Black Panther stalked back onto the monthly issue scene at the end of last year (in December, I think), taking Daredevil's title (both literally and figuratively) as the new Man Without Fear in Hell's Kitchen, NYC, as written by David Liss and illustrated by Francesco Francavilla.
I've always had a soft spot on my heart for the Black Panther in his various incarnations, though the incarnation that had me buying his adventures on a regular basis was not T'Challa but rather that of Christopher Priest's American, urban and working class Kevin "Kasper" Cole, a NYC narcotics cop who took over the mantle for a brief time on the streets of Harlem.
Maybe it makes sense then that I'm now adding the current series back onto my pull list given that the original Black Panther, T'Challa, has been placed into a similar setting (NYC) and role (urban vigilante facing modern problems and real world challenges beyond just the supervillain du jour) of my most favorite incarnation.
This issue is a "Fear Itself" tie-in. Normally, I avoid "event" tie-ins like the plague, but this one does a pretty good job of crafting a self-contained story arc and advancing the title character's development without needing to know much about what's going on with the "event" or needing to buy all the other books in the "event".
All the salient details are conveyed in a brief flashback at the start of the story. A white American male struggles with the hard economic times. He finds an outlet for his anger and frustrations by consuming internet propaganda regarding the "Hate Monger," one of the Fantastic Four's and Captain America's villains (and a living embodiment of the demagogic hatred of Adolf Hitler).
A few months and several bad choices later lead to our antagonist losing his job, turning to hate motivated petty crime, and being taken out by the Black Panther. After his release from jail due to bigger things going on (the Fear Itself event destroying the city), we find him holding a sign that proclaims "Immigrants Stole My Job and Wife" while attracting the attention of the Hate Monger's disembodied energy (drawn back to Earth from space due to the Fear Itself event). One possession by disembodied energy later, and we have a new Hate Monger for current times, focusing his hatred on immigrants in the city of immigrants.
The antagonist reads as a caricature of the Glenn Beck Tea Party ideologue trope, down to the way that he incites others into taking action through rhetoric rather than directly intervening against those that he identifies as the source of America's ills - largely immigrants and women, though perhaps not in that order. Still, the rhetoric our antagonist espouses in the comic is not far afield from what one would hear at a Tea Party rally or on Glenn Beck, so perhaps he's not so much a caricature, but rather a 4 color reflection of the world outside our window, in the Marvel Universe tradition.
This makes him a perfect foil for our hero T'Challa, who now goes by the alter ego of Mr. Okonkwo, an African immigrant from the Democratic Republic of Congo who manages the Devil's Diner in Hell's Kitchen. Having forsworn his formerly regal level of resources to make a new life for himself and fight injustice on the streets of NYC, T'Challa's status in this country was dependent on timely legal assistance from Foggy Nelson (Daredevil's law partner), who is apparently having second thoughts about helping Okonkwo with his immigration issues. This little detail comes into play later as the plot continues to thicken and builds towards the rising action and big reveal at the end of this issue.
Not content with just using the consumers of anti-immigrant rhetoric to wage his crusade on the streets of Hell's Kitchen, this new Hate Monger also puts into play the Ideological/Repressive State Apparatus of the Homeland Security Department as he unwittingly attack's the Black Panther's alter ego. Of course, sometimes you need a directly employed enforcer to do the things that the State won't do for you. Cue this issue's big reveal and introduction of the American Panther. If the Hate Monger symbolizes the cable media/talk radio ideologues on the Far Right, the American Panther symbolizes the Minutemen types training and arming themselves to take back the nation from the immigrant threat.
As the issue comes to a close, we find that for now its the Homeland Security with a warrant for Mr. Okonkwo's arrest based on his immigration status that proves to be the more immediate and pressing threat than the wingnut dressed up in a star spangled panther costume. It appears that immigration and infiltration of US soil are one and the same for this particular agent of the State as he takes both Mr. Okonkwo and Foggy Nelson into custody.
As I said when I started writing this review, I'm loving this latest incarnation of the Black Panther. The stories so far are grounded and compelling and told in an interesting way that touches on current social issues, and the art complements the tone of the post-noir narrative without distracting from it. There's much more to be said about the current trajectory of the Black Panther, but I'll save that for a broader series of posts focusing on urban heroes and what they say about us and the places we live. For now, I'm just enjoying the Panther's new status quo in the city of immigrants and dreams, which this issue captures perfectly.
RATING: 5 out of 5