Wolverine isn’t the only hero with amnesia.
When Marvel Comics was at arguably it lowest point ever in the late ’90s, two big initiatives were responsible for pulling the company away from the brink – the Ultimate Universe line and the Marvel Knights imprint. Both ushered in new forms of storytelling and cemented a new generation of creative talent. The Marvel Knights name has been repurposed for other projects in the years since, including a line of out-of-continuity miniseries and even a batch of animated motion comics, but none have really recreated that same energy and impact. The hope is that Marvel can recapture the appeal of the original Marvel Knights line on its 20th anniversary by bringing it full circle. However, the jury is still out after reading Marvel Knights 20th #1.
Marvel Knights 20th is a six-issue miniseries that sets the stage for the new imprint that’s set to be supervised by writer Donny Cates. Cates himself scripts this first issue alongside artist Travel Foreman. The idea is to shine the spotlight on the same pillars of the original Marvel Knights line – Daredevil, Punisher, Hulk, etc. These characters are united by a strange outbreak of collective amnesia. This issue opens with a confused Matt Murdock waking up at the rain-drenched gravestone of Karen Page. It’s not long before it becomes apparent that Matt is one of several heroes who has lost touch with his past.
While on paper this premise sounds solid enough, the execution leaves a fair bit to be desired. The story winds up playing out like a rehashed version of House of M, except that the world around Daredevil and friends is barely changed. This issue doesn’t do a good enough job of hooking the reader and making it clear why this should care about this amnesia outbreak. What’s the end goal here? Why does any of this matter? The final pages do make some in-roads in terms of anchoring the plot in established Marvel continuity, but this is still a story without a clear, strong hook.
Part of the problem seems to be the ensemble cast. This issue is at its weakest early on, when Frank Castle and Bruce Banner are doing their best to restore Matt Murdock to his senses. This issue does a better job of exploring Matt’s emotional plight and personal confusion than it does telling a larger story with a full ensemble cast. This reads like a Daredevil comic with a few extra Marvel heroes awkwardly grafted on top. The best that can be said is that Cates recaptures some of the appeal of the classic “Born Again” storyline as he paints Matt as a man who’s lost all hope on top of everything else.
Foreman’s harsh style definitely suits that bleak storytelling approach. Combined with inker Derek Fridolfs’ heavy, textured blacks, the story gains a very foreboding and unsettled quality. This is definitely a series set in the same seedy underbelly of the Marvel Universe as the classic Marvel Knights books. There are some recurring visual quirks that work against the story, unfortunately. Foreman’s use of posture and body language is great, but his facial work often lacks a necessary sense of clarity and definition. The general lack of detail in the backgrounds isn’t helped by the surreal colors, which tends to give the environments an unnatural, synthetic quality.