyard! Make sure you check out Mark’s post on Chasing Amazing that looks at the rise of the Kingpin within the Marvel Universe as a member of the cast of the Amazing Spider-Man series.
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