CCI: Liss Pits King Against Kingpin in "Black Panther"

In the Marvel Universe, heroes and villains often have more in common then they'd like to admit. Take T'Challa and Wilson Fisk, the Kingpin of Crime, for example. Both were once wealthy and powerful men who ruled their own kingdoms. T'Challa was king of the African nation know as Wakanda, while Fisk was the Kingpin of New York's underworld. Then both had their kingdoms taken from them by their enemies. T'Challa was forced to pass rulership of Wakanda, his superheroic identity of the Black Panther and all the powers that came with it to his sister Shuri after he was gravely injured in a battle with Doctor Doom. The Kingpin was brought down by his enemy Daredevil and imprisoned.

But late last year, both toppled titans got a shot at returning to their former glory in the aftermath of the event storyline known as "Shadowland." Because of his violent, ruthless and aggressive actions in "Shadowland," Daredevil fled New York in shame. T'Challa, having recovered from his injuries, donned a costume similar to the Black Panther's and became the new protector of Hell's Kitchen. When Daredevil absconded, he also relinquished control of the ninja cult known as the Hand. Fisk -- freed from prison years earlier and quietly working to rebuild his criminal empire -- saw an opportunity, and stepped in and took over.

By filling in for the Kingpin's archenemy, T'Challa has put himself on a collision course with the Kingpin, and this November they'll finally confront each other in a multipart arc that begins in "Black Panther: The Most Dangerous Man Alive" #525 by writer David Liss and artist Shawn Martinbrough ("Luke Cage Noir"). Comic Book Resources spoke with Liss about the pending showdown, announced yesterday at Marvel Comics' "Next Big Thing Panel" at Comic Con International in San Diego.

When Liss' "Black Panther" series began in December, he inherited a number of elements from the last volume of "Daredevil" (the Hell's Kitchen setting, the series' old numbering, etc.). Since then, he's worked hard to maintain some of the mood and tone of "Daredevil" while telling new stories with his title character. With the Kingpin and the Hand set to arrive, Liss is about tell his most "Daredevil"-esque arc of "Black Panther" to date.

"I've always been quite open about being a 'Daredevil' fan," Liss told CBR News. "When I took over this book, it took me about 45 seconds to think, 'Black Panther has to have some kind of conflict with the Kingpin!' It's inevitable for the protector of Hell's Kitchen to run into the Kingpin, especially since Shadowland, the Hand headquarters, is smack in the middle of Hell's Kitchen. This is a showdown between two incredibly powerful, intelligent and ruthless characters."

The Kingpin may be a tough and resourceful character, but Liss is handling him with extreme care. "Writing Wilson Fisk is like writing any other of these long-term characters," Liss explained. "It feels like I'm doing something important, and I have to be careful not to damage the goods and be respectful to the history. This is a character that people have followed for decades. He's well established and he is who he is, so while I want to tell a story about a real character, and I want to tell a story where there are consequences, I'm also operating within an ongoing tradition. In this story you'll see how much he has changed the last couple of years. Ruling the Hand instead of the underworld is more than a matter of 'same game, different players.' He has new methods and new interests, but the most important thing I want readers to see is that he remains ruthless, clever and a master strategist. That's what makes him a truly worthy opponent for Black Panther."

When the Kingpin and the Black Panther confront each other, it will be the classic case of the irresistible force meeting the immovable object. Both men are cunning, prideful and stuck in a situation where they can't afford to lose. "I don't want to get into the mechanics of what's going on," Liss teased, "but there is going to be a great deal at stake for both of them."

Liss couldn't reveal how the Panther-Kingpin vendetta comes about for fear of spoilers, but the seeds of their conflict are sewn in "Black Panther: The Most Dangerous Man Alive" #524, an issue that ties into the upcoming "Spider-Island" event. "Much of what's going on won't become fully clear until a couple issues into the arc," Liss remarked. "I will say that this is more personal than 'Wilson Fisk is up to something bad and Black Panther happens to be the guy around to stop him.' Their fates intertwine because their specific goals are at cross purposes. T'Challa takes on Fisk because he has to."

As the head of two powerful criminal enterprises, the Kingpin has plenty of soldiers at his disposal to attack T'Challa, including Hand ninjas and three different costumed enforcers. Liss couldn't reveal if the Kingpin's newest agent, the Hobgoblin, plays a role in the arc, but the crimelord's two trusted female lieutenants, Lady Bullseye and Typhoid Mary, will be part of the story.

"Typhoid Mary is interesting because she's so delightfully insane," Liss explained. "She's both dangerous and unpredictable, and I think a character like that always presents some really great storytelling opportunities. And I've really loved Lady Bullseye as a character ever since Ed Brubaker introduced her in 'Daredevil.' There's just something so electric about her single-minded ruthlessness -- where it comes from and how she's willing to deploy it. I remember reading those issues -- this was before I was writing comics -- and thinking, 'Man! I'd love to tell a story about her!' So this is a really great opportunity for me to work with a character that I've always found interesting."

T'Challa is well aware of the manpower and resources the Kingpin has at his command. As the arc progresses, he'll take steps to even the odds. "T'Challa is certainly prideful, but there's pride and then there's insanity," Liss remarked. "He understands that going against the Hand by himself is perhaps not wise. So, yes, he will be getting some help in this arc."

Over the course of a nearly 20-year career, Shawn Martinbrough has brought to life tales featuring Batman, the Punisher, Bullseye and Luke Cage. Liss is extremely eager to see what the veteran artist will do with his Black Panther versus the Kingpin story. "I think this story is going to look great," the writer said. "The setting and action play to Shawn's strengths, which are considerable. I can't wait to see what he does with the scripts."

The Kingpin arc of "Black Panther: The Most Dangerous Man Alive" will come to an end in the first quarter of 2012, and when it does, the lives of both men will have changed dramatically. "I don't like to tell stories where there's a reset button at the end," Liss said. "The Kingpin has fought vigilantes before, and I didn't want to tell another story of him simply failing to achieve everything he wanted to achieve. We are going to make it very clear early on that whichever one of these characters loses is going to lose big. And somebody is going to lose."

T'Challa may lose to Kingpin, but if he does go down it won't be without a fight. In the Kingpin arc, Liss plans on showing readers exactly why T'Challa is the title character of "The Most Dangerous Man Alive." "There are some Black Panther fans who objected to him losing his powers," Liss said. "They saw it as this character that they loved being weakened and watered down. I feel like this is an arc that's going to end this conversation forever. He may not have the abilities, technology or wealth he once had, but there's nothing weak and watered down about T'Challa. If anything, he's never been stronger."

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