Review: Black Panther: Man Without Fear #523

T'Challa makes his move to take down both the Hatemonger and the American Panther, but he can't keep them both down for long.

Andy Hunsakerby Andy Hunsaker

Black Panther: Man Without Fear #523

While David Liss' Mystery Men has been a home run, his Black Panther: Man Without Fear has been more hit and miss.  In #523 of what used to be Daredevil's series, he wraps up his Fear Itself tie-in as well as the Man Without Fear title, as the next issue will see it become Black Panther: The Most Dangerous Man Alive.  That sounds like it'll be trying way too hard, but we'll see.

Last issue, T'Challa hit upon a realization that seemed like it might be the turning point in Liss' take on the character, where he'd finally stop being shoved into the Daredevil mold and might start acting like The Black Panther again.  Here, we get kind of a taste of that, but it's also not really all that different from what he's been doing.  Perhaps with the title changeover, we'll get more than just lip service to the idea.

Considering how boring Fear Itself has been, Liss wisely took a very ancillary approach to tying in with the notion, concentrating on the 'phobia' part of xenophobia and reintroducing the gloriously absurd Hatemonger into the modern Marvel Universe.  He's possessed a racist, used mind-control to get himself a stooge in the twitchy ex-cop-turned-American-Panther and has influenced a frightened crowd into taking over a police station.  But as we open up, the lights have gone out, and T'Challa is making his move, with the help of his tranq-gun wielding waitress/sidekick Sofija, and this issue turns out to be pretty much entirely T'Challa asskickery.

Under normal circumstances, that would be great, and here it's not bad, but it doesn't really come off in that satisfying way that the hero dishing out the beat-downs should.  T'Challa gets a cocky tone when beating down the American Panther, which doesn't particularly feel like him, but maybe it's coming out because he doesn't have to be regal or diplomatic anymore – something I miss terribly about him.  We all miss Wakanda.

Then there's his final defeat of the Hatemonger, which is trying to incorporate T'Challa's genius skills to develop an exorcism device to banish that spirit again.  However, it involves him slapping something onto Hatemonger's forehead, who then just stands around for three pages and attempt a monologue rather than just take the damn thing OFF his forehead before T'Challa activates it.  There's also the unfortunate fact that while Francesco Francavilla's art is great for moody drama and can look awesome, he seems to have some difficulty crafting action sequences that don't look really stiff and stilted.  The result is a little too often a sense that it's mildly nifty instead of energizingly cool.

A couple of developments toward the end of #523 are interesting, though.  One is that T'Challa just waltzes into a federal building and deletes all files related to Foggy Nelson, as that is apparently all it takes to eliminate the inquiry into his falsifying immigration papers for T'Challa's alter ego Mr. Okonkwo.  I'm not sure how to take that.  The waltzing in part makes sense, given how ludicrously destroyed everything is from all those Hammer Jerks, but it's a weird gray area, what he's doing.  Then there's someone new and mysterious taking on the mantle of American Panther – someone whose return "the world has been waiting for."  No clue as to who – it looks like a white guy, at least, but Francavilla's tendency to make everything shadowy and mysterious can even cast that into doubt.  Dare we hope it's Kasper Cole?  Wait – no way he'd think anyone was awaiting his return.  It's probably a villain. 

Anyway, since Liss has proven himself capable of work I like, I'll stick with his Black Panther through the title changeover and see if there's any difference in tone or methodology enough to properly service the uniqueness of T'Challa.  This last arc has been interesting at the very least, and hopefully things will start to improve.  As they say, hope springs eternal.