Today marks the release of Black Panther: The Man Without Fear 514, the second issue of writer David Liss' run documenting Black Panther's effort to defend Hell's Kitchen in Daredevil's absence. In this email interview, Liss shares his appreciation of secret identities, as well as his interest in immigrant crime families and organizations, among other topics. As detailed by Marvel, this latest issue features: "Luke Cage guest stars as T’Challa’s new adventure in NYC continues! The former King of Wakanda has sworn to protect the mean streets of Hell’s Kitchen, and while battling the mob is one thing, how does he stop a killer targeting innocent people? It’s a deadly game of cat-and-mouse, as T’Challa hunts ruthless new crime lord Vlad the Impaler, while Vlad concocts a desperate and bloody scheme to entrap the mysterious new vigilante that’s ruining his plans." My thanks to Marvel editor Bill Rosemann for the art he provided for us to share with Robot 6 readers.
Tim O'Shea: In taking an assignment placing the Black Panther in Hell's Kitchen, what factors appealed to you most in taking the assignment?
David Liss: I loved the idea of taking a very powerful figure, stripping him of his abilities, and placing him in a new environment. Characters are most interesting when they face challenges and obstacles, and this seemed a great opportunity to take a headstrong, confident hero and put him in situations in which he would have to grow, adapt and be uncomfortable. Plus it's Hell's Kitchen, which means there will be lots of ass-kicking. I thought the concept rocked.
O'Shea: How challenging/enjoyable was it constructing T'Challa's new secret identity of Mr. Okonkwo?
Liss: It required a fair amount of thought, and a few discussions to fine tune what we wanted to do. But it was most definitely enjoyable. I like secret identities. They seem to be out of favor these days as more heroes go mainstream, and I was invested in the idea of having one to play around with.
O'Shea: In your first issue, you introduce a supporting character, who (as T'Challa notes) sports a tattoo symbolizing violent Serbian nationalism. How much research (such as details like this) have you done in the run-up to the series?
Liss: I wanted a character who had a difficult and violent past. I've read a fair amount about Serbian nationalism for other projects I've worked on, and this seemed to fit. The point here was less to give the reader a clear picture of how Serbian nationalism has evolved over the years than to create a character who had made bad choices and now wants to make good ones. There's only so much research you can info dump into a comic book, but an interesting character is what makes the story move.
O'Shea: An element of this story is what Panther has lost, as you write: "No servants, no politicians, no bodyguards..not even my wife." How much of this story is about what Panther has lost, as much as what he hopes to gain in his quest in Hell's Kitchen?
Liss: T'Challa can't afford to spend too much time dwelling on what he's lost. Readers will see a period of adjustment, but the bulk of the story will be about him moving forward and figuring out ways to get things done. T'Challa's got a lot of baggage, but he's also a guy who does not let the past weigh him down. His life is all about making hard choices and moving forward. He wouldn't be in Hell's Kitchen if he hadn't made the hard choice to abdicate the throne, so he won't be crying over spilled vibranium.
O'Shea: A recent My SanAntonio article about your Black Panther work, noted that editor Bill Rosemann once said that your character, Benjamin Weaver (from your 2000 prose novel, A Conspiracy of Paper) reminded him in a sense of "an 18th century Luke Cage" Do you agree with that comparison?
Liss: I absolutely see what he is getting at. Both are street-smart characters who are outside mainstream culture. Both are tough and determined, but also have a strong moral center. And both know how to throw a punch. I think one of the things that made Luke Cage so appealing was his willingness to do the right thing, even if he didn't always do it in precisely the right away. I enjoy a hero who goes his own way and plays on his own terms, and I think a lot of readers do as well.
O'Shea: Speaking of Luke Cage, he's just one of the guest stars in upcoming issues (Spider-Man will appear in 516). What storytelling advantages are gained in getting to work Cage and Spider-Man into the tale? Also, is Panther eager to get these heroes' help, or is he fearful that their presence will derail his mission to convey he is the new man without fear?
Liss: I don't want to reveal too much about how T'Challa is going to react to those characters. In both cases, they seemed like the right characters to advance the kind of story we wanted to tell. I especially like the relationship between T'Challa and Cage in the Hudlin run on Black Panther and wanted to play off that. All in all, it's a interesting juggling act. I love bringing in other characters from the Marvel universe, and I think readers enjoy that as well. One of the things that makes reading comics so much fun is seeing how the different pieces fit together. On the other hand, we're operating under the Man Without Fear banner, and Daredevil was often somewhat removed from the major events of the M.U. So, the trick with this, as with everything else, is to respect the boundaries of the character and the title, and then tell the best and most dynamic story you can.
O'Shea: While Vlad the Impaler is a fictional construct, I was curious if there were any real world inspirations for the character?
Liss: No one in particular. I am always interested in immigrant crime families and organizations. I know there is a lot of Eastern European crime in New York these days, and I wanted to pick a nationality that was a little bit unusual. Plus I liked the name. And I like impaling, so it all works out.
O'Shea: In what ways have you seen your story bolstered by collaborating with artist Francesco Francavilla?
Liss: In what ways haven't the story been bolstered by collaborating with Francesco? He brings such a great pulp feel, so much texture and emotion to the story. I love getting pages back from him and seeing how he has interpreted the script. Everything is so much more vibrant and compelling and interesting because of his art, which genuinely advances plot and character.
O'Shea: Is the degree of gratification in creating comics more immediate for you (in terms of fan response) compared to the creative gratification timeline for your prose novels?
Liss: Yes, I love the quicker turn-around time. I love seeing my writing come to live in a visual medium. I love having an editor to bounce ideas off of. It's a totally different experience, and I'm enjoying it tremendously.