Black Panther: The Man Without Fear
Writer: David Liss
Artist: Francesco Francavilla
Letters: Virtual Calligraphy
Cover artists: Simone Bianchi & Simone Peruzzi/Francesco Francavilla (variant)
Editor: Bill Rosemann
Publisher: Marvel Comics
Price: $2.99 US
I wasn’t planning on picking up this title. Daredevil and Black Panther are such disparate characters, I couldn’t see how this creative team could continue with the same plotlines, themes or general atmosphere of Daredevil, even if this title maintains the same setting and numbering. The manager of my local comic shop had put this in my pull file, since I had DD on my list. I was about to put it back, but at the last minute, I changed my mind and decided to have a look. I can’t say I was disappointed. Novelist David Liss does something a bit different with the title character, and he focuses his story on the varying experiences of immigrants in America. I enjoyed the art as well, as the dark visuals suit the tone for which the writer strives. Still, in the end, too many elements seemed overly familiar. Liss has dressed up a typical street-vigilante story in some new clothes, but they can’t hide its predictability.
Matt Murdock, who’s longed served the New York neighborhood of Hell’s Kitchen as its protector, has to leave, and T’Challa, the former king of Wakanda and hero known as Black Panther, sees in that the chance to find purpose, to find himself again. He’s a man without a home, without a family, and he decides to build himself up again and prove himself by filling the void that Murdock’s departure has created. Meanwhile, a Romanian criminal known as Vlad the Impaler sees a void to be filled as well, as the Hand’s defeat and the Kingpin’s disappearance has left a vacuum in Hell’s Kitchen’s underworld.
Francesco Francavilla is certainly making a name for himself in American super-hero comics this fall. He’s got a backup serial running in Detective Comics, and now he’s essentially taken over Marvel’s Daredevil (sans Daredevil, obviously). I can see why he’s in demand. He has a noir style that suits these crime/vigilante stories. I was specifically reminded of the simple, moody and effective work that Michael Lark did years ago on DC’s Gotham Central. I like the look he’s crafted for the Black Panther, maintaining the character’s original look while making him look more basic. The costume doesn’t actually look like a costume at all (save for the cowl). He looks as though he’s wearing realistic combat gear. I would’ve liked to have seen more detail in the peripheral, downtrodden characters that populate the Panther’s new world. They don’t quite seem real yet, and that lessened the impact of the loss of one of them.
One thing this comic book does well is explain how the title character arrived at this unusual point in his life. I had no idea why he’d been replaced by a female version in another corner of the Marvel Universe or what had become of his marriage to Storm. A text recap page and some of the dialogue help to fill in the gaps, making it easier for me to follow this new direction. I also appreciated how Liss’ script isn’t mired in the continuity of the Shadowland event. It’s referred to, of course, but only superficially so as to connect the dots and allow the story to move forward.
The newly introduced villain is a nice mix of real-world gangster and Marvel Universe metahuman. His moniker isn’t so much a codename or villain ID but rather a way to foster a myth to be feared on the streets. He’s a fairly typical Daredevil villain, so he belongs in this retitled series, I suppose. What I find more interesting is how he and the Panther are similar but opposites at the same time. Both are immigrants looking to build themselves up, but one comes from privilege that he’s left behind while the other is an orphan who’s building for himself a small empire. One has lost his special powers, while the other has them but keeps them hidden from most. One sacrifices his connection to his family out of a sense of honor, while the other sees family as a possession, as an accomplishment. The contrasts work well.
Nevertheless, once I reached the end of the issue, I felt as though the story fell a little flat. The community-minded vigilante, swearing to protect those who can’t fend for themselves while befriending and admiring them… it just feels a bit cliched. The gangster and his son setting a trap for the hero… again, cliched. One could argue that this is an archetypical crime/vigilante story, and the formula exists because it works. Ultimately, I felt that the cliches outweighed the elements that set this book apart. It’s enjoyable, though, and given the title character, it’s an unconventional experiment. Of course, that approach — having one hero take over another hero’s title — is something that’s worked for Marvel before, as those still lamenting the cancellation of The Incredible Hercules can attest. 6/10
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