When it comes to villains who cut an imposing figure, there are few who look as physically menacing as Wilson Fisk, a.k.a. The Kingpin, who made his debut 50 years ago in July, 1967 in the pages of The Amazing Spider-Man #50.
Despite starting off as a Spider-Man foe, he later established himself as a Grade A-villain in the pages of Daredevil and The Punisher. Since then, Kingpin’s status as a heavyweight (pun intended) villain is indisputable, and he was even placed #10 on IGN’s Top 100 Comic Book Villains Of All Time List in 2015.
If I had to choose only ONE standout Kingpin story, my pick would be the 1986 Frank Miller-penned Born Again story arc (Daredevil Vol 1 #227-#233), where he discovers Daredevil’s secret identity and transforms Matt Murdock’s life into a living hell. The ramifications from that classic encounter permanently scarred Murdock and serve as a reminder to all heroes to keep their identities secret!
After making a frankly forgettable live-action debut in the flop 2003 Daredevil movie (where he was played by Michael Clarke Duncan), Fisk made a much better return, albeit on a smaller screen, in the Daredevil Netflix series, with Vincent D’Onofrio excelling as the formidable crime lord.
With his 50th anniversary coming up, we decided to pay an early tribute to the big man by revisiting five things that make the Kingpin, well, king of the underworld.
Rise of the king
There are two notable versions of Fisk’s origin and ascension to his Kingpin throne.
The Marvel-616 version saw Fisk going through a torrid childhood, as he was constantly taunted due to his obesity. The constant bullying led him to search for ways to defend himself and to counter-attack. Seeking refuge in martial arts, he soon grew powerful enough to lord it over those who opposed him.
Fisk was later discovered by crime lord Don Rigoletto, who made him his bodyguard and subsequently his right-hand man. After gaining the Don’s trust, it was only a matter of time before Fisk decided to get rid of his mentor and take control of his criminal empire.
The MAX Universe version gives Fisk an even more painful upbringing, having to put up with an abusive father at home. The major turning point in young Fisk’s life came when his dad killed his pet dog, which prompted him to retaliate by drugging the old man and feeding him to starving rats (!).
Size does matter
His creators, Stan Lee and John Romita, modelled Fisk’s physical image after Sydney Greenstreet, the 1940s actor who starred in classics such as Casabalanca and The Maltese Falcon. But don’t let his heavyset appearance fool you – most of his mass consists of pure muscle, and besides being incredibly strong, he is also extremely skilled in martial arts.
However, it was not just his physicality that posed a threat to heroes – Lee and Romita also gifted him with an astounding agility for a man of his size, and perhaps one of the most brilliant criminal minds in the Marvel Universe.
His physical prowess has seen him take on Spidey, Daredevil, Punisher and even Captain America one on one. Ironically, his most interesting fight was against the Red Skull, which Fisk won by physically pinning the Skull with his weight!
Thanks to the late Steve Dillon, Garth Ennis, and Jason Aaron, the Kingpin’s “killer move” involves squeezing skulls with his bare hands until the eyeballs pop out of their sockets. However, if you look back at his past stories, his actual “ultimate move” is manipulating others to do his bidding. In other words, he is a master schemer and perfectly understands which strings to pull.
Over the decades, Fisk has manipulated the likes of Black Cat, Bulls-eye, Echo, Elektra, Nuke, and even Punisher, Spidey and Daredevil to serve his cause.
Know thy enemies
Despite starting off as a Spidey villain, a crime lord-type character like Fisk turned out to be a better fit for a more street-level playing field like Hell’s Kitchen, against its guardian angel, Daredevil. Their first encounter (Daredevil Vol 1 #170) sparked the start of a long-running high-stakes feud that has altered both men’s lives and those of their loved ones.
Throughout his ascension and during his tenure as the Kingpin, Fisk has largely operated independently and collaboration is only an option if it benefits him most.
With the size of his ambition, however, Fisk was bound to step on the toes of other villanous organisations, which include the Maggia Crime Syndicate, Hydra and the Hand. His approach of going against established criminal groups resulted in Hydra joining forces with the Maggia to stop him, prompting Fisk to flee to Japan where he established himself as a spice trader.
This new role enabled him to amass substantial wealth and celebrity status, and he eventually returned to the Big Apple to topple the Maggia.
V for Vanessa
Fisk’s status as a spice tycoon not only enticed the mobsters but also attracted a woman named Vanessa, who became his lover and wife. In her, he found inner peace, and she became his soulmate … and also his Achilles heel.
What attracted Fisk to Vanessa was her ruthlessness, which surpasses even his own! This is evident by the manner in which she has manipulated several key moments in her husband’s career and confrontations with various parties. Her presence has even dictated a few battles involving Daredevil and Spidey.
Ironically, her most notable contribution involves killing her son Richard (Daredevil Vol 2 #31) to avenge her husband, who was earlier the target of an assassination attempt orchestrated by Junior.
Due to various injuries sustained over the years, plus the mental and emotional trauma from killing her own son, Vanessa passed away (Daredevil Vol 2 #93). She remains a major spiritual influence in Fisk’s life, even though he has come to terms with the fact that his soulmate is dead. She is such a strong presence in his mind that he even rejected recent resurrection attempts by The Hand and the Jackal, the latter happening in the currently ongoing Spider-Man Clone Conspiracy event, where Kingpin declared that the resurrected Vanessa was an insult to her memory and snapped her neck!
Crimes of the son
Arguably, Fisk’s biggest failure is his son Richard, who started opposing his father’s crime business upon graduation. Unlike other kids, who became heroes to undo their dads’ dastardly deeds, Richard did the opposite by becoming a rival crime lord called the Schemer! Despite Fisk putting a halt to his son’s plans, it only spurred Richard’s bizarre ambitions, as he assumed new villainous guises such as becoming director of Hydra’s Las Vegas faction, the Rose, and the Blood Rose! For decades, these personas failed to dethrone his father, but in the end, all it took was him manipulating a childhood friend (Samuel “Sammy” Silke) into stabbing his father, who was already blind from an earlier assassination attempt. Kingpin suffered severe injuries from Silke’s attack, but Vanessa managed to save him, and after sending him to Europe to recover, she confronted Richard and shot him dead.