It used to be that when the Marvel Universe found itself in the grips of a universal crisis such as “Fear Itself,” it could count on King T’Challa, ruler of the African nation Wakanda and the superhero known as the Black Panther, to pitch in. But these days T’Challa is no longer a monarch with unlimited resources, having been forced to pass on his duties — and the powers and wealth that came with them — to his sister Shuri after he sustained grave injuries in a sneak attack by Doctor Doom.
However, T’Challa didn’t give up heroics altogether — now he just acts locally instead of globally. When the vigilante Daredevil left New York, T’Challa donned a costume similar to the one he wore as Black Panther and took over Daredevil’s role as the defender of Hell’s Kitchen. Writer David Liss, a relative newcomer to comics after having written several historical thriller novels, and artist Francesco Francavilla chronicle T’Challa’s adventures every month in “Black Panther: The Man Without Fear,” which took over the “Daredevil” numbering with issue #513. Comic Book Resources spoke with Liss about his work on the series so far, the current tie-in arc to “Fear Itself,” a special 0.1 issue and a tie-in to the upcoming Spider-Man crossover “Spider-Island.”
When T’Challa became Hell’s Kitchen’s protector, he left his old life and his family behind in order to prove on his own that he could still be a capable and effective hero. His wife, Storm of the X-Men, respected T’Challa’s wishes, but in the recently completed “Storm Hunter” arc, she came to Hell’s Kitchen to check on her husband and assist him in a battle with Kraven the Hunter, who had become virtually immortal thanks to a recent resurrection.
“I was a little apprehensive about writing Storm in that arc,” Liss told CBR News. “She’s one of the highest-profile Marvel characters I’ve written thus far, and I knew she had a large and vocal fanbase, and I didn’t want to take liberties or get things wrong. Superhero comics are, by their nature, fantastical, but they’re also stories about characters, and those characters have to be believable. So I spent a lot of time trying to get a sense who she really was. What I wanted to do was to try and capture what the marriage between Black Panther and Storm would be like and give readers a taste of what I felt would be authentic and believable conversations between these two incredibly powerful people. They’re both proud and they’re both stubborn, but they’re also deeply in love. My hope was that if their interactions conveyed that, the story would be both credible and fun.”
Liss followed the “Storm Hunter” arc with “Black Panther: The Man Without Fear” #521, in stores now and kicking off a three-part tie-in arc to “Fear Itself.” Liss admitted that penning a tie-in to a large event storyline was a new experience.
“There’s no doubt that it is more work,” the novelist remarked. “There’s a lot of material you have to be familiar with. You have stay up with all the other scripts. Up until this point, I’ve pretty much been operating not in isolation, since we’ve had other major characters stop by, but largely apart from major events. For a new writer, one of the luxuries of taking over the ‘Daredevil’ legacy was that Daredevil often operated in his own little corner of the Marvel Universe, and I had no problem seeing T’Challa as the kind of hero who would continue in Daredevil’s anti-social tradition. The ‘Fear Itself’ tie-in meant I had to be in the loop and keep up with what other creators and editors were up to. Like most creative challenges, it gave me the opportunity to do more interesting things.”
In “Fear Itself,” the malevolent fear god known as the Serpent sent eight mystical hammers to Earth to transform an unlucky few into his Avatars, the Worthy. One of those hammers crash-landed in New York City where it transformed the Thing into a rampaging engine of destruction. But T’Challa has his hands full in Hell’s Kitchen, as the psychic entity known as the Hate-Monger latched onto the Thing’s hammer when it entered Earth’s atmosphere, and has now possessed the body of bigoted Hell’s Kitchen resident Joshua Glenn.
“‘Black Panther’ editor Bill Rosemann and I had a few conversations in which we discussed the atmosphere of ‘Fear Itself’ and what kind of adversaries would be a good match for the event and for T’Challa,” Liss explained. “Hate-Monger came up, and I immediately thought he was a great fit. So I went back and read virtually everything I could get my hands on in which the Hate-Monger appeared. Originally the Hate-Monger is Adolf Hitler. Then he becomes a kind of psychic entity that is not exactly Hitler, but a replica of his persona. Since that energy had been dissipated by Captain America, I had to come up with a justification for bringing him back, but the most logical thing was that the events of ‘Fear Itself’ are responsible for his return. Since he was made of energy, I figured the energy of the hammers could revive him. Nothing but logic, right?
“I also started to think about who would be a good vessel for him to inhabit, and I wanted to work with the basic truism that hatred and bigotry are most attractive to people who feel powerless,” Liss continued. “The character of Josh Glenn was supposed to be sort of wacky and slightly satirical, but when I started scripting it I immediately felt the narrative energy. I love writing stories in which awful people justify their own inexcusable behavior, so Josh was a blast to write. In the opening pages of the issue, we saw how he transformed from relatively annoying bigot into dangerous supervillain. You also got to see how minor resentments grow to become something much uglier.”
During the course of his transformation into the Hate-Monger, Glenn tried to break into a Hell’s Kitchen gun store. He was stopped by T’Challa who had become the neighborhood’s costumed protector at that point. In issue #521, that act came back to haunt T’Challa as he came face to face with the Hate-Monger’s enforcer, a pseudo-patriotic costumed vigilante known as the American Panther.
“It’s hard to imagine someone like T’Challa taking that very well,” Liss said. “If he has a fault, it’s his pride. I knew readers would get that to see his identity recycled and twisted into a symbol for narrow-minded bigotry would hurt more than any blow. What I wanted to get at in those pages was the incredible amount of restraint he’s showing by not just unleashing on this guy. His strength in those scenes is the strength of restraint.”
For Glenn, the American Panther is more than just an enforcer. He’s a way for him to get even with T’Challa. “Co-opting the Panther identify is a form of revenge,” Liss remarked. “He is taking something he can’t stand and remaking it in his own image. It’s a way of dominating and possessing something that has humiliated him.”
The American Panther intimidates and attacks people and places for Glenn, but it’s not exactly clear who he is and why he’s operating as the new Hate-Monger’s chief agent. In the final pages of issue #521, Glenn used his hate-unducing super-ability to incite a number of Hell’s Kitchen residents that had fallen under his thrall. Their expressions during these pages we’re almost euphoric, but the look in the American Panther’s eyes seemed to suggest feelings of confusion and perhaps worry. “You’ll get a little more of the American Panther’s back story in the next issue,” Liss teased.
In issue #521, the new Hate-Monger also made life miserable for T’Challa’s civilian secret identity of Mister Okonkwo, the owner of a local dinner, by having a Homeland Security agent investigate him. At the end of the issue, the agent arrested T’Challa and the man who helped him create the Okonkwo identity, lawyer Foggy Nelson, who is no stranger to legal trouble.
“Foggy is a great character because, like the heroes he’s aided, he’ll always do the right thing, and while he doesn’t have the physical skill of a Daredevil or Black Panther, he’s nevertheless courageous — and consequently vulnerable,” Liss said. “For me, that always had a powerful energy in ‘Daredevil’ — when Matt Murdock’s friends suffered because they helped him. Nothing is more important to guys like T’Challa and Daredevil than protecting the people who’ve stuck their neck out to help them. In my first issue of ‘Black Panther,’ I showed Foggy putting himself at risk to help T’Challa with his immigration papers. I don’t think there’s a ‘Daredevil’ reader alive who couldn’t see that this was going to go south at some point.”
The Hate-Monger’s assault on the Panther and Hell’s Kitchen will escalate in “Black Panther: The Man Without Fear” #522 before coming to an explosive conclusion in September’s issue #523. “Things are going to get worse in Hell’s Kitchen and New York before they get better,” Liss teased. “That is, if they get better. I don’t want to give away anything way about the end of this arc or ‘Fear Itself.’ The subtitle won’t have changed by the last issue, but I think this ‘Fear Itself’ arc will show readers why Black Panther is the most dangerous man alive.”
In September, that designation becomes official as the title of Liss’ series changes to “Black Panther: The Most Dangerous Man Alive” with the release of issue #523.1. “Daredevil called and wants his subtitle back,” Liss joked. “We didn’t plan the subtitle change from the beginning, but this feels like the right move at the right time. Our first arc was about T’Challa coming to terms with who he is now and realizing how powerful he is despite the being depowered. The character has kind of gone through a purification by fire. Now he really is the most dangerous man alive, despite the fact that he no longer has his Panther powers and his Wakandan tech.”
Issue #523.1 is a standalone tale meant to show new readers why T’Challa is the most dangerous man alive, as well as set the stage for upcoming storylines. “It’s a great jumping-on point,” the scribe enthused. “When I first learned about Marvel’s Point One initiative I thought it was a great idea. As a reader, I love issues that serve to welcome new readers. I wanted to embrace the Point One concept and tell a story that stands alone, is accessible to new readers and gives all readers a sense of who T’Challa is now, but also brings them up to speed with his past.”
In “Black Panther: The Most Dangerous Man Alive” #524, Liss embroils his protagonist in the “Spider-Island” crossover, a storyline where a strange epidemic breaks out in New York that endows the infected with powers similar to Spider-Man. “The interesting thing about working with a crossover like ‘Spider-Island’ is that the rules for the game completely change,” Liss explained. “The challenge, and the fun, of this issue was changing everything about Black Panther — what he looks like, what he can do — but keeping him the same character.”
Liss’ take on “Black Panther” came to fruition last December when Daredevil left New York. Several arcs later it’s still going strong, and even though Matt Murdock has returned to the Big Apple and has his own series again, it’s not going away or changing. “This incarnation of ‘Black Panther’ is obviously linked to events in ‘Daredevil,’ but this isn’t about to become a team-up book,” Liss stated emphatically. “It’s not going to be ‘Black Panther & Daredevil.’ New York is a city where there are a lot of heroes, and Daredevil is one of them. For now, Hell’s Kitchen is Panther’s realm, and he’s going to defend it to his last breath.”