Ten Point Program: On Black Panther 513

October 18th, 2010 by | Tags: , ,

Hey, let’s judge a comic that isn’t out yet!

Black Panther: Man Without Fear #513, Marvel’s latest attempt at breathing some life into a character, this time courtesy of novelist David Liss and artist Francesco Francavilla. I ran a preview on Comics Alliance last week. There’s also an interview with Liss where he talks about what he wants to do. Here’s the story summary:

The smoke has cleared from the ruins of Shadowland and a new protector of Hell’s Kitchen is on the prowl. His name is T’Challa, the Blank Panther! In a city without Daredevil and a dangerous knew foe called Vlad the Impaler consolidating power in the underworld, the Black Panther must learn to become a new type of hero. Without his riches, his technology, and his kingdom can T’Challa truly be the man without fear? Find out in Black Panther: The Man Without Fear #513!

This comic has an uphill battle for me to even want to read it. Here’s a list of some thoughts on the upcoming run.

Francesco Francavilla is a monster. The guy is an absolutely astounding artist, and I think that he’s going to be one of those guys that you absolutely have to pay attention to in a year or so. In any other situation, I’d be all over a Francavilla-drawn Panther book.

Been there, done that. We’ve seen Panther as a schoolteacher in Harlem as “Luke Charles.” Guess what? It blew. It removed Panther from where he works best and lowered a king to commoner status. Don McGregor and Billy Graham’s classic Panther’s Rage was a response to that story and restored T’Challa to where he belongs. Not to mention that he’s retired/been removed as Panther before, so you’d think he’d be used to it instead of running off like a crybaby.

T’Challa has to find himself? The Black Panther is the most well adjusted black man in the Marvel universe. He ran his own country, he married the love of his life, and he has been royalty since he was a child. What about that screams “Needs to come to terms with himself?” He isn’t Batman, but he is the closest Marvel has (or needs) to Batman.

He’s the most capable black dude in the Marvel universe. When Reed Richards has trouble, he hits T’Challa on the two-way like “Doom is causing trouble with sonic waves, you got a sonic wave disrupter?” And yes, T’Challa will have one, because he’s that dude. He was the smartest man in the world’s gadget guy. Black Panther with no tech is absurd. It’s in his DNA. It’s like Mister Miracle not being able to get out of traps. To strip him down to “basics,” where those basics are “is basically Daredevil,” is gonna bore me to tears. He outclasses everyone who ever lived and fought in Hell’s Kitchen. It’d be like Mike Tyson beating up a grade schooler. There is no “out of his element,” that’s his whole point.

He has to find himself in Hell’s Kitchen? He’s African, man. If T’Challa needs to find himself, he needs to do so among his people, not in New York City. I’ve spent a decent amount of time in New York and LA, and I love them both, but if I had a nervous breakdown and had to find myself? I’d take my depressed behind back to Georgia. You want to show him finding himself? Have him intern in the Techno-Jungle or one of those villages from Panther’s Rage. Hell’s Kitchen should be nothing to him.

Panther is African. Divorcing him from that context turns him into a generic superhero. Turning him into the protector of Hell’s Kitchen lowers his profile even further. It makes him sub-Spider-Man, in terms of beat (it ain’t like Spidey only protects Forest Hills) when he should really be global class. Just the very fact that he’s from an African country that has never been conquered (which apparently made them corrupt and lazy) is something that is rich with possibilities. Why avoid it? The best runs/the only runs worth reading (McGregor, then Priest, then Hudlin, full stop) embraced it and played with his global nature. You wouldn’t see Cap digging ditches in Liverpool after screwing up huge.

He’s fighting scrub gangsters. Black Panther versus gangsters is like Superman versus bank robbers.

This is a story perfectly suited for Kasper Kole. It’s boring with the Panther because he’s above it. It fits Kasper because it’s basically already his story, and you still get the bonus of being able to involve the Panther. It’s Batman, Inc.–the Panther is franchising, and Kasper gets Hell’s Kitchen.

The pitch is boring. It’s essentially an Iron Man story (“Oh no, I have lost access to my absurdly vast store of resources via an unlikely series of events!”) stitched onto a Daredevil story (“I am the protector of Hell’s Kitchen!”). Rather than organically saying something about the Panther, it sets up a situation where you can fit all kinds of things onto the character. David Uzumeri pointed out that it’s like JMS’s Superman: Grounded, another story where a hero strips himself of his prestige to find himself amongst the common man.

The first issue is called “Urban Jungle.” Really?

This book has an extraordinary uphill battle to convince me to pick it up. I love the art, but the story is making me real uncomfortable over here. I’m gonna have to get a guinea pig to read it for me, or flip through it in the store or something, because as-is, it sounds like exactly the kind of Panther story I don’t care to read.

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16 comments to “Ten Point Program: On Black Panther 513”

  1. They should require anyone even thinking about pitching a BP story to read those three runs above. McDuffie also got some great, fun use out of him in his aborted Fantastic Four run.

    between “c’mon son” and the R.Kelly “oh shit,” you have the finest animated gifs known to man.

  2. I actually rather enjoyed the preview, and plan to pick up the first issue. Granted, my only exposure to Black Panther is from the Priest run, which I read years ago, so I have no idea what’s happened to the character since then. But the idea of stripping him down and putting him in an unfamiliar environment, with new challenges and obstacles, seems like a fun enough idea to warrant a closer look. It doesn’t hurt that that Francavilla’s selling me on the noir tone, kind of evoking Shawn Martinbrough’s work on the Batman titles, with the heavy blacks and stripped-down coloring.

    That said, I do think it would have been neat if they’d placed the story closer to Wakanda, just because it’d be a cool way to expose readers to a culture and aesthetic not normally seen in superhero comics. But since Marvel wants to move books, they had to tie it into a recent event, and put it in a locale that readers know, and in theory would be interested in reading about. Which I don’t agree with, but understand.

    I do wish Kasper Cole would turn up again, though. I can’t believe that, of all the Crew characters, only Rhodey and Junta have really shown up since the title ended.

  3. To be fair, Priest kicked off his series by sending T’Challa back into “the urban jungle.” He didn’t get him back to Wakanda until nearly the end of the first year.

  4. I do agree the pitch seems to rob Black Panther of what makes him unique, although I can somewhat understand where Marvel is coming from. Black Panther has never been a character that sells books well. The Priest book was always on the brink of cancellation during its run despite generally great reviews. Marvel here is seeing that if they move Black Panther to a street hero if he will gain popularity. The pitch reminds me a bit of The Crew, albeit a version of that which is very, very stripped down. That series has a Black Panther character as well and was focused on African American, inter-city neighborhood feel with a character stripped of his traditional tech trappings (War Machine). Of course it lasted only 8 issues despite a good writer (Priest) and a really unique feel. If the new Black Panther book is just him fighting bank robbers and traditional Daredevil baddies like the Hand it isn’t going to make him more popular. Coming out of a Shadowland event that had weak sales is a pretty big problem too.

  5. @Michael Hoskin: That story was specifically about Wakanda vs America, though, even to the point where his reason for going to the States was because of something Wakandan being mismanaged. It wasn’t just “Welp, done with Wakanda, gonna find myself in NYC.”

  6. Yeah, real “street level” guy. He won’t share the cure for cancer, but he’s going “street level” to “find himself.” Right.

  7. @Joe England

    Three words: Military. Grade. Anthrax

    Four more words: President. Elect. Sarah. Palin

    Still think that sharing the cure for cancer would be all smiles and rainbows?

  8. I think the only way this can work is if we explore the “mystic” side of Black Panther in this story. One of the things that Black Panther has a problem with, currently, is that he has no idea what spirit has inhabited his body (because it isn’t the Black Panther spirit…his sister has that totem). He also has an immunity to magic and corruption, so he’s ideal for Hells Kitchen which probably has fallout from the big Daredevil crossover.

    What would work in this series is making it finite with a specific goal in mind. If BP is searching out the spirit that now inhabits his body, let him come to Hell’s Kitchen for that reason. I’d love for a series to play up that side of the character.

    But, more importantly, I’d love for us to see Kasper Cole again…and if BP has to come to Hell’s Kitchen to do this, then so be it.

  9. I’m curious, david: What’d you think of Jack Kirby’s Black Panther solo run? I read it not long ago and loved it, if only for how deliriously bizarre it is. “King Solomon’s Frog?” That story was just awesome.

  10. @LtKenFrankenstein: It’s aight. The art’s interesting, and the story is wacky Kirby, but it’s far from his best.

  11. If only Marvel released a collection of Priest’s run for every Black Panther relaunch over the past ten years…everybody would have read this storyline already.

  12. I agree with all your points. I will not be picking up this book despite the hitting artwork. I can’t bring myself to do it. Maybe they will surprise us and limit it to a 6 or 12 issue and have a finite point.

  13. If you can arrange to have a copy sent to me, I’ll be your guinea pig.

    In all seriousness, this is a good post, and all of these points that you’ve made used to be (once upon a time) the sort of questions that editors used to ask. Though maybe I’m romanticizing the industry’s past…

    Also, I’m always happy to see a reference to THE CREW, which I really enjoyed.

  14. “… a dangerous knew foe…”

    I’m surprised you didn’t refuse to read it due to the ad copy alone.

  15. “Black Panther in the city” was one of the stupidest things they ever did. Why in the hell are they doing it again?

    If we’re going to have a Jack Kirby Black ______ character, what the fuck is wrong with him being a head of state and acting like one?

  16. @Evil Abraham Lincoln: You’re suggesting the cancer cure could be weaponized?

    @Jbird: Has there ever been a comic book about a head of state that sold well?