Ever since it started, I've been frustrated with Black Panther: Man Without Fear. Ever since I came to love the character during Christopher Priest's epic run with T'Challa back at the beginning of the Marvel Knights imprint, watching him toil as just another New York street vigilante in this book has been disheartening, considering how unique he once was in the pantheon of superheroes. He wasn't even really a superhero, truth be told – he was the king of a small African nation and everything he did, even joining the Avengers, was in service of that duty. Nowadays, he's just another superhero in the traditional mold – or so he has been for most of David Liss' run.
However, with Black Panther: Man Without Fear #522, part two of the tie-in with Fear Itself, we might have finally reached a turning point that will help me embrace this new course in T'Challa's life – mainly because he seems to be voicing the same concerns with himself that I have with him.
We open with both T'Challa and Foggy Nelson having been arrested for falsifying immigration papers, while the Hate-Monger has returned to stoke up the flames of hatred in the wake of the devastation of New York City – continuing the focus on the 'phobia' portion of xenophobia as the 'fear' quotient here. We also get into the head of the Hate-Monger's stooge, the American Panther, a former cop who does indeed hate immigrants, but also realizes he's under the mental control of the purple-hooded villain and knows he should want to break free of it. Yet, he's powerless to resist even when the Hate-Monger makes him lick his boots to demonstrate his powers of persuasion.
Once he's been bailed out and started reading up on the Hate-Monger, T'Challa comes to a realization about what he's been doing while filling in for Daredevil – who, as we've all seen in Mark Waid's book, is back and happy, making T'Challa's presence in Hell's Kitchen even less relevant. "I've been playing catch-up ever since I got here," he says. "One crisis after another, and I've been reacting, not planning." Now that sounds good, because back when he was the king of Wakanda and chieftain of the Black Panther Clan, he was a master planner, with contingencies mapped for everything from a CIA overthrow attempt to the coming of Galactus.
"Now I've learned that I will never do what I've come to do if I keep thinking like Daredevil," T'Challa continues. "It's time I started acting like myself."
That statement might be the turning point of this book, as it approaches its eventual morphing into Black Panther: The Most Dangerous Man Alive next month. Right after that statement, T'Challa launches a plan of action aimed at removing the Hate-Monger's spirit from the man he's possessed, and it allows him to show off how much he knows about the rules of magic. This man is brilliant. He knows a lot about a great many things beyond the norm, and it's great to see him using that knowledge with confidence to be three steps ahead of his enemies again. This is more of what he was before the Reginald Hudlin Unpleasance, and now, for the first time in this series, I really have hope that he may be that again. Would I like him back in the throne having unique international intrigue-style adventures again? Of course, but I'll take what I can get here.
Francesco Francavilla's art is still very good, although his particular style contributes to the straight-up dark and grim vigilante hero mood that I've been harping on, as it is well associated with his work on Batman titles and oftentimes is reminiscent of Batman: Year One. However, if Liss is able to break T'Challa out of this pattern like he seems to be, I'll be very interested to see how Francavilla will follow that lead.
Judging from Liss' talk on the letters page, T'Challa won't be returning to Wakanda anytime soon, but at least we can hope that T'Challa will finally start to establish himself once again. Hopefully, somewhere else. Someplace that doesn't have any protectors. Someplace new and unique, like Wakanda once was for him. When he no longer has to balance the governance of an entire nation with his crimefighting activities, he should be able to set up a very impressive dominion over whichever city he chooses. That might be a T'Challa I'll be able to fully embrace again.
CRAVE ONLINE RATING: 8/10