Crime fiction is usually set in a gritty, grounded world where protagonists are often forced to engage in morally murky decisions. Superhero stories often go in a different direction, featuring brightly clad characters with fantastic powers locked in a struggle of good versus evil. Factor that in with the fact that many of the superhero comics published by the big two publishers—Marvel and DC—have decades of long, complicated continuity attached to them, and it can be quite easy to decide superheroes are not for you. But, you may be doing yourself a disservice with that decision.
That's because what makes the shared universes that Marvel and DC Comics characters inhabit so interesting and fun is the diversity of elements that exist side by side. Plus, the Marvel Universe has prided itself on being “The world outside your window.” It's a place where the problems of our world collide with the fantastic elements of imagination and genre fiction. Over the years, a character like Spider-Man has battled costumed supervillains, mob bosses, vampires, and even threats from outer space while trying to balance things like having a personal life and making ends meet.
Plus, there are a number of Marvel Comics where the protagonists aren't really superheroes. In fact, a number of titles that have recently launched, or are about to launch, feature character archetypes very familiar to crime fiction fans, like hardboiled private detectives, mobsters, assassins, and gun-toting vigilantes.
So with this piece, we'll take a look at some newly launched Marvel Comics titles (since it's an area I'm familiar with thanks to my years covering the company for Comic Book Resources) and some that will kick off in the coming months, with the hope that crime fans who are curious about Marvel can get their feet wet and see if the fun, weird, and wild world of the Marvel Universe is a place for them.
Written by Kelly Thompson w/ Art by Leonardo Romero
Marvel movie fans know Hawkeye best as Clint Barton, the bow-wielding, non-superpowered hero played by Jeremy Renner. In the world of comics, though, there are actually two Hawkeyes! Clint, who currently leads his own team of Avengers in a recently launched book titled Occupy Avengers, and Kate Bishop, Clint's former adventuring partner and protege.
In the recently launched Hawkeye series (Issue #2 will be available by the time this article is published), the creative team of Kelly Thompson and Leonardo Romero have Kate relocate to Los Angeles, where she sets up shop as a down on her luck, unlicensed private eye. Kate's a great character with an awesome sarcastic voice. The first issue—which had her trying to track down a college student's harasser/stalker—basically reads like Veronica Mars set in the Marvel Universe. Yes, it's that good. Thompson has clearly done her homework on West Coast noir and detectives. In the first issue, we find out that Kate drives a Rockford-style Thunderbird.
The New Hawkeye series is very accessible, but if Kate is a character you want to learn more about, you should definitely track down the previous Hawkeye series, which chronicles the ups and downs of her partnership with Clint Barton. Of particular interest would be the run by writer Matt Fraction and artist David Aja, which is all available in collected graphic novel form. In that run, the creators pit Kate and Clint against many grounded threats, such as an Eastern European crime ring that's both comical and frightening. It's also where they set up Kate's affinity for being a West Coast-based private eye.
Written by Brian Michael Bendis w/ Art by Michael Gaydos
There's a good chance that crime fans might already be familiar with the foul-mouthed, haunted, superpowered private investigator Jessica Jones thanks to her titular Netflix series. If you haven't seen it yet, I recommend you go binge-watch it now. Don't worry, we'll be here when you get back.
In Marvel's recently launched Jessica Jones series, the title character’s creators, writer Brian Michael Bendis and artist Michael Gaydos, reunited for an introductory issue that saw their protagonist being released from jail for an as of yet unrevealed crime and dealing with her estranged family. In current continuity, Jessica is married to Luke Cage (who crime fans might know from another excellent Netflix series) and they have a baby daughter named Danielle.
Out of prison and desperate for cash, Jessica takes a seemingly simple job to investigate a wife's suspicions that her husband might actually be from another dimension. That sets off a chain of dominoes that finds Jess dealing with murder, her outraged husband and his friends in the superhero community, and a mysterious menace.
Four issues of the current Jessica Jones series have been released, with Issue #4 coming out on January 11th.
If that setup intrigues you and you're not familiar with Jessica Jones—or perhaps only know her from her Netflix show—I encourage you to seek out the original Bendis and Gaydos Jessica Jones series, Alias, which ran from 2001-2004. The entire series is available in collected graphic novel form as Jessica Jones: Alias.
Written by Matthew Rosenberg w/ Art by Ben Torres
Netflix watchers might also be somewhat familiar with the title character of Matthew Rosenberg’s and Ben Torres’s Kingpin series (which begins in February) from the streaming service's Daredevil series, where he was played by the great Vincent D'Onofrio. D'Onofrio was fantastic as Wilson Fisk, AKA the Kingpin of crime, because he is a terrific actor—but there’s also so much to the character.
For many years, Fisk—a non powered human—ruled the Marvel Universe's New York underworld thanks to a combination of his physical power and his Machiavellian scheming abilities. He commanded organized crime crews and supervillains, becoming a dangerous foe for a number of heroes, including: Spider-Man, Daredevil, and the Punisher. Then, one day, Daredevil found a way to topple Fisk from his throne.
Recently, he came back to New York to reclaim what he lost and has managed to grab some power, but there are a number of other players vying for Fisk's old throne. Plus, his old enemies know he's returned home. So Kingpin, which is the first ongoing series to feature the title character, promises to be a fascinating book about a driven mobster striving for more power and to hold on to what he's already won back.
Written by Ed Brisson w/ Art by Guillermo Sana
Don't let his costume fool you. The title character of Ed Brisson’s and Guillermo Sana's Bullseye is not a superhero or supervillain. He's a vicious contract killer who loves what he does, and the only thing super about him is preternatural skill to weaponize almost anything. That talent, and the amount of joy he gets from plying it, has made Bullseye one of Daredevil's most dangerous foes.
This February, readers will get a chance to see things from Bullseye's point of view, as writer Ed Brisson and artist Guillermo Sana kick off a five-issue Bullseye miniseries that sends their title character to Colombia, where he'll use his abilities to rip apart a vicious drug cartel. Brisson has written a number of gritty, creator-owned comics and has a fondness for Marvel's street-level heroes and vigilantes. So fans of hitmen and assassin stories will definitely want to check this out.
Written by Becky Cloonan w/ Art by Steve Dillon & Matt Horak
In Season 2 of Netflix's Daredevil series, actor John Bernthal introduced Marine-turned-vigilante Frank Castle (AKA the Punisher) into Marvel's ever-growing cinematic universe with a performance that created new interest in the character and fired up long-time fans. The character's pragmatic approach to crime fighting and straight-forward attitude make him a very accessible and fascinating figure to follow.
In the current Punisher series, writer Becky Cloonan has been making good use of her protagonist's cunning and violent nature with a story that has him embarking on a cross-country crusade against a drug cartel with connections to an old comrade he fought alongside as a Marine. The one real fantastic element of the story is that the drug being peddled and manufactured by the cartel is one that increases a user's physical attributes to superhuman levels and causes bouts of violent rage.
The first arc of Cloonan's Punisher series was a darkly comic and violent thrill ride that put Frank Castle in the crosshairs of both the cartel he was targeting and two very driven D.E.A. agents. Sadly, Cloonan's artist—the legendary Steve Dillon, who is best known for his work with writer Garth Ennis on both the Punisher and Preacher (the acclaimed comic series that inspired the AMC show of the same name)—recently passed away. So, Matt Horak, who became the book's regular artist with issue #7, has some big shoes to fill, but his work on that issue suggests he's up for the task.
Issues #1-6 of the most recent Punisher series are available in collected graphic novel form as Punisher Volume 1: On the Road. Issue #7 is available now, and issue #8 hits stores on January 25th.