In the Marvel Universe, the New York City neighborhood of Hell’s Kitchen has traditionally been a place where criminal predators stalk those trying to eke out a normal life and were in turn stalked by the costumed hero known as Daredevil, The Man Without Fear. For years, he kept the citizenry safe and did his best to keep crime under control. Recently though, Daredevil AKA Matt Murdock fell under the sway of dark, mystical forces and has been transformed from savior to vicious tyrant. In the current “Shadowland” series, several Marvel heroes are working to free DD from the supernatural forces that have ensnared him. It’s unclear if they’ll be successful or not, but one thing is certain: when “Shadowland” comes to an end in November, Hell’s Kitchen will have a new protector.
In the aftermath of “Shadowland,” a new champion with experience hunting in both concrete and actual jungles will step into Daredevils shoes and environment. His name is T’Challa, but most people know him by the heroic moniker of the Black Panther. In December, the former Wakandan monarch once again headlines his own series when “Daredevil” title becomes “Black Panther: The Man Without Fear” with issue #513. The series features the creative team of writer David Liss and artist Francesco Francavilla. We spoke with Liss about his plans for the book.
A relative newcomer to the world of comics, Liss’ only other published four color work to date is last year’s “Daring Mystery Comics 70th Anniversary Special,” which starred Marvel’s golden age hero, the Phantom Reporter. He is best known as the author of several best-selling historical fiction novels like the award-winning “A Conspiracy of Paper” and “The Devil’s Company,” which was released earlier this year. Fans of Liss’ novels know that even though they may be set hundreds of years in the past, they all take place in a seedy underworld of crime and corruption. Because of this, the author found the chance to tell stories in Hell’s Kitchen to be both easy and enjoyable.
“It’s a great setting. The Marvel version of Hell’s Kitchen is such a great place to set this story because there’s always something awful going on somewhere, usually in multiple places,” Liss told CBR News. “There are well established characters and social situations to play off of, so it really does provide an excellent and varied context for this story, which is one of the reasons why ‘Daredevil’ has been such a successful title for so long.”
The other aspect of “Black Panther: The Man Without Fear” that Liss finds intriguing is the chance to drop T’Challa, the former king of the fictional African nation known as Wakanda, into the middle of the crime ridden wasteland that the Kitchen has become post “Shadowland.” “We’re taking somebody who has always been royalty – his father was a king and he’s been a powered superhero and a monarch for a large portion of his life. We’re stripping all of that away from him. He has no powers. He has no Wakandan tech. This series is about somebody trying to figure out what he’s made of and who he is. He’s coming to this environment, which is so dangerous and troubled, to test himself,” Liss explained. “That’s what I really loved about this project. It was an opportunity to rethink a long established and iconic character in very interesting way.”
Wakanda is a country full of fantastic high technology, never having been conquered and possessing a valuable natural resource, the mysterious metal known as Vibranium, which is capable of absorbing sound and kinetic energy. T’Challa is an exceptionally smart man who is fascinated by science, so the nation’s technological wealth only grew under his rule. Recently, however, hard times came to the country in the form of the villainous Doctor Doom who attacked and nearly killed T’Challa. In fact, his injuries were so great that he had to surrender the mantle of the Black Panther, a heroic, royal, and spiritual title, to his sister Shuri. To make matters worse, Doom backed an attempted coup against country and used the chaos to steal Wakanda’s remaining supply of Vibranium. T’Challa was able to recover from his injuries and in the recent “DoomWar” miniseries, he, Shuri and several other allies were able to fight back and prevent Doom from using the Vibranium in a scheme to conquer the world. In order to accomplish this, however, they had to sacrifice Wakanda’s remaining Vibranium supply to ensure Doom’s defeat. The circumstances of these events are what motivates T’Challa to go to Hell’s Kitchen now, becoming it’s new “Man Without Fear.”
“Wakanda is going through a tumultuous period and T’Challa is no longer king. In the aftermath of everything that happened with ‘DoomWar,’ he feels like he doesn’t really know who he is anymore, what it means to be T’Challa without the title, responsibilities, power and tech,” Liss revealed. “The fundamental principles in his life have changed. Many people may forget that T’Challa has spent a fair amount of time in New York in the past. Not only does he know Matt Murdock, but they were friends in the past. So there is an organic and rich connection between these characters that we’re building on.”
While the title of T’Challa’s new series is “Black Panther: The Man Without Fear,” that doesn’t necessarily mean he’ll be using that identity in his new crusade against the criminals of Hell’s Kitchen. “We’re calling it ‘Black Panther: The Man Without Fear’ as an orientation for readers,” Liss explained. “In this series, while others – because of his new costume – may call him Black Panther, T’Challa will not call himself that. He is very careful not to do so because Black Panther isn’t just a cool street name. It’s a title of cultural and religious significance – a title that now belongs to his sister.”
T’Challa has abandoned more than just the Black Panther identity – he’s also discarded all of the high tech weaponry and gadgets that have come to be associated with it. In “Black Panther: The Man Without Fear,” his main armaments will be his cunning, intellect and wealth of combat skills. “We decided going into this that he was not going to be able to use anything that he can’t build or buy himself,” Liss remarked. “He doesn’t have access to his wealth either, as he’s walked away from everything in his former life.”
But he hasn’t just left behind the ceremonial, technological, and income aspects of his former life: T’Challa has also stepped away from his friends and familial ties as well. “The Black Panther is one of the most well connected people in the Marvel Universe, but for this series he’s decided he needs to tackle the dangers of Hell’s Kitchen by himself. T’Challa is there to test himself, and that quest becomes meaningless if he calls on the Avengers or the Fantastic Four every time he faces a new challenge,” Liss said. “So his wife, Storm, will be off doing her own thing with the X-Men. She understands that he needs to be by himself and figure things out on his own. And Shuri has her own responsibilities as Black Panther and Queen of Wakanda.”
When the next chapter in his life begins, T’Challa decides to jump head first into the new world he has created for himself. “I would describe him as grim and determined, but he’s also focused. That resolve puts him in a situation where he’s almost instantly in over his head,” Liss stated. “So while he’s trying to deal with his past, he’s trying to avoid it as well.”
T’Challa will set out to establish himself as the new champion of Hell’s Kitchen, with the side-goal of establishing a new secret identity. “That’s one of the things I wanted to do from the beginning. So many characters’ identities are public and open. There’s no real split between their public and private lives, and I wanted to write a character that needed to keep his identity secret,” Liss revealed. “He also deals with his first major crisis, which is the rise of a new villain. Somebody is stepping into the power vacuum of Hell’s Kitchen in the aftermath of ‘Shadowland.’
“We wanted this to be a new story with a new villain, rather than having someone stepping in and filling in for Daredevil in too familiar of a way,” Liss continued. ” In subsequent arcs you’ll see some of the characters that Daredevil has faced over the years and very likely some other well established Marvel characters.”
The villains that T’Challa confronts will find themselves up against a highly intelligent and cunning foe, but they’ll have a significant home court advantage. “He’s going to capture the attention of some dangerous people who will try to take him down,” Liss told CBR. “Part of the challenge for T’Challa in this series is that, he certainly is one of the smartest men in the world, but he’s also out of his element. He’s going to need to outsmart people who know the environment of Hell’s Kitchen very well.”
T’Challa’s new crusade in Hell’s Kitchen won’t just lead to run-ins with criminals. He’ll also encounter a few residents who aided the neighborhood’s previous defender. “Foggy Nelson makes a brief appearance in the first issue and some of the other Daredevil characters will likely show up at some point,” Liss stated. “Again, though, we didn’t want to hit that too hard from the beginning.”
He may not be meeting all of Daredevil’s supporting characters right away, but T’Challa will have plenty of time to get acquainted with all the familiar faces in Hell’s Kitchen, because he’s going to be the district’s champion for quite awhile. “This isn’t a series with a finite number of issues planned. This is the new status quo for the character and this area of the Marvel Universe,” Liss stated. “Daredevil has always been my favorite Marvel character, so the opportunity to step into this milieu has been really a lot of fun for me. We want to create a dramatic character-driven story about somebody who is out of his element and trying to figure out who he is. I think the best comic books work because they’re stories about people, and the arcs are tense because you care about what happens next to these characters. That’s what we’re trying to put together here.”