Wilson Fisk has often been the unquestioned top of the heap in Marvel's criminal underworld. And while he's struggled to maintain that status in recent years, Civil War II affords him a unique opportunity to reclaim his criminal empire. Writer Matthew Rosenberg will shepherd this new chapter of Kingpin's saga, penning the Civil War II: Kingpin mini-series with art from Ricardo Lopez Ortiz.
Newsarama spoke with Rosenberg ahead of the mini-series' launch to see if we can crack Kingpin's scheme - or at least see what lies in store for Marvel's villains while its heroes are distracted by their interpersonal conflict. Rosenberg discussed his influences, from seminal works by Miller, Bendis, and Brubaker, to Vincent D'Onofrio's popular portrayal in Netflix's Daredevil show, and why he hopes that we'll all be eating Kingpin breakfast cereal sooner or later.
Newsarama: Matthew, what is Civil War II: Kingpin about?
Matthew Rosenberg: Civil War II: Kingpin is about Wilson Fisk, who some of your readers may know as the "Kingpin of Crime", and his attempt to retake control of the underworld during the second superhero Civil War. Kingpin is an opportunist and this Civil War presents him with a unique opportunity to skip a lot of rungs in his climb back to the top of the food chain. But who he is, the things he's done and will do, put a pretty big target on his pretty big back.
Nrama: Villains using the distraction of a hero vs. hero event to make some new in-roads is a common theme in Marvel's event history. What is Wilson Fisk doing here that's unique?
Rosenberg: I think what makes Wilson Fisk's situation unique is his nature. Fisk isn't a lunatic or a world conqueror or anything like that. He is a businessman and an opportunist, he just has a twisted moral compass. So while others have used the temporary absence of superheroes to try and dominate the world or destroy it, Fisk just wants his little corner. He wants to make New York City run the way he wants. He is trying to find his natural level, the place he was before people like Spider-Man and Daredevil discovered him. I think, in his heart, Kingpin wants peace and he thinks he knows how to get it more than the superheroes. And this book examines whether or not he's right.
Nrama: What does he see as the opening, precisely?
Rosenberg: His opening is a man who allows him to operate without being noticed. It is the perfect opportunity for someone like Fisk. Red Skull, Osborn, folks like that want the limelight. Fisk just wants to be behind the scenes where nobody pays any attention, and this man allows him to do just that.
Nrama: Although a future-telling Inhuman sounds like a boon for Kingpin's business, the solicit for #2 says he has another Inhuman in his employ. Can you tell us about that person?
Rosenberg: His name is Janus. He was a 2-bit hood kicking around the bottom of the New York City crime scene but he never really had the stomach for it. He got hit with the Terrigen Mists and became an Inhuman with a very specific and almost useless ability. He was desperate and down on his luck when Kingpin found him and found a way to put his new ability to "good" use. And in him Fisk sees a kinship. Janus is a reluctant criminal, a man who does what he must to survive. Fisk (maybe wrongly) identifies himself that way and soon considers Janus his right hand man. But in reality, there are subtle and not so subtle differences that will present themselves as the story goes on.
Nrama: How does this story fit within the Civil War II over-arching narrative?
Rosenberg: Well talking about Civil War II's over-arching narrative is probably a bit above my pay grade, but I think there are few more apparent things I can point to. I think the big thing, and this is true about a lot of the Marvel universe, is the importance of the villains. We judge our heroes about what they stand against as much as what they stand for. And in the bigger picture of this Civil War, we see a lot of sides presented and watch as the heroes come to terms with them. But a character like Kingpin, he is usually the flipside of the coin in debates like this. So here, watching him operate in the grey areas in a world that is now flooded with grey areas, it becomes its own sort of study in the morality of the world. And the broader themes the heroes must deal with on very personal levels -trust, loss, the fight for control, and the ideas of fate and morality- all those things are examined from another angle via the Kingpin.
On a more specific level, our book is very ground level. It is what is happening on the streets and in the seedy bars and back alleys of New York City while nobody is watching. So heroes will drift in and out, but this isn't their story. This is how the other half is doing. I think if you are reading the other Civil War II titles there will be a few blanks we fill in to paint the bigger picture. But if you aren't, shame on you, but also our book is a crime story about a man trying to reclaim his throne. If you just want to see bad guys go at it, we got you.
Nrama: Kingpin has a long past in comic books, and a riveting portrayal by Vincent D'Onofrio. Have anyone's work on him, writer, artist, or actor, impacted how you portray him in Civil War II: Kingpin?
Rosenberg: The copout answer is "yes, everyone." Which is true in a way. I have always loved the Kingpin and I think there is something so important, especially with a character like Fisk, to knowing and respecting all of the different threads that make up the bigger tapestry you are working on. The Lee/Romita stuff is so fun and bizarre but he is still such a great presence back then. Obviously anyone who writes Kingpin should have all of Frank Miller's Daredevil stuff nearby them at all times. What he was doing with Klaus Janson and later David Mazzucchelli, in a lot of ways for me, is the birth of modern superhero comics. That stuff still reads ahead of its time even now. And people at all familiar with my work would know I was lying if I didn't say that Bendis and Maleev’s Daredevil and the Brubaker / Lark / Aja run were hugely influential to me. To be quite honest, the Bendis Daredevil run made me want to write comics for a living and the Brubaker run made me want to give it up. They managed to completely inspire and totally humble me. Both series are, to me, among the best comics ever written. They are gritty and smart, brutal and human. They take the biggest stories and make them feel so intimate and take the smallest moments and make them feel so effortlessly huge. I don't know what was in the water at Marvel when they were doing those books, but I don't think we will see another back to back perfect run like that for a long time.
And yeah, Vincent D'Onofrio is great. But I think in a lot of ways he is borrowing from a lot of the same places I am, and just doing a great job interpreting that and making it very much his own. It is great to watch. And because I like tempting the hate mail gods - I really liked Michael Clarke Duncan's Kingpin. Say what you will about that movie, he was a very real presence on the screen.
Nrama: Working with you on this is Wolf artist Ricardo Lopez Ortiz. How did you two get paired up, and how are you two working together?
Rosenberg: We were paired up by our brilliant editor and master matchmaker Wil Moss. He is our Chuck Barris (Wikipedia it if you need to, kids). I've actually known Ricardo for a while because we are both New York comics folks so we've talked at our super-secret meetings in our clubhouse beneath the Coney Island Cyclone. I have been a fan of his work for a long time and was so lucky to get to work with him on this. I could go on and on about how much I love Ricardo's work, and I do, but I think the thing that sums it up best is the feeling I get when I see his pages. There is a great and rare moment as a comic writer where you look at the drawn pages and it no longer feels like your work in them. It feels like something crazy and new you are discovering. And that is how I feel when I look at the pages by Ricardo and our amazing colorist Mat Lopes. They are so good they don't feel like they could have come from me in any way, and I love that.
Nrama: What is your big goal with Kingpin?
Rosenberg: I hope to make Kingpin the most popular character in Marvel history. I hope by this time next year children will be eating Kingpin cereal every morning, people will be camped out to get tickets to the Kingpin musical on Broadway, and the Macy's Thanksgiving Parade will have a giant Kingpin balloon that everyone cheers for as it floats up Central Park West. Or, to please longtime fans of the character and get some new readers to fall in love with Marvel's greatest villain. Either one of those would be cool.