“Shouldn’t Have Come Back”:
Matthew Rosenberg (W), Ricardo Lopez Ortiz (A). Mat Lopes (CA)
“The Death and Birth of Janus Jardeesh”:
Matthew Rosenberg (W), Dalibor Talajic (P), Jose Marzan Jr. (I), Miroslav Mrva (C)
Cover by: Aaron Kuder and Israel Silva
Publisher: Marvel Comics
I love villain books. When written well, the bad guys are just as interesting as the good guys. I love seeing what makes these kinds of characters tick and what exactly their motivations are. Often times, you can find that they’re actually sympathetic and even relatable. Magneto does what he does for his people. Baron Zemo is constantly grappling with his ambition and his father’s legacy. Black Adam wants to defend his country. Deathstroke just wants to leave a legacy and provide for his family.
Lately, villain comics have been a bit tenuous, but that’s really the case with any form of entertainment. The current Thunderbolts title is one of my favorite pulls. Cullen Bunn’s recently ended Magneto and Sinestro were both really good. His ongoing Uncanny X-Men (which has leads like Magneto and Sabretooth) is a really solid read. Carnage is pretty good. The current run of Deathstroke has its ups and downs. However, then you have the New Suicide Squad and the Illuminati which are nigh-unreadable. Don’t get me started on Harley Quinn, Deadpool, and their myriad of titles.
That discussion is coming soon, but it’ll have to wait for another day.
So where does Kingpin stack up in this mixed landscape? Ehhh, really not good.
Before I get to the plot, I want to get back to talking about what makes a good villain book, so I can show you one of the major places where this book fails.
A good villain book makes you want to root for the bad guy. For my example, I’m going to use my go-to for great comic reading: Cullen Bunn’s fantastic run on Magneto. This is a book that puts you right in Eric Lensherr’s headspace. You feel his pain. You see what he’s gone through and how it still haunts him every day. You see how it feeds his ongoing brutality. That book actually made me tear up at one point. Seriously, check it out. It was Magneto #17, it’s a masterpiece. I very much intend to write a Barely Retro Review of that issue at some point.
To get back to the point, a good villain book tries to raise the protagonist up to be on par with the heroes, even if their actions can be grievous. It makes you root for them.
A copout to this is to make the heroes look scummy without making the villains look any better. This book does it a lot. The Illuminati and often times Deadpool do it as well.
To move onto the plot: it’s confusing. Yet, at the same time, it doesn’t really do much. Wilson Fisk is trying to organize the criminal underworld to take advantage of the current Civil War between the heroes. He has a NuHuman by the name of Janus whose only apparent power is being a blind spot to Ulysses’ premonitions. It also shows (in a very confusing manner) how Fisk came to find Janus. The backup story is how Janus got his powers and how he has been shuffled around between crime lords for some time.
Guys and gals, this book is really not good. It makes so many missteps. It honestly reads kind of sloppy.
The plot is a meandering mess. That telling of how Fisk and Janus met is told in a flashback that occurs completely without warning or signal. The book just jumps back in time and hopes you catch up. I had to go back and reread a couple of times to figure out what exactly was going on. A book should not force you to disengage from it just to understand the order of events.
The Kingpin doesn’t have much room to be himself. There’s one spot where he intimidates Jigsaw which was kind of tense, but beyond that, he’s just sort of the tent pole that this comic surrounds. The mere existence of Janus’ character in this book defangs Wilson Fisk a bit. Fisk is an intelligent and dangerous crime lord that has used his mind to get through some difficult situations in the past. It would have been interesting seeing how he could work his way through the Ulysses situation where criminals are being captured before they commit the crimes. Heck, he could have used the judicial route to protest these very unlawful incarcerations. However, this book takes the easy way out and hands Kingpin a magic solution to this potentially interesting setup for a story.
The unlawful incarcerations aren’t the main thing that make the heroes that show up in this comic unlikeable. It’s the personality they are given. Sam Wilson, Spectrum, and Night Thrasher (I guess he’s active again now, that’s cool, I’m a New Warriors fan) to essentially intimidate Kingpin for little to no reason. They look like a bunch of thugs, and Wilson and Wilson have a pissing contest in which neither of them look clever or intimidating. Hawkeye shows up later to essentially look like a pompous moron.
Janus is your usual weasely, third-rate crook. He actually kind of reminds me of the character Weasel, but he’s even less likeable or appealing. He really adds nothing to this comic as a character. I’m certainly not made to care about him.
The art doesn’t do this comic any favors either. It’s very stylistic, and the characters look more like amorphous blobs than people. The details aren’t shown very well. The gratuitous gore, which I’m usually all in for, looks really unappealing. Sam Wilson ends up looking like an alien. Plus, it tries to do cute little things for humor’s sake that really just do not work. When Wilson Fisk and Captain America have their little stare down, actual red lightning is drawn between their eyes. When Hawkeye is making his coffee while trying to intimidate Fisk, he pours a lot of sugar, and the word “sugar” is written multiple times next to the stream of sugar to express just how weak Barton likes his coffee.
The colors are really washed-out looking too. I suppose this is meant to give the book an aged feel or maybe a noire aesthetic. I didn’t really get either. It just made this comic look a little worse.
The backup story about Janus’ history looks a little better in terms of art, but it’s also just giving me information and history I really don’t care about. Janus isn’t an interesting character, and I already picked up on the fact that he’s meant to seem like a loser. I didn’t need the further reinforcement that he is a loser. This space could have been used to make the main story go a little farther. As is, the main story really doesn’t do anything in this issue. It’s just a shaky setup with very odd pacing.
I don’t like rending a comic limb from limb like this. I want every comic I read to be good, especially the rare villain titles. However, this one was not enjoyable in the slightest. It’s not interesting. The characters aren’t engaging. The art doesn’t look appealing. It’s just a total train wreck. Give it a pass.
Final Score: 2/10