Friday, August 12, 2011

REVIEW: Black Panther: The Man Without Fear #522

When last we saw our hero, series writer David Liss and artist Francesco Francavilla had the Black Panther's alter ego of Mr. Okonkwo arrested by Homeland Security for falsifying immigration papers. Also arrested was Foggy Nelson, Daredevil's sidekick, confidant, and law partner, who also happened to be the attorney that helped the Black Panther obtain immigration papers for his assumed identity. This issue picks up with the pair in jail while the city of New York goes to pieces outside as a result of the "Fear Itself" storyline ripping through the Marvel Universe. Taking advantage of said chaos is an entity known as the Hate-Monger, and his jackbooted henchman, the American Panther. 

After Foggy cashes in some favors from a colleague in the legal world, he and BP's alter ego are released from police custody. BP tries to alleviate Foggy's concerns about the legal consequences they are facing, but to no avail, as Foggy is unaware that the man he helped is really the Black Panther - former king of Wakanda, Avenger, and all around bad ass.

A brief characterization scene then shows the Black Panther's new status quo as Daredevil's successor and the guardian of NYC's Hell's Kitchen neighborhood, then we're brought to a decision point where BP decides to stop playing at being Daredevil, and instead decides to be who he has always been - his own man and a formidable character in his own right, needing no one else's shadow or modus operandi to do what he does best. Liss really nails the tone and voice of the Black Panther pitch-perfectly, and Francavilla's art captures and essays the gritty noirish urban setting that the Black Panther now claims as his territory.

We're then treated to a montage of panels detailing the American Panther's origin. Imagine Batman's origin, but resulting in a sworn enmity towards immigrants rather than criminals and you've got the American Panther. It'd be easy to make this antagonist a one dimensional caricature of an anti-immigrant fascist agent of the state, but the writer adds a bit of layered complexity to the character that shows up in a scene where we're reminded that it's the Hate-Monger who is calling the shots. We're also shown that there are people in this world that don't need a psionically empowered Hate-Monger to be bigoted xenophobic a$$h0l3s. Ah, the good ol' Marvel Universe - serving as a four color sequential storytelling art reflection of the world outside our window, replete with Glenn Beck and Tea Party et al pastiches. Then again, given presidential candidate Michele Bachmann's recent comments on slavery, perhaps these latest adversaries for the Black Panther don't go far enough into la-la land to be comic book villains. What can I say, sometimes the real world sets a high bar for art to imitate.

The book then pushes ever closer to the inevitable throwdown between the forces of justice, tolerance and inclusion on one side vs. those of facism, hatred, division on the other, with the Black Panther doing that thing that he does oh so well - no, not the fighty-fighty (though he no slouch at that!), but rather using his formidable intellect to orchestrate an endgame which will be revealed next issue.

All in all it was another very satisfying read, and it has me eagerly awaiting the next issue and the conclusion to the story arc. We'll be back here next month with another review to see if Marvel scores the hat trick with this particular storyline. Black Panther: Man Without Fear has definitely secured a solid spot on my monthly pull-list. Hats off to Liss and Francavilla for putting out such a quality product!

RATING: 5 out of 5

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