Guest post by Lacy Baugher.
There have been some rumors swirling around recently about whether Daredevil star Vincent D’Onofrio might make the transition from the small-screen corner of the Marvel Cinematic Universe to the franchise’s main stage and bring his Wilson Fisk to upcoming Phase Three film Spider-Man: Homecoming. The idea makes a certain amount of sense: Kingpin has a long history as a villain in the Spider-Man comics, which well predates his status as a Daredevil adversary. And fans have been pretty vocal in their desire for more direct connections between the MCU’s film and television properties. So what could be more exciting than porting over one of the most memorable characters from Marvel’s Netflix run so far straight into the film universe?
While it sounds like great idea on paper, I personally think this kind of TV-to-film crossover – or at least a crossover involving the character of Fisk, specifically – was probably never going to happen for several reasons, mostly because D’Onofrio himself shot it down already. However, even if that weren’t the case, the differences in tone and characterization between the two properties would have made such an event extremely unlikely. Daredevil is all about dark and gritty violence, but given what we’ve seen so far of Peter Parker’s world in Captain America: Civil War, his first Spider-Man film is likely to be situated squarely in the familiar lighthearted Marvel realm of snappy quips and one-liners. Can you imagine Wilson Fisk, murderer, child abuse victim and all around gang-lord, facing off with Tom Holland’s super-charming teen nerd Peter? Just thinking about it is awkward. It seems all wrong.
So why not just keep Fisk where he belongs – on the small screen? These Spider-Man rumors reminded me of something I realized while re-watching the second season of Daredevil recently. I think we all sort of knew going in that the odds of Jon Bernthal’s Punisher being granted his own series following his Season 2 introduction were pretty high, so no one was really that surprised when he got one. But the character I’d really, really love to see get their own show? Kingpin. Sure, sure, D’Onofrio also completely shot this idea down already as well, but he also said he’d do it if he was ever asked, so let a girl dream, okay?
I desperately want to see Kingpin: The Series, and not just because the scenes featuring Fisk in prison were some of the best in Daredevil Season 2 (they were) or because I’m basically just as invested Fisk’s development as a character at this point as I am in Matt’s (also true). The reason is that I would dearly love to see a story within the MCU that focuses predominantly on one of their villains, even if it’s only for a one-shot four or five episode miniseries, the way the comics are currently doing as a part of the Civil War II event. You could maybe argue that The Punisher will logically be treading over some of this ground, since Frank Castle already hits some of the same thematic issues as a hero whose entire existence is morally questionable in the first place. However, what I want most of all is a show that is unapologetically about a morally flawed – okay, fine: pretty terrible – character who isn’t really trying all that hard to change the less than heroic aspects of themselves, but who is still appealing or sympathetic at times, and still part of a great story. Yes, Marvel, please give us a show where we can just straight up root for the bad guy and not feel bad about it!
In this current age of Peak TV, we’ve had plenty of mainstream shows like this, many of which have been hugely successful, both critically and commercially. Think The Sopranos, Breaking Bad, Dexter or Sons of Anarchy. Or even something like Mad Men, which featured a main character that, while not precisely a criminal, certainly possessed few redeeming or admirable qualities. These were all still incredibly compelling stories, despite the fact that they didn’t exactly center on traditionally “heroic” characters. So, why not have a Marvel series that does something similar? The beauty of the TV side of the MCU is that there’s room to tell a lot of different kinds of stories and explore different genres. And honestly, how interesting would that be? What does a comic book version of a show that follows the model of The Sopranos or Breaking Bad even look like? Maybe not that different from a big chunk of Daredevil, to be honest.
One of the reasons that Fisk is so intriguing as a character is that for every moment you end up horrified by his behavior, there’s another where you find yourself sympathizing with or even rooting for him. (I was real mad when he didn’t just get to run off to Switzerland or wherever with Vanessa at the end of Season 1.) He’s a bad guy, for sure, but that doesn’t mean there’s nothing to like about him. And even when he’s being a monster, he’s very compelling to watch.
This is because Fisk – particularly this MCU version of the character – is incredibly human and easy to relate to. Despite his villainous status, he’s clearly also a person who is hurting in many ways. The complexities behind his emotional attachment to the Rabbit in a Snowstorm painting are both tragic and horrifying. He’s lonely and anxious; he has nightmares all the time, and he’s got some serious phobias about being in public. He clearly loves Vanessa to distraction, and allows himself to be truly vulnerable with her. And most importantly – he genuinely believes in his vision of a better future for Hell’s Kitchen – and not in a megalomaniacal, self-promoting Donald Trump kind of way. He sincerely believes that he can make the city he loves better for the people that live in it, and if that goal has to be achieved by doing some bad things, he’s okay with it. He believes in that vision so much, it’s almost enough to make the rest of us believe in it too.
The best kinds of villains are those that see themselves as the heroes of their own personal narratives. Though Fisk realizes by the end of Season 1 that he isn’t the Good Samaritan he always fancied himself, and his arrival in prison lays the groundwork for his ultimate evolution into the Kingpin of comics legend, but one moment of clarity in a van and a few weeks (at most) behind bars can hardly be the entirety of that story. So why not give us a mini-series about Fisk’s further adventures in jail, or based on his post-release mission to reclaim his real-world life and power? Think of it as Making a Supervillain or something.
The more thoroughly Marvel fleshes out its cinematic universe, the better it will be all around – and that means telling the stories that are about darkness just as much as the ones about light. The morals of Hell’s Kitchen are murky and complicated – even hero Matt Murdock is kind of an unlikable jerk some days – which makes it the perfect vehicle to really explore the seedy underbelly of the MCU. It feels like such a waste to try and just cram Kingpin in around the other stories and characters that Daredevil wants to feature (my money’s on Bullseye showing up in Season 3). At the same time, it also seems way too restrictive to try and force the show to have the same villain every season just because they managed to create such a great one as the first out of the gate. So, why not have both?
And maybe I’m greedy, but I think the Marvel Universe as a whole would be better for it.
Lacy Baugher is a digital media strategist by day, and a big geek pretty much all of the time. Her main passions these days are British period dramas, medieval literature and ladies in superhero stories, so if you have thoughts to share on any or all of those topics, stop by and say hello on Twitter at @LacyMB. You can check out her previous guest post on Vanessa Marianna by heading over here.