Klaus JansonDaredevil
Daredevil Gangwar
Medium: comic
Year: 1981
Writer/artist: Frank Miller
Inker: Klaus Janson
Keywords: superhero
Series: << Daredevil >>
Format: 114 pages, reprint of Daredevil 169-172 and 180
Website category: Comics
Review date: 13 October 2021
This was the Kingpin's debut in Daredevil. Unbelievable. You'd swear he'd been part of the mythos for decades and one of Daredevil's most menacing foes. Until this, though, he'd been a Spider-Man supervillain, created by Stan Lee and little different from all the others.
Here, Frank Miller dragged the character into Daredevil's world and instantly overwrote all previous visions of the character. Miller's Kingpin isn't a Silver Age Batman villain. He's a gangster who's basically the evil equivalent of God. He sees all. He hears all. If he feels like it, he'll have you killed. He can't be defeated and he can't be outwitted, except in temporary, small victories that don't affect his position at the heart of all crime in New York. Superheroes like Spider-Man, Daredevil and the Punisher are helpless against him, let alone the police.
Even physically, he's terrifying. He weighs over 200 kg and it looks like fat, but it's not. Daredevil tries to fight him here and it's like punching a cliff face.
This is really a Kingpin story. At the start, he's peacefully living in Japan with his wife, Vanessa. He's renounced crime and he's about to give the police all his secret files on the gang lords he left behind in New York. They don't like this. They take action, which includes abducting Vanessa. By the time the dust has settled on all this, the few rival gang lords left alive are either working for the Kingpin again or being given to the police as sacrificial scapegoats.
As a Daredevil story, this isn't actually that great. The series protagonist doesn't get much to do, really. He's on the periphery, trying to make a difference and stay alive. The Kingpin, though, gets one horrifying HOLY SHIT moment and a number of oooooohs, when you realise that some people who underestimated him are about to be made to regret it.
Bullseye returns. He's got a brain tumour that's driving him memorably insane, but this is also a retcon of the most interesting thing about McKenzie's version of him. I disapprove, but even so I like Miller's Bullseye. There's also a petty criminal called Turk who's becoming one of the series's most entertaining ongoing characters.
There's comedy. I hadn't been expecting Miller's writing to be this funny.
Also, despite everything I've been saying, Daredevil's issues and principles are important. He's more interesting than Batman. He's a lawyer who believes in the system, not because he's thinks it's infallible (he doesn't) but because it's the basis of civilisation. "Nick, men like Bullseye would rule the world were it not for a structure of laws that society has created to keep such men in check. The moment one man takes another man's life in his own hands, he is rejecting the law and working to destroy that structure. If Bullseye is a menace to society, it is society that must make him pay the price. Not you. And not me. I... I wanted him to die, Nick. I detest what he is... what he does. But I'm not God. I'm not the law. And I'm not a murderer."
"He's gonna go free. He's gonna kill again. And next time it'll be your fault."
In other words, Daredevil's got Batman's never-kill quirk, but also clearly articulated reasons for it. He can explain himself like a lawyer. You can challenge him on his beliefs and he'll return to the discussion later. He gives the series its moral and thematic underpinnings. And, sometimes, he makes me laugh.
Fun fact: the original monthly issues included a one-page advert for Doctor Who in Marvel Premiere.
I wouldn't call these issues "brilliant". For that, read Miller and Mazzucchelli's Born Again. At the time, though, what Miller did here was massive and today it's still impressive.