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Review: Severance Package (Spider-Man's Tangled Web #4)

Thanks to Comixology, I finally got my hands on issue #4 of Spider-Man’s Tangled Web, a long out of print anthology series that was basically Marvel’s answer to DC’s Legends of the Dark Knight and Shadow of the Bat. This particular story, a one-shot titled “Severance Package”, caught my eye for two reasons: it features one of my absolute favorite villains, Wilson “The Kingpin” Fisk; and it was penned by one of my absolute favorite comic book writers, Greg Rucka.

Rucka excels at examining the lives of ordinary people who happen to inhabit the extraordinary worlds of superheroes, from the hardworking detectives of the Gotham City Police Department to the various poor souls pulled into The Punisher’s orbit. In "Severance Package”, he turns his gaze on Tom Cochrane, a mid-level boss in Fisk’s criminal empire. Tom has a beautiful home, a loving wife, and two adorable children. Unfortunately, an arms deal he recently organized was foiled by Spider-Man—and everyone who works for Kinging knows the price of failure.

It’s astonishing how much suspense Rucka is able to milk out of a tale that is, for the most part, devoid of conflict. From the moment he turns on the evening news, Tom knows he’s a dead man, and he never really bothers to fight his fate. Instead, tension arises from wondering precisely how he will meet his end. The Kingpin plays an integral role in conveying this pervasive sense of dread: he doesn’t physically appear until the last few pages, but his presence looms like a specter over every panel, every word balloon. And when he finally makes his big entrance, he earns all that buildup: impossibly huge—about twice as tall as Tom, even when he hunches over his desk—this incarnation of Fisk is no mere mafioso, but an unstoppable force of nature, and when he pounces, the reader immediately understands why the protagonist never even considered attempting to escape.

“Severance Package” joins “Love and War” and “Born Again” as one of the very best Kingpin stories, and I’m happy to finally add it to my collection.

[Originally written April 2, 2017.]

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