In July, 1969, Marvel Comics editor-in-chief Stan Lee announced in his “Stan’s Soapbox” column that the company was instituting a new “no continued stories” policy for all its titles. Today, that policy (which remained in place for about a year and a half, at least officially) is widely considered to have been not Lee’s own idea, but rather one that was imposed on him by his then-boss, publisher Martin Goodman. Assuming that’s true, it’s interesting to consider how much Lee flouted the policy in one of the relatively few books he still wrote himself, The Amazing Spider-Man — which, as it happens, was also the company’s best-selling title, and thus probably the one most likely to be noticed by Goodman.
Of course, when the new policy was announced, Lee and his collaborators on AS-M (layout artist/co-plotter John Romita being the most critical of these) were wrapping up the extended “Petrified Tablet Saga”, which had begin with issue #68 and continued on through #77 (including a two-issue coda featuring the Lizard). But the conclusion of that epic was immediately followed by a two-parter (which Lee, perhaps disingenuously, claimed had been originally planned as a three-parter) introducing a new character, the Prowler. Only at that point did Amazing Spider-Man begin to feature “done-in-one” stories; and even then, after a mere three (fairly underwhelming) issues featuring two villains who hadn’t been seen in several years (the Chameleon, in #80, and Electro, in #82), plus one new one who, quite frankly, represented the nadir of Lee and Romita’s creativity (the Kangaroo, in #81), the series returned to multi-part storylines with #83 — an issue which both introduced yet another brand-new baddie, the Schemer, and featured the return of another old Spidey-foe, the Kingpin.
“The Schemer” was something of a departure from recent issues of the series, artistically-speaking. Instead of merely providing breakdowns as a basis for the finished artwork of John Buscema and Jim Mooney, Romita (who also regularly contributed full art for AS-M‘s covers) appears to have returned to full pencils for this story, with Mike Esposito (under his pseudonym of “Micky Demeo”) providing inks (though the credits simply credit both artists together as “illustrators”).
The storyline picked up on a plot thread that had been left dangling in an early chapter of the “Tablet Saga”. In issue #70, the readers had seen the Kingpin, newly escaped from jail, make his final getaway in a big black car driven by a mysterious woman. The massively-built crimelord hadn’t been seen since; but, as Lee and Romita revealed early on in #85, wherever the Kingpin had been hiding out, he’d been neither uncomfortable, nor alone:
This page features not just the first on-panel appearance of the Kingpin’s wife, Vanessa, but indeed the first hint that the crime boss (who wouldn’t receive his “civilian” appellation of “Wilson Fisk” until writer-artist Frank Miller christened him with it in Daredevil #170, some eleven years later) had any sort of family whatsoever.
In his 2007 introduction to the Marvel Masterworks volume reprinting this story, John Romita credits the great American cartoonist Milton Caniff with inspiring the younger artist’s visual conception of Vanessa, by way of the glamorous, but morally ambivalent Dragon Lady character from Caniff’s classic newspaper strip, Terry and the Pirates. (I can definitely see it, although Vanessa doesn’t come across as Asian.)
The Kingpin, as well his family and business troubles, first find their way back into the life of your friendly neighborhood Spider-Man in an improbably coincidental fashion when Spidey, out with his girlfriend Gwen Stacy in his everyday identity of Peter Parker*, is almost flattened by a truck that goes out of control when it’s sideswiped by a recklessly speeding car. Pete shoves Gwen out of the way just in time, but…
The sideswiping car turns out to belong to the Schemer — a new crimelord in town, who’s muscling in on the Kingpin’s turf, and who wears a flashy green, yellow, and red costume because… well, because that’s just what crimelords do in the Marvel Universe, I guess (with some notable exceptions — e.g., the Kingpin).
Once the first responders arrive, and our hero ascertains that his beloved isn’t badly injured, he takes off in pursuit of the mysterious sideswipe-and-run automobile as Spider-Man — and, soon enough, he’s tracked it to a location in the warehouse district. Spidey surprises the Schemer and his hoods in their hideout by crashing through a window, and then the fight is on:
The Schemer doesn’t appear to have any actual super-abilities; but, in addition to being a pretty decent shot, he’s got access to some clever gadgetry, including a big desk that’s been equipped with its own guns, and which also (in conjunction with a giant overhead light) functions as a Spidey-squashing hydraulic press. Spidey manages to overload this particular trap, causing an explosion, but the Schemer escapes in the resultant confusion — which leads us into the second part of the trilogy, Amazing Spider-Man #84’s “The Kingpin Strikes Back!”
This issue finds the assignment of artistic duties returning to the series’ recent norms, as Romita is once again on breakdowns, with John Buscema doing fuller layouts (or perhaps complete pencils) over those, and Jim Mooney then providing finished pencils as well as inks (or maybe just inks). (As an aside, I have to confess that I continue to find this arrangement somewhat puzzling, as Buscema’s contribution seems all but superfluous. Even if Romita only had the time to do extremely rough breakdowns, that would have taken care of the lion’s share of the issue’s artistic decisions regarding composition, pacing, and the like– and since Jim Mooney was an experienced and skilled penciller in his own right [after all, he’d drawn the “Supergirl” feature for DC Comics for over eight years before coming to Marvel in 1967], it’s difficult to see what “Big John” brought to the table that “Madman Mooney” couldn’t have supplied on his own. Perhaps this particular assembly-line process saved time in the Marvel offices, but considering that it’s difficult to see much more than a vestige of Buscema’s personal style in these issues, it’s hardly any wonder that he was, reportedly, unenthusiastic about the assignment.)
As this chapter opens, Spidey is counting himself fortunate that his first encounter with the Schemer ended indecisively — because since then, a $5,000 reward has been offered for the new crimelord’s capture, and (as usual) our hero could really use the bread — although, as he notes in the panel shown at left, the way that the reward offer is being handled is a little odd.
Unfortunately, the wall-crawler doesn’t have any good leads — and while the Schemer continues to lean on the Kingpin’s operations around town, the big man himself continues to brood about the loss of his son.
At last, Spider-Man catches a break when he overhears a group of lowlifes discussing the Schemer’s car, which “is all rigged up with special weapons ‘n’ stuff!” A mere two panels later, the hero spies an auto driving down the snow-covered street below, and his spider-sense starts going off like crazy. “Oh no!” the web-slinger exclaims to himself. “I can’t be that lucky!” (Aw, sure you can, Pete, if the story’s been written that way.)
Spider-Man pursues the vehicle, and its sole occupant — the Schemer — all the way to its final destination, a gated manorial estate:
Before Vanessa can answer, Spider-Man enters by crashing through a window (the way he so often does) — and the Kingpin decides that the Schemer can wait a couple of minutes while he crushes his older and even more hated enemy:
Moments later, however, the two combatants realize that the Schemer — and Vanessa — have somehow disappeared. And then… but why don’t I let Lee, Romita, Buscema, and Mooney fill you in themselves, via their handy recap on the first page of this story’s third and final chapter, in issue #85?
Y’know, you might expect Spider-Man to investigate just where that pneumatic tube whooshed the Kingpin off to, since he obviously couldn’t have gotten too far away by that mode of transport. Or, alternatively, to go after the Schemer again, since the guy would presumably have left tracks in the snow. But, no — Spidey just goes home to Peter Parker’s pad, and tries to get in some studying for his college classes the next day. And then, a couple of unexpected visitors drop by — namely, Gwen (who’s recovered nicely from that truck-related mishap in #82) and her dad, retired police Captain George Stacy:
As most readers of this blog probably know already, in March, 1970 Capt. Stacy was not long for this world. In fact, his number would come up in just five short months, when AS-M #90 would present the tragic tale of his heroic sacrifice to save a young boy about to become collateral damage in a battle between Spider-Man and Doctor Octopus. In his final moments, Capt. Stacy would call our masked hero by the name “Peter”, and ask him to take good care of Gwen.
It’s a moving moment — one of the most indelible of Spider-Man’s first decade. But if we take our hero’s assertion that Stacy “must have always known” that Peter was Spider-Man, but kept his knowledge secret, at face value — then many of the Captain’s actions, especially in relatively recent issues such as #85, don’t make a lot of sense. If Capt. Stacy already knows Peter’s secret, why does he show up now — with his daughter in tow, no less — to grill Pete about how he always manages to get those great pics of Spidey? Because he does, however, Pete is forced to excuse himself, then duck out through a window, then come back into the apartment through another window, so that Spider-Man can provide the Stacys with a plausible cover story:
To me, it makes sense to assume that while Lee and Romita may have already known by this point that Captain Stacy was going to die, they hadn’t yet determined the extent of his knowledge regarding Peter’s secret life. Because the only viable alternative explanation is that Stacy is doing all this just to mess with Peter, which doesn’t quite seem in character for the venerable retired policeman.
As the Stacys exit, Spider-Man returns to the search for the Schemer. Meanwhile…
Elsewhere, Spider-Man has another bit of good luck when he sees the Schemer’s car, which the villain has abandoned after crashing it while driving on the still-snowy streets (hey, that could happen to anyone). Following the villain’s shaky footprints (that snow sure is coming in handy!), Spidey soon finds his prey, who’s about to rob an warehouse for auto parts (no, really):
After a couple more pages of fightin’, Spider-Man at last manages to subdue the Schemer — and then, tossing the unconscious baddie over his shoulder, he swings off to collect the $5,000 reward.
What’s that you say? Didn’t Spidey tell us back at the beginning of issue #84 that the only address given in regards to the reward offer was a post office box? Why, yes, he did. Apparently, however, sometime between then and now our hero saw a reward poster somewhere that gave an actual street address. We didn’t see that, but it must have happened, because otherwise the following dialogue (and action) makes no sense:
The Kingpin presses a button that drops a magnetized steel-cable net onto Spider-Man. Having thus incapacitated one foe, he turns his full attention to the other:
It seems to me that the Kingpin is being remarkably slow on the uptake here, considering that he’s such a cunning crimelord and all. But, of course, if he wasn’t, then we couldn’t have the following dramatic reveal:
In the family drama we’ve just seen unfold, Spider-Man’s role has been reduced to that of captive audience (Lee tries hard to gin up some suspense around our hero’s escape from the net in a couple of panels on the last two pages, but it’s an obvious reach that falls pretty flat). That’s fine, actually — Spidey has never been at the center of interest in this storyline — but his hands-off attitude at the very end, which finds him passive to the point of ennui (“Somehow, it doesn’t seem to matter anymore!”), doesn’t quite ring true to his character. Even if the Schemer, aka Richard Fisk, hasn’t committed any actual crimes (outside of the “reckless endangerment” he inflicts on Pete and Gwendy in #83, we’ve only see him taking action against the Kingpin’s own crooked operations), isn’t that a call for the authorities to make? And the Kingpin must still be wanted for a multitude of offenses; sure, he’s a basket case at the moment, but Spider-Man has no idea how long that will last. If nothing else, a quick tip-off call to the cops would seem to be in order here.
Having said all that, however, I have to admit that I have no recollection of having been bothered by this denouement when I first read this tale as a twelve-year-old. Perhaps that’s simply because I was generally accepting of what I was given as a comic-book consumer, back in the days of my youth — but I wonder if it wasn’t at least partly because the scene reminded me of the ending of Spectacular Spider-Man #2, where the web-slinger allowed an amnesiac Green Goblin to return to his life as businessman Norman Osborn. Of course, that had obviously been a different kind of situation, since, before his memory loss, the Goblin had known Spider-Man’s true identity, and revealing the villain’s secrets to the authorities might have put the hero’s in jeopardy, as well — still, my younger self might not have made that distinction.
At any rate, Spidey’s speculative musings in the next-to-last panel on page 20 — “Maybe our paths will cross again… maybe they won’t…” — would eventually be answered in the affirmative, to the surprise of few if any comics readers; though not until after the whole Fisk family had first caused major headaches for another superhero or two.
For now that Lee and Romita had introduced a wife and son into the Kingpin’s milieu, neither character would be going away any time soon. The mere fact of Vanessa and Richard’s existence humanized the Kingpin, and created new dramatic possibilities for a villain who, up to now, had been a fairly one-note comic book heavy (pun intended). Over the next half century, the Fisk family dynamic would generate a considerable number of comics stories, including some of the finest told in the superhero genre during that period (as well as some others which were anything but that, alas).
The next time the Kingpin family showed up, not quite two years later later, it was a genuine surprise. Over in Captain America, scripter Gary Friedrich and various artists (including John Romita, at the outset) were spinning a multi-part tale which set Cap, his then-partner the Falcon, and the agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. against the forces of a resurgent Hydra. Among the mysteries of the storyline (which had kicked off in issue #145) were not only the identity of the new Supreme Hydra, but the also the identity of another, mostly unseen mastermind, who was seemingly controlling the Supreme Hydra and his hordes from behind the scenes.
Gil Kane and Joe Sinnott’s cover for Captain America #147 (March, 1972) heralded the revelation of only one of those two secret identities, though I’m pretty sure my fourteen-year-old self fully expected that the issue would spill the beans regarding the second as well. And, as it turned out, I was right, though the jig on that score was pretty well up from page 3 of that issue — at least for me and for anyone else who’d been reading Amazing Spider-Man in the early months of 1970. We knew who the mysterious behind-the-scenes mastermind had to be from the moment we saw a familiar figure interrupt him, just as he was about to press a button and blow up not just Captain America and his allies, but the Supreme Hydra and his soldiers as well:
Yep, I’d have recognized that striking-looking older woman with the penchant for floor-length gowns (and capes!) anywhere. Anyone who hadn’t read AS-M #83-85, on the other hand, had to wait three more pages for Friedrich and his artistic collaborators (Sal Buscema and John Verpoorten) to drop not just one, but both of their their bombshell revelations:
Over the next several pages, readers learned how, following the events of Amazing Spider-Man #85, a guilt-stricken Richard Fisk had decided to make up for the suffering he’d caused his parents, and to make his dad proud of him in the bargain. How, you may ask? Why, first by joining Hydra and rapidly rising through its ranks to become its supreme leader (that may seem an arbitrary choice of terrorist organizations to take over, but, on the other hand, the guy did seem to have a penchant for green and yellow costumes); then by using Hydra’s resources to bring the Kingpin out of his catatonia and back to his evil, scheming self; and then by allowing said restored crimelord to take over Hydra behind the scenes, but without letting him know that Richard was the Supreme Hydra and had set the whole thing up. Hey, what could go wrong with a plan like that? (Besides, y’know, everything.) Things actually got even more convoluted by the end of the issue, when all the characters learned that there was yet another behind-the-scenes mastermind who’d been manipulating both the Supreme Hydra and the Kingpin all along — an even more formidable villain, whom the following issue revealed to be none other than the Red Skull!
As it turned out, even the Kingpin, rotten as he was, drew the line at working for Nazis:
Poor Richard — the guy just couldn’t seem to do anything right in his dad’s eyes.
The Kingpin ended up throwing in with Cap, the Falcon, and S.H.I.E.L.D. to defeat the Skull; Richard, however, along with his mom — not to mention the hordes of Hydra — completely vanished from the story, somehow. Only upon the publication of Amazing Spider-Man #164, some five years later, would readers learn that Richard had been seriously injured fighting the Skull’s forces, and had since been kept in suspended animation until the Kingpin was able to revive and heal him using some of Spidey’s own (stolen) life force . After that, the Fisk scion dropped out of sight for some time, though Mr. and Mrs. Kingpin would return to the pages of AS-M with issue #197 (Oct., 1979). In that issue, Vanessa forced her chubby hubby to agree to give up his life of crime within 24 hours, or lose her forever. Luckily for Spider-Man, the clock ran out on the Kingpin before he was able to put a perfect capper on his career by murdering the web-slinger (though he came damn close).
The Kingpin’s retirement lasted less than two years; when he returned, it was for a storyline that would largely define how the character has been perceived ever since. In Daredevil #170 (May, 1981), Frank Miller not only gave the big man a name, but brought him back into the limelight as a more formidable villain than he’d ever been before, both physically and mentally.
Miller’s story began when the Kingpin, now living quietly in Japan with Vanessa as “Wilson Fisk, humble dealer of spices”, agreed to provide the U.S. Attorney General’s office with incriminating evidence against his former lieutenants in the East Coast mob. Vanessa returned to New York to hire the law firm of Franklin Nelson and Matt (Daredevil) Murdock to represent her husband in his negotiations with the Feds, only to be kidnapped by operatives of those former lieutenants. Their actions brought the Kingpin back home, as they’d intended, and they hired the assassin Bullseye to kill him. But their plans went awry when the Kingpin outfoxed them, using his inside knowledge to sabotage their operations, and suborning Bullseye to his own cause. By the end of this three-part story in DD #172, Wilson Fisk was once more the Kingpin of crime.
But Fisk’s resumption of his old life came accompanied by — and, indeed, was largely driven by — great personal loss. Over the course of events, as he was attempting to rescue his beloved wife, his enemies caused an explosion which brought a skyscraper’s superstructure down on both of them. The Kingpin survived, but, finding no trace of Vanessa, assumed she had perished — though, as readers learned in #172’s startling epilogue, this was not actually the case:
The subplot of Vanessa Fisk’s fate played out gradually over the next ten issues of Miller’s first Daredevil run, with DD ultimately discovering that the Kingpin’s wife was alive and dwelling in the sewers, then rescuing her and restoring her to her husband (in #180). At this point, Vanessa’s return might have been expected to raise the issue of her husband’s promised retirement all over again — however, her ordeal had left her in a nearly-catatonic state, which allowed Miller to sidestep the issue for the remainder of his run. The Kingpin, on the other hand, would continue to play a significant role throughout that run, appearing in almost every issue, including those in which he had little to do with the issue’s main storyline. By Miller’s final issue (#191 [Feb., 1983]), Wilson Fisk had been established to be Daredevil’s arch-foe, at least as much (and probably more) than he was Spider-Man’s. Miller’s second stint as writer on the series (issues #226-233 [Jan.-Aug., 1986]), in which the Kingpin learned Daredevil’s secret identity and used that knowledge in an attempt to destroy the hero, only cemented that status in the minds of most Marvel readers.
Richard Fisk, unlike his mom, played no role in Frank Miller’s Kingpin stories; in fact, if you only knew the Kingpin from Miller’s work, you could be forgiven for not realizing that Wilson and Vanessa Fisk had even been a couple long enough to have raised an adult son. Though they retained the white hair at her temples, Miller and inker/finisher Klaus Janson’s visual depiction of Mrs. Kingpin otherwise suggested a somewhat younger woman; meanwhile, dialogue such that in which one of Wilson Fisk’s subordinates remembered “the Kingpin back before he started actin’ like a lovesick kid” — or in which the Kingpin himself, believing his wife dead, called her, “My one moment of joy. My one brief instant of humanity.” — also strongly implied that Vanessa and Wilson’s relationship was, if not brand new, still of considerably less than two decades’ duration. Using this approach, Miller never directly contradicted earlier continuity; he simply omitted the details that didn’t serve the stories he wanted to tell; and one of those details happened to be Richard Fisk.
But even if Frank Miller didn’t have any interest in the Kingpin’s son, that didn’t mean that other Marvel creators necessarily felt the same way — as would eventually be demonstrated by the folks working on the three Spider-Man books that Marvel published from the mid-Eighties into the early Nineties (which, in addition to Amazing Spider-Man, included Peter Parker: The Spectacular Spider-Man and Web of Spider-Man). Even as he became ever more important to storylines in Daredevil, the Kingpin also continued to appear in the Spider-titles, as one of several major underworld figures who showed up regularly to make the wall-crawler’s life miserable. Also included among these figures were a couple of new characters — the Hobgoblin (introduced in Amazing Spider-Man #238 [Mar., 1983]) and the Rose (introduced in AS-M #253 [Jun., 1984]). Though originally presented as independent agents, these two villains eventually joined forces against the Kingpin (as depicted in the panel from AS-M #275 shown at left; text by Tom DeFalco, art by Ron Frenz and Josef Rubinstein), beginning a subplot that ran through the Spider-Man titles for over a year. But the dastardly duo had other qualities in common as well; for one, each one’s true identity was a mystery to the comics’ readers; and for another, closely related to the first, both of them appear to have been intended by one or more of the comics’ creators (at different times, naturally) to be eventually unmasked as none other than our old friend Richard Fisk. Ultimately, after considerable creative shuffling, the Hobgoblin’s identity would be revealed as billionaire fashion designer Roderick Kingsley (though with a detour of sorts, by way of Daily Bugle reporter Ned Leeds) — while the man in the white suit and lilac-colored leather mask did indeed turn out to be the scion of Wilson Fisk’s criminal empire.**
As originally conceived by writer Tom DeFalco, the Rose was supposed to be a “second-tier” crimelord — a “middle manager” who never got his own hands dirty, but hired (or allied himself with) others who did the fighting for him. But as was eventually revealed (in AS-M #286 [Mar., 1987] and Web of Spider-Man #30 [Sept., 1987])) by DeFalco’s successor Christopher Priest (then known as Jim Owsley), the Rose’s supposed criminality was all merely a complicated ruse, a long game played by Richard Fisk for the purpose of bringing down his dad. Things ultimately went south with his plans, however, and Richard — whose stated aversion to bona fide wrongdoing might have seemed surprising to any reader who recalled that he’d once been the supreme leader of Hydra — was fatally compromised when circumstances drove him to shoot and kill a rookie police officer. In the end, he gave up on his schemes and returned to his father, apparently resigned at long last to taking his place in the Kingpin’s organization.
Richard Fisk wouldn’t show up again for a good long time after that; when he finally did resurface, in Web of Spider-Man #84, he was once again trying to bring down his father’s operations, but from the inside, this time. In a storyline that ran for six issues, writer Howard Mackie showed Richard coming to resemble his father more and more, as he bulked up and shaved his head bald; when Wilson Fisk finally did fall (not at Richard’s hands, as it turned out, but rather those of the Man Without Fear, in Daredevil #300), Richard proclaimed himself the “new Kingpin”. At that point, however, Richard found himself facing a new Rose — a considerably revised version, however, who’d kept the lilac mask, but traded in his dapper white suit for Kevlar body armor and automatic weapons, and who called himself Blood Rose. (Why, yes, this was the Nineties. How did you ever guess?) In WoS-M #89, the Blood Rose shot and apparently killed Richard Fisk, then vanished into the night, his true identity still unrevealed.
A mere eight issues later, however, Web of Spider-Man had a brand new writer, Terry Kavanagh — and, like Howard Mackie before him, Kavanagh chose to begin his run with a multi-part Richard Fisk-centric storyline, as the Blood Rose returned to lay waste to what was left of the Kingpin’s organization, while Richard was shown to have survived the violent vigilante’s earlier attack. But in a surprising twist/retcon, Kavanagh upended Mackie’s narrative by revealing that the man readers had previously understood to be Richard Fisk actually wasn’t — he was instead Alfredo Morelli, an old friend of Richard’s who shared the latter’s animosity towards the Kingpin, and who’d conspired with his pal to bring the big man down by… having plastic surgery so that he could pretend to be Richard. Why? Supposedly, because Alfredo had “combat experience” which would give him an advantage over the real Richard in working behind the scenes to dismantle the Kingpin’s organization. (No, that doesn’t make much sense to me, either.) But Alfredo had gradually become unhinged, ultimately coming to see himself as the “real” Richard Fisk, and deciding to take over the Fisk family business for himself. At that point, the actual real Richard had become Alfredo-Richard’s enemy, and had taken on the identity of, you guessed it, the Blood Rose, for the purpose of stopping him. Everything came to a head in Web of Spider-Man #100, as Blood Rose and Alfredo Morelli (now sporting a “power glove” and calling himself Gauntlet) had their final showdown, with Spider-Man in the middle. In the end, both combatants were defeated, and the tale ended — as so many involving Richard Fisk do, it seems — with an unmasking (art by Alex Saviuk and Josef Rubinstein):
I imagine that Spidey headed home from the conclusion of this adventure with a splitting headache — certainly, untangling the continuity of these ’80s and ’90s Spider-Man storylines (most of which I took a pass on when they were originally published) in researching this blog post gave me one. And Richard Fisk? Well, after a brief cameo in the Kavanagh-scripted 43rd issue of (the adjective-less) Spider-Man (Feb., 1994), which showed him as having entered the federal witness protection program, he dropped out of sight for eight years — during which time, he returned to the employ of his father (whose “fall” back in Daredevil #300 had proved less than permanent, of course), and also started drinking heavily. At least, that’s what he was doing the next time readers saw him, in Daredevil (1998 series) #27 — the second issue of a soon-to-be-acclaimed run by Brian Michael Bendis (writer) and Alex Maleev (artist).
Bendis and Maleev’s storyline introduced a new “employee” of the Kingpin named Sammy Silke — a youngish mobster just arrived in NYC from Chicago, whose father worked closely with the Kingpin back in the day. As pointed out by another Kingpin underling in a gangland bar where a group of them were hanging out, that meant Sammy himself probably knew the younger Fisk:
The last eight years hadn’t done much for Richie, had they? It’s hard to see the golden-haired (though originally red-haired), good-looking young fellow readers had grown accustomed to in Maleev’s depiction; but dissolution will do that to a guy, I suppose.
Thus rebuffed by “Kingpin, Jr.”, Silke then complained to his new associates about how their mutual boss wouldn’t let him whack a certain blind lawyer who was up in his own dad’s business — a guy name of Matt Murdock. The other hoods told him he’d do best to shut up and mind his own business, but Richard invited Sammy to join him at the bar, where (in issue #30) he proceeded to tell him the Fisk crime cartel’s biggest open secret — that Matt Murdock was in fact Daredevil, and that though the Kingpin had known this for years, he had chosen to leave the Devil of Hell’s Kitchen alone:
Yep, Richard was once again plotting to take down his father, and once again enlisting an old friend to aid in his scheme. (Because, y’know, that worked out so well the last time.)
Like Frank Miller before him, Brian Michael Bendis took what he wanted from established characters’ backstories for his Daredevil run, and mostly ignored the rest; thus, while his scripts never referenced Richard Fisk’s history as the Schemer, or Supreme Hydra,*** they didn’t contradict it, either. However, that’s not quite the case with Bendis’ references to Richard’s childhood; as the dialogue in the last panel shown above indicates (and as a flashback that immediately follows in the comic, in which young Richard and Sammy watch as their fathers brutally murder someone, makes even more explicit), the Richard Fisk we see here has known his father was a ruthless criminal since well before his college days — which doesn’t quite jibe with the character’s history as first related in Amazing Spider-Man #85. But, hey, maybe Richard repressed that memory for years, and only recalled it some time after that Spidey storyline. After all, drastic reactions to traumatic experiences, up to and including complete mental shutdowns, do seem to run in his family.
Per Richard’s intent, Sammy took the lead in their bid to bring the Kingpin low. He convinced a group of the crimelord’s top lieutenants to betray their boss, and in a scene that deliberately evoked the assassination of Julius Caesar, the men all surrounded Wilson Fisk (who happened to be temporarily blind at the time) stabbed him multiple times, and left him for dead.
Unfortunately for Richard, Sammy, and their allies, they hadn’t counted on the Kingpin’s astounding physical resiliency. Nor had they accounted for one particular wild card — Richard’s mother, Vanessa.
I mentioned earlier that in Frank Miller’s initial Daredevil run, he’d effectively kicked the can of Wilson’s promise to Vanessa to retire from crime down the road a ways, by having her ordeal in the Manhattan sewer system leave her in a mentally as well as physically diminished state. But, eventually, Miller himself had resolved that situation, in the Daredevil: Love and War graphic novel (written by Miller, but drawn by Bill Sienkiewicz), published in 1986. In that story, the Kingpin coerced a therapist, Dr. Paul Mondat, into attempting to heal Vanessa’s psyche; but while Mondat was ultimately successful in reaching Mrs. Fisk’s mind, this “cure” came at a great cost to her husband, who learned that Vanessa was actually desperate to leave him. In order to ensure his beloved’s health and happiness, Wilson sent her away to Europe, where he would financially support her continued recuperation under Dr. Mondat’s care, as well as the establishment of a new life apart from him. From that point forward, Vanessa Fisk made only a few, scattered comics appearances, none of them consequential — that is, until Bendis and Maleev brought her back with a vengeance (pun intended), in Daredevil (1998 series) #29 (March, 2002).
Learning that Wilson had been severely wounded and was near death, Vanessa flew back to the States, took charge of those of the Kingpin’s men who’d remained loyal, and arranged to have Wilson flown to Switzerland for treatment. Then, in #31, she began to deal with his would-be killers:
That last page, from issue #31, was the last we readers saw of Richard Fisk among the living. In the next issue, we’d learn that he’d been found in his apartment, shot to death.
As for Vanessa, after all of her husband’s would-be murderers save one**** were dead, she sold the family business’ headquarters building, Fisk Towers, to Donald Trump (!), then returned to Europe, with all of Wilson’s money save for that paying for his medical care. Sometime after her husband’s recovery, however, Vanessa herself became terminally ill. Deciding then that both her husband and his red-garbed nemesis were to blame for her family’s tragedies, she conceived and executed an elaborate scheme to exact vengeance. As chronicled by writer Ed Brubaker and artist Michael Lark in Daredevil (1998 series) #92 (Feb., 2007) Vanessa’s machinations ultimately brought DD to confront her in her home in Zurich, Switzerland:
As it turned out, Vanessa’s “vengeance” against the Kingpin and Daredevil involved getting the former released from jail, and the latter cleared of criminal charges stemming from actions he’d taken after having his secret identity revealed. (She did this so that the two arch-enemies would spend the rest of their miserable lives trying to kill each other, but still, as vengeance schemes go, it could have been a lot worse, if you ask me.) We weren’t shown Vanessa Fisk’s death on camera, but Matt Murdock read her obituary in the Daily Bugle in issue #93, and Wilson visited her grave later in the issue.
Thus ended the Fisk family saga.
The saga of Wilson Fisk continues to go on, of course. The Kingpin remains a major force for not-good in the Marvel Universe (indeed, the last time I checked, he’d become the Honorable Wilson Fisk, Mayor of New York City), even without the family connections that had helped to give human interest to this literally larger-than-life figure. But I do wonder if Marvel’s creators will, over the long run, be able to let sleeping Fisks lie.***** It’s worth noting, I think, that the two most prominent appearances of the Kingpin in non-comics media in the last several years — i.e., in the Netflix Daredevil TV series and in the animated Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse movie — have both included Vanessa in their mix (and the film included a young version of Richard, as well). Does that suggest that the character of Wilson Fisk is missing a vital element when he doesn’t have a living wife and/or son to relate to? As with all other presently non-living characters in the Marvel Comics Universe, when it comes to Vanessa and Richard Fisk, only time will tell.
And speaking of time… before I close this rather long post, I’d like you to follow me back to March, 1970, for just a few brief closing remarks.
As I mentioned at the outset, the multi-part “Schemer” storyline that wrapped up in Amazing Spider-Man #85 that month represented a contravention of Marvel’s “no continued stories” policy, a policy that my twelve-year-old self didn’t like it all. As best as I can remember, I enjoyed this three-part tale just fine; but perhaps that policy had already done too much damage to my general level of interest in comic books, as #85 was the last Spidey comic I would buy for almost a year. And, as it happened, #85 was the final issue of my subscription, meaning that I’d actually paid for the comic months earlier. If I hadn’t already been a subscriber, it’s entirely possible that I would have missed this story completely; after all, I’d already dropped other Marvel titles that I bought regularly off the stands, such as Avengers and Daredevil, back in the fall of ’69. And I hadn’t bought the latest issue of my other former favorite Marvel titles, Fantastic Four, since my subscription to it had run out the previous month. In fact, when I look at the “Mike’s Amazing World” web site’s “Newsstand” page for all the comic books released in March, 1970, I don’t see a single one I purchased off the spinner rack.
For all practical purposes, I’d stopped buying new comics in early 1970. I wouldn’t buy another one until May of that year (at the earliest).
So, um, does that mean there won’t be an “Attack of the 50 Year Old Comic Books” post in April? Not necessarily. Just keep watching this space, OK?
*For the record, the misunderstanding between Peter and Gwen regarding Pete’s old frenemy Flash Thompson, which had our two young lovebirds on the outs back in issues #78 and #79, had been cleared up in #80.
**For a thorough, if unavoidably Rashomon-like accounting of the whole convoluted (not to mention disputed) history of the Hobgoblin’s secret identity — a saga of which the Rose’s own “identity crisis” was but one small part — see Glenn Greenberg’s “When Hobby Met Spidey” in Back Issue #35 (July, 2009).
***Bendis dropped the name of the Rose just once, in passing, in issue #32.
****Sammy Silke escaped Vanessa’s vengeance by turning himself into the FBI and giving them Daredevil’s secret identity in return for protection. This development would eventually lead to DD’s being outed as Matt Murdock in the press, and in the long run, didn’t help Sammy — who was killed in prison by the recovered and returned Kingpin, himself, in DD (1998 series) #45.
*****In the 2016-17 “Clone Conspiracy” storyline, the Rose “came back” as one of a number of clones created by the Jackal. This Rose could have been one of the others who’ve borne the name (and look), however, rather than Richard Fisk; and since virtually all of those clones perished by the end of the storyline, it seems rather a moot point. The Rose (or, at least, his disincarnate shade) also turned up as a denizen of Hell in Damnation: Johnny Blaze – Ghost Rider #1 (May, 2018); since another character in the story refers to him as “Daddy’s boy”, my money is on that Rose, at least, being Richard.
As for Vanessa, she’s been exhumed not just once, but twice. In Savage Wolverine #7 and 8 (2013), a trio of ninjas called the Arbiters reanimated her corpse for the purpose of assassinating the Kingpin; she was also one of the Jackal’s short-lived clones in the “Clone Conspiracy” storyline. Both of these “appearances” concluded with Vanessa’s return to her status quo as “deceased”, however.