Another major shift for the story of the Black Panther came after the Marvel miniseries, Shadowland.
Shadowland was a story that focused more on the street-level heroes of Marvel: the likes of Spider-Man, Luke Cage, Iron Fist, Moon Knight, Misty Knight, Shang Chi, etc. The twist here was that Daredevil was the main antagonist. In a desperate bid to keep the Hand from tearing apart New York, Matt Murdock accepted an offer to become the leader of the clandestine organization. Things don’t go as expected, and Daredevil finds himself corrupted by the dark forces within the Hand, namely the demonic entity known only as the Beast. In the aftermath, Matt Murdock left New York to go soul-searching.
Meanwhile, T’Challa ceded the throne as well as the title of Black Panther to his sister, Shuri, after fighting a war with Doctor Doom and Latveria for Wakanda’s Vibranium supply. The war was won, but it was at the cost of the Vibranium itself. Needing soul-searching of his own, he took Daredevil’s place as the protector of Hell’s Kitchen. Black Panther became the Man Without Fear.
T’Challa takes on a new civilian identity as well in the hopes of connecting with the people of Hell’s Kitchen. Unfortunately, Shadowland also left a power vacuum in the criminal underworld, and a new crime lord known as Vlad the Impaler begins to wreak havoc across the borough.
For this review, we’ll be reading the Black Panther: The Man Without Fear Vol. 1 collection, which consists of six issues. Oh, and the weird numbering on these comics is due to the fact that Marvel continued using the Daredevil numbering for the series. Daredevil was using its “real” numbering at the time. Black Panther isn’t even at #200 at the time of writing this review.
Man Without Fear brings a very different vibe to the Black Panther series. Naturally, it more resembles a Daredevil comic more than anything from Christopher Priest or Reginald Hudlin. There isn’t a focus on politics or matters of state. There is only protecting Hell’s Kitchen.
My beloved Luke Cage is a significant supporting player in this arc. Being the man who prefers to look after the little guy, Luke frequently reminds T’Challa that this isn’t about him. Hell’s Kitchen needs a protector and has concerns beyond the former king “finding himself” again.
Vlad the Impaler is a decent rogue, too. He’s a man of power and influence as well as the ability to supercharge objects with volatile energy. Think Gambit with a Dracula motif. Vlad is given moments of humanity, like when he at one point thinks that the Black Panther has hurt his wife and flies into a rage.
T’Challa himself maintains a very pensive and humble personality throughout the comic. While there is arrogance in his motivation for doing this, he has still laid himself low and wants to learn the ways of Hell’s Kitchen. It’s also cool to see a character go through the process of starting again like this. Though this was still 45-year-old character at the time, this really did feel like a starting point for a new hero.
In keeping with the “back-to-basics” theme, the fight sequences are primarily low-concept and mostly consist of brawling. Vlad throws in some super-powered shenanigans, but it’s mostly back-alley brawls and fisticuffs.
It looks great, too. Francesco Francavilla, who handles most of the art in this comic, brings the low-fi and shadow-heavy noir vibe this comic really needed. He also colors his issues, and the result is a gorgeously dark world of reds, blacks, and grays. Jefte Palo returns for an issue, and he keeps the motif going with barely a hitch. Jean-Francois Beaulieu provides the coloring for that issue, and he nails it too.
Black Panther: Man Without Fear Vol. 1 brings a new flavor to the story of T’Challa. However, he still feels like the man we know and love; he is only in a new environment and facing new challenges. This chapter gets a recommendation too. Check it out.
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