Monday, January 24, 2011

Fantastic Four #587 Hits Stores Tomorrow!

Kello here with a short reminder that Fantastic Four #587, the big "death" issue, hits stores tomorrow! Yes, I know tomorrow is Tuesday, and Wednesday is officially "new comic day." But Marvel is going all out in the gimmick department and releasing this issue for public consumption a day early. So if you're lucky enough to live near a comic shop, go and pick up a copy. If not for yourself, do it for me. My copy won't arrive until the weekend....

So until my copies of FF get hand delivered by Stan Lee himself, vive la fantastique!

Sunday, January 23, 2011

Hell's Kitchen is For Heroes- Black Panther #514

Black Panther: The Man Without Fear! #514
Writer: David Liss

Artist: Francesco Francavilla

What happened:
We open this issue with a familiar scene for any comic book fan- violence against a woman in a dark alley. Is it sad that as a fandom we're desensitized to this? Thankfully in this instance the woman being accosted is actually in on the assault, as she and her group of attackers are trying to lure out the "Man without fear."
As it turns out, the group of thug improv actors is working for none other than Vlad the Impaler, the crime lord we met last issue. Although Vlad is not waiting with the group, his bumbling son is there to take down our hero.

Biding their time and waiting for T'Challa, the attackers are relieved when our he finally reveals himself. Thinking they have the drop on BP, the baddies train their laser sights on him. But of course BP has come prepared, telling the thugs he killed the charges in their weapons while they were on break. Let this be a lesson: always take your weapons with you when you go on break.
The men scatter, and T'Challa grabs Vlad the Impaler's son for some alone time on the roof.

As BP dangles the son of Vlad over the building Batman-style, he tells the ruffian that Daredevil had a code against killing, but he didn't share this sentiment. BP drops Vlad's son on to a ledge, leaving the gangster to return home to tell his daddy.

We cut to a scene with T'Challa heading back to his apartment, contemplating the death of his neighbor from last issue. As he silently mulls over the kind of environment he has immersed himself in, T'Challa is intercepted by his hottie neighbor Iris. She tells T'Challa that she's a social worker and she's helping the son of the murdered neighbor. She also tells T'Challa that anytime he wants to come over to her place, he's more than welcome. As Mel Brooks once said, "It's good to be king." Apparently T'Challa is a better person than Mel Brooks, because he declines the offer to get bizay.

The scene shifts to the Devil's Kitchen Diner , where the two employees we met last time, Brian and Sofija, rush to meet their manager at the door. Both of them warn T'Challa of a big scary looking dude waiting in his office, and T'Challa proceeds with caution. But instead of a Klaw, Psycho Man, or some other Marvel supervillain waiting in the wings, the Panther finds none other than Luke Cage sitting in his chair!The two converse, and T'Challa is none too happy to have other heroes interfering with his emo mission of self discovery. After all, it's hard to brood with Luke Cage all up in your face. Cage's sensibilities are offended, and he leaves in a huff (but not before insulting the diner's food!). It seems T'Challa didn't cover his trail as well as he thought...

From here we see Vlad the Impaler deducing the man without fear's base of operations by looking at all the sightings of the hero, and planning to hit a bank in the nearby area to draw out his prey. He does so, just as T'Challa and his employees are sitting and chatting.

The group goes outside to see what's going on, and Brian the busboy is taken hostage along with a police officer. Vlad then goes on to use Brain as bait, and T'Challa fights him at a distance. The Impaler knocks his hostages from the roof, and our intrepid hero catches his friend just in time. But all is not well as Vlad throws one last charged up stick, and blows up the side of the building where Black Panther and his friend landed. The issue ends with Brian dead, and Sofija spotting T'Challa on the roof above with a torn mask. Geez, that went sour on him pretty fast, didn't it?
Thoughts: Reading the comic the first time was enjoyable enough, but after typing this review, I'm starting to notice a few frustrations. First of all, the Batman comparisons are nonstop in this book. Between the dark visuals, the vigilante angle, and the street level crime, there is really no new storytelling ground being broken here. The only unique twist to the vigilante premise in this instance is that T'Challa is actually kind of bad at it.

Also after typing this review, I noticed how eerily similar this issue was to last issue. I know I just did the other review yesterday, but I feel like I'm Bill Murray in Groundhog's Day. Here's the plot: T'Challa foils Vlad's son, Vlad plots revenge, T'challa's neighbor hits on him, he declines, and then someone T'Challa knows dies. That's BOTH of these issues in a nutshell.

But I'm a forgiving reader, and there are some bright spots in this issue that I'd be remiss to overlook. The best part of this issue by far was the appearance by everyone's favorite indestructible Avenger and Thunderbolt, Luke Cage. I've noticed Cage is written one of two ways, as a cliche jive talkin brotha (as seen in Cage's 70's appearances, and the Reginald Hudlin Black Panther), or as a street smart "scared straight" superhero (like the one seen in Bendis' Avengers or Fraction's Immortal Iron Fist). In this issue we get the more ghetto version, and for the purposes of this story, I like it. I like it only because Cage is all attitude. Of course if he was like this all the time, he would be a despicable character.

And while it appears T'Challa's busboy friend is dead and his secret identity is blown, it adds an element of unpredictability to the storyline. It was established last issue that the girl from the diner has ties to Serbian Nationalists, so if she knows T'Challa's secret, the question becomes how she will use the knowledge. My guess is that since she's Serbian and Vlad's Romanian, there will be some kind of bad blood there, and Sofija will become the Microchip to T'Challa's Punisher. ...Or should I say the Alfred to his Batman?

Score: 3 Dead Busboys out of 5 (would have been 2.5 if not for Cage!)

Saturday, January 22, 2011

Hell's Kitchen is for Heroes- Black Panther #513

Hey FFans, it’s your friend Kello, welcoming you back to Four Freedoms for the debut of a frantic special feature that’s sure to become an instant fan favorite!

As many of my loyal readers know (ok, I’m sure no one out there really knows or cares), I have an ever passing fascination with the Black Panther. Having first appeared within the hallowed pages of Stan Lee and Jack Kirby’s legendary run on Fantastic Four, the Panther is forever tied to Marvel’s first family. That makes him of particular interest to a blogger such as me.

While recent years have seen the warrior king of Wakanda revamped as an international diplomat, replaced by his sister, depowered at the hands of Dr. Doom, and transformed into an urban vigilante, there’s no denying the staying power of T’Challa within the Marvel Universe. Much like DC’s Wonder Woman property, there seems to be an undercurrent of support for the Panther, but every year or so the character is taken in some new direction that deters a lot of fans.

Marvel’s latest attempt at reinventing the Panther’s persona has come in the form of the newly coined “Black Panther: The Man Without Fear” series. The title is continued from the recently concluded “Daredevil: the Man Without Fear” series, presenting readers with a swap of sorts. As the hero Daredevil hits the road to do some much needed soul searching (and shake off the disappointment that was the mini-series known as Shadowland), a changing of the guard takes place in his New York neighborhood known as Hell’s Kitchen. It seems T’Challa is also facing an identity crisis of sorts, and he agrees to serve as the protector of Daredevil’s old territory.

And thus we have the premise for Black Panther’s new series, as well as our new feature here at FF Plaza--- Hell’s Kitchen is for Heroes! In which I’ll take a brief look at the happenings of T’Challa’s in his new urban jungle. So without further rambling….

Black Panther: The Man Without Fear! #513

"Urban Jungle"

Writer: David Liss

Artist: Francesco Francavilla

We start this issue in the midst of a fray. The hero know as Black Panther is doing his best dark knight impression as he beats some two bit thugs in search of their boss man named "Vlad." (Points to this comic already for naming the villain Vlad, because obviously only evil people have that name) Anyway, as BP busies himself with the task of cracking skulls, he finds the son of Vlad waiting for him. Lots of guns fire on T'Challa and our hero is left in a hailstorm of bullets...

The story jumps back 3 weeks prior, as Matt Murdock gives T'Challa the okay to watch over Hell's Kitchen. We as readers also find out that the lawyer Foggy Nelson, Daredevil's BFF (big fat friend), has set T'Challa up with a false identity.

Now known as Mr. Okonkwo, T'Challa takes the job of managing a diner called "Devil's Kitchen." We see him interview some new applicants, including a girl with some Serbian insurgent tattoos (hint: that plot point WILL come back to bite him).
Our hero even calls his wife Storm and tells her that he cannot have any contact. Being an understanding wifey, Storm tells BP that she will respect his wishes. This of course would be fine, except there's a hottie across the hall named Iris who's totally jocking T'Challa. But who wouldn't?

As T'Challa thinks about his new life, he reflects on new mission, which is to find his true strength without the resources of a king or the strength of the panther god. To this end, T'Chall is no longer even going by the moniker "Black Panther", as he tells a random pimp "I shall be known by my deeds and not a name." That's a lot different than "I'm Batman."

We then jump over to Vlad, who is taking care of some business. We find out that he has energy based powers given to him through a Romanian super soldier type experiment. Vlad tells his tale to a lackey who screwed up, and ends up impaling the dude to really get his "point" across.

With the exposition of the issue given, we jump back to the Black Panther in the hailstorm of bullets. He cuts the power to the room, jacks some dudes up, and gets info about Vlad out of Vlad's son. T'Challa returns home and finds one of his neighbors has been murdered, illustrating the dangers of living in his newly adopted home. The issue ends with Vlad's son apologizing and the Impaler contemplating what to do about this new man without fear...

Thoughts: I was very skeptical of this series, especially after reading the 4 page preview online. But a few fellow reviewers gave this title a surprising amount of praise, and I had to check it out. After reading this introduction issue, part of me still has trouble swallowing the premise. On one hand, it's a noble and heroic thought that the Panther would give up his very identity to become a "commoner." That T'Challa wants to better prove his mettle as a man and hero does ring true to a sense of nobility.

On the other hand, it seems very far fetched that such a well known public figure could just camouflage himself as part of the public with so few repercussions. The way everyone in this story services the plot really make the comic feel out of sorts, especially T'Challa's decision to cut ties with his wife. While we see seeds of T'Challa's failure in keeping his life a secret being planted already, it was a little too convenient for him to just fall off the face of the Earth.

The two major compliments I'll give this issue are 1.) We get an appearance by Matt Murdock. This gives a sense of closure to the previous volume of Daredevil and truly passes the torch from one hero to another. Although BP and Murdock are pretty emo, the scene with the two of them together lends a lot of credibility to Marvel's new directions for these characters. And 2.) The art is dark and perfect. T'Challa's new panther suit is sleek yet militaristic, giving it a very modern twist. Check out the scans!

Score: 3 Beaten Pimps out of 5