Friday, September 30, 2011

UNDERCOVER REVIEWS: Black Panther: The Man Without Fear

A lot has been written about historical fiction author David Liss and his recent turn to pulp in Mystery Men from Marvel Comics. While that book was great (and will certainly get a review in a future edition of this column), the focus today falls on his other great new pulp book.

I’m talking, of course, about Black Panther: The Man Without Fear.

For the past several years, Marvel’s premiere African hero has been presented as a noble African king and a great technologist. He beat up Captain America and showed that he could take on anyone in the Marvel Universe.

Now things have changed. Banished from his own kingdom, without his panther powers or his high tech weapons, T’Challa agrees to take Daredevil’s place as defender of Hell’s Kitchen, New York. With only a slightly tweaked costume, he sets out to do his duty and prove his worth to himself.

While he establishes a new secret identity as the head of a small diner, he comes into conflict with the criminal now ruling over the area. Vlad “the Impaler” Dinu not only controls his  territory with an iron fist, but he also has the power to generate energy and throw it as deadly javelins.

The first arc is all about Panther rediscovering his powers and learning how to work as a vigilante hero in New York. The six chapters of the story move at a frenetic pace as T’Challa goes from a typical street vigilante to a master strategist working to fight crime in his city.

The conflict ultimately draws in the Panther’s friends, allies and all of Dinu’s extended family, which all boils down to a brutal confrontation between the hero and his new foe.

The story is perfectly paced pulp, even with the few random Marvel hero cameos thrown in. Artist Francesco Francavilla may be the quintessential pulp comic artist, as he regularly shows his pulp influences both inside Black Panther’s pages and on his art blog, aptly named Pulp Sunday.

Black Panther: The Man Without Fear is the perfect title for anyone that likes their pulp characters melded with the superhuman. The first trade collection, “Urban Jungle” collects the Panther’s full battle with Vlad. It’s well worth a purchase. Recommended.

Review by Nick Ahlhelm

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