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!)

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