There are many things I could say about Kingpin #2 in what’s shaping up to be an excellent series from Matthew Rosenberg and Ben Torres, because the number of themes and attitudes included in the comic are wide ranging, sending you off on interesting tangents. There’s the role of Sarah Dewey, one time political journalist, now boxing journalist, and would-be biographer of the notorious Kingpin. There’s Kingpin who is in an embattled place in his public career attempting to stage some kind of social comeback. There’s the world around them both–the criminal underworld boiling near the surface, the world of high society charitable events that Kingpin wants entry to. There’s the wider world of a recognizable version of New York with financial struggles, drug abuse, homelessness. You can an idea of how much Rosenberg and Torres manage to fit into this comic through suggestion, asides, and small details.
The highlight of issue #1, and what continues to be highlight of issue #2, are conversations between Sarah and Wilson Fisk, but this issue plays out Sarah’s life as a prelude to that naturally conflict-driven interaction. It’s almost like this issue is the underworld of Sarah–we witness some of her demons and then we begin to understand Fisk’s a little. That is, if the frustration Fisk expresses isn’t all some kind of act to get sympathy. If it is, it works, whether we want it to or not. But Sarah, a character who is roughly presented as “troubled”, with a messy divorce, a derelict apartment, no money, possible alcohol problems, is someone we need to get to know because it seems impossible, at first, that she and Fisk could ever manage to work together. It’s only once we realize the dark path she’s walking in her life that we begin to understand why she seems to find conversations with Wilson Fisk diverting, even entertaining, and that despite her protestations, she’s the one who keeps talking about working together.
Sarah’s life is pretty dark. Not in an over-the-top comic-booky kind of way. She wasn’t kidnapped by supervillains, her parents weren’t killed in front of her (that we know of), and she hasn’t been damaged by living in a world where people like Fisk exist, it seems. But the world she is dealing with is grim. In the first issue, there was some ambiguity about the ways in which Sarah might have torpedoed her own life–maybe alcohol and overwork are to blame for her losing custody of her kids and living this isolated, meandering life. This issue doesn’t absolve her of any of that, but it qualifies it.
Things spiraled out of her control because her ex-husband is a total douche bag. And I don’t say that lightly, nor do I think you’re supposed to feel it’s a superficial characterization. The scariest thing in this issue of Kingpin is this “ordinary” guy who’s taking everything away from Sarah because he knows he can. He’s using her own personality traits against her, targeting her weaknesses. Maybe he’s not a plotting supervillain, but he might as well be. And though it’s a little overdramatic to say so, he’s driving her right into the arms of Kingpin since she’s seeing more humanity in a criminal overlord than the people in her life.
The main evidence for all of this is a scene in this issue where Sarah, phoneless, comes home to find her ex with the kids having moved the visitation time forward without being able to contact her. He uses her poverty and disorganization to set her up for a fall–an engineered way to write her out of her kids’ lives. Points to Rosenberg for casting the mother in this role since we have seen this trope before in films–a guy accused of being a deadbeat dad who really means well but just can’t get control of his life–but this time when we see a mother in this position, it illuminates that whole trope in an interesting way.
I was reminded again through this encounter of the harsh truths being set up in this comic, truths we’ll find recognizable, that people can be vindictive and awful and mess up the lives of well-meaning characters in painful ways. And there isn’t always justice for that. Sometimes it’s the root of great suffering. And in this case, it drives a character who has her edges, which she freely admits, closer to the edge. Amusingly, Sarah’s ability to undermine herself (which is real and we shouldn’t discount that) nearly explodes in her face when even Fisk can’t put up with her annoying back and forth and argumentative nature.
I don’t mean to leave Fisk out of this discussion–as the cover suggests, this issue is a really key point to try to understand this man. I’m going to choose to read unironically the scenes where Fisk sees human feeling as a “weakness”, but one which he accepts, and enjoys making children’s lives better via his charitable hospital. It’s an interesting and possibly gruesome contrast to see him sitting around (looming around) in children’s play rooms with rainbows and cheery slogans on the walls (good one Torres), but I can’t help but realize that he’s the empowered one. He’s choosing to do some good, for a mixture of grey-area reasons, and accomplishing that, whereas Sarah’s just being jerked around by life. Maybe she could learn a thing or two from Kingpin. Maybe she will. They certainly seem to reach an understanding once Sarah can accept just how complex her situation is.
Kinpin #3 is coming up on April 12th, and in it we see the return of Daredevil to scope out this murky situation. Will he upset this delicate balance between Wilson Fisk and his biographer?
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