Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Chronic Review: Black Panther Man Without Fear # 513!

Black Panther: Man Without Fear # 513
Marvel Comics
Script:      David Liss
Pencils:    Francesco Francavilla
23 pages for $ 2.99

This is a difficult book for me to review, because it simultaneously exhibits a host of attractive and repulsive qualities.  Almost in equal measure.  Let's start from the beginning, and be prepared for some spoilery wool, although I won't give away the whole sheep.

T'Challa is taking over as protector of Hell's Kitchen.  He's recently been getting into it with Doc Doom, and although he beat the Latverian prick, it cost him his nation's Vibranium stores and his mantle as the Black Panther.  So his country is broke, and pissed.  His daughter is now the Black Panther, and he's looking for some alone time to sort his future.  Fine.  The whole "finding himself" thing feels a little pussy for the Panther...but fine.  Whatever.

Matt Murdock gets on the phone and reaches out to T'Challa to pinch hit for him while he also goes on a completely pussified vision quest to discover the Real Matt again. I'm paraphrasing by the way, but it does read (to jaded me) with that New Agey bull excrement dripping off it.  I just want to find my totem animal in my inner sanctum and set fire to its face when I read that shit...but fine.  T'Challa agrees, and gets Foggy to set him up with a new identity as Mr. Okonkwo, humble diner manager by way of Congo.

So Black Panther fills the hero void, but there's a villainous vacuum as well, what with the Hand, and The Kingpin, and The Hood all MIA.  The Panther's main foil turns out to be a Romanian up-and-comer named Vlad, who recognizes the open power position and makes his move.  Naturally Vlad's activities and the Panthers collide, with the typical incendiary results.  Or maybe not so typical.

David Liss is obviously a smart cat with some chops, and I appreciate his ability to diagnose some cliched elements of the action/crime genre and side step them.  T'Challa doesn't go about business exactly as you'd expect, and Vlad certainly doesn't behave like his predecessors.  Everything about this new iteration of the Black Panther is a little more subtle, a little more nuanced, and a little more real, and a little smarter than most comic books.  In that way, this is a very appropriate extension of Daredevil's history for the past decade.

On the whole, I like Black Panther: The Man Without Fear.  There is clearly something there.  But I can't give it my unreserved adoration yet, either, because pieces of it feel clunky and awkward to me.  Let me give you three internal objections I felt while reading this issue, before I get to the stuff that seems like it will redeem those issues.

Why Would Matt Pick T'Challa?

This is just not a natural fit to me.  I guess if it follows that if Matt burned bridges with all of his close friends during Shadowland, then he would have to turn elsewhere to find a replacement.  And finding a replacement does make emotional sense to me.

I just...when would these guys ever cross paths?  I sort of understand T'Challa looking for a new start, but what's transpired that would ever make Matt Murdock think "Oh, yeah.  I'll just bring the Black Panther in."  Maybe they had more of a relationship during the Knights days than I remember?

If you're going to play the story as real as Liss wants to, the motivations really have to make sense, I think.  This is not a fluffy punch-out book where you check your brain at the door and just roll with the carnage and cleavage.  He's trying to do something a little meatier, which I applaud, but if you're going to do that, than the premise has to follow naturally or the suspension of disbelief falls apart. 

T'Challa Would Not Leave His Wife Behind

There's no Storm in this book, and by all indications, there will be no Storm in this book, and it makes no sense to me.  Now granted, I'm hardly the expert on healthy human relationships.  But it seems to me that if you're married to somebody, and it's working, than you don't ever go it alone.

That's the whole point of conjoining, isn't it?  No matter how deep it gets, now you're a team.  As one.  I mean, if the thing is on the rocks, maybe you separate to do the "finding yourselves" thing, although I would seriously question the efficacy of that strategy.  This just doesn't follow for me.

I'm Deep Undercover....Running Around Town In My Black Panther Suit?
OK.  You've kissed your old life good bye, you told your wife she can't enter your city limits, you're carving out a new niche for yourself, you've forsaken the name of the Black Panther....and you're running around town in your Black Panther suit?

This boggles my mind.  And its counter productive, because that suit is globally known, and it really shouldn't take a forensic detective to start piecing things together.  If Black Panther is punching faces in Hell's Kitchen and T'Challa isn't around, then he's undercover, and then that dude from the Congo who showed up the same time as the Black Panther is going to start raising eyebrows, I would think.  Unless there's a lot of African transplants popping up all over Hell's Kitchen.  I don't know how they do things there, I guess.

That's the stuff that was bugging me as I paged through the book, but that hardly tells the whole story.  When I got done with the issue, I really felt like I got a lot of story packed in there.  I recounted the pages just to be sure it wasn't extra-sized, because it took me much longer to digest BPTMWF

It's rare these days that we are introduced to new characters that matter, and clearly Vlad matters.  This is not a cipher, twiddling his moustache and spouting aggro nonsense.  This guy has a back story, an intriguing back story, it's tied into actual history in a way that makes sense, and clearly Liss has big plans that should be highly entertaining to watch.  Vlad is a worthy opponent, and his story is at least as interesting as T'Challas, and that's just good comics.

I'm trying to figure out how much I can punish this book for its awkward origins, or at least awkward as I perceive it.  If I could just set aside how we got here, I could fully embrace the book in a vacuum.  Maybe I should just let the other stuff go, and not worry about why Daredevil would bring Black Panther to Hell's Kitchen, or whether it actually makes sense that T'Challa would tell his loving wife to stay away while he works out his own personal issues, or whether he would leave Wakanda at all when clearly there are problems that need addressing back home.

In that sense, the book is in kind of a catch-22.  I might not care so much if this was a mindless battle book, but in that case I wouldn't be interested, either.  The care and subtlety that I enjoy so much in this comic also make the flaws in character/motivation I perceive hurt more than they probably ought. My feelings right now are that the good probably outweighs the bad.  There's something underneath this Black Panther that deserves a chance, I think, so I'm going to give it an arc and see what happens.

- Ryan


Anonymous said...

T'Challa Would Not Leave His Wife Behind

What is this the 14th century. married men leave their wives behind all the time. And wives separate from their husbands. Like Heads of States. Business men and women, Rockstars. NBA , NFL, NHL players. Does this make them poor husbands or wives???

I'm Deep Undercover....Running Around Town In My Black Panther Suit?

Heroes costumes look the same. I dont think a thug knocked out by D-man would say, hey you are D-man not Wolverine.

Or could tell if Ms. Marvel, Invisible Woman, or Emma frost were the ones that cleaned their clocks--The reason why we know its Panther is because we have an Omnipresent view of the storyline.

Chronic Insomnia said...

I don't know what a 14th Century marriage would look like, or even a 21st Century one, for that matter. The whole concept is foreign to me. But looking at it rationally...if "marriage" can encompass kicking your wife to the curb for an indefinite period of time, I'm not sure what it means. Apparently, I'm crazy.

As for the costume bit, yeah, maybe one guy in a dark alley won't connect the dots. Maybe five won't. But I don't think it too far gone to wonder why an undercover Black Panther might ditch the Black Panther suit. I just have a feeling that wearing a globally identifiable outfit might, I don't know... blow his cover. Apparently I'm crazy. Which would explain a lot, actually.

- Ryan