I've made no secret about my personal struggles with trying to completely embrace Black Panther: The Man Without Fear while it was shoving T'Challa into the Daredevil mold where he does not belong. However, since the changeover to Black Panther: The Most Dangerous Man Alive, writer David Liss has really been bringing our hero up and out of that narrow focus, and it's a shame that this book has already been cancelled just when it feels like it's finally on the right track – namely, bringing Wakanda and the world stage back into the former king's life, once again making him feel like T'Challa and not just another New York vigilante.
Yet, he's still going up against the Kingpin and a bunch of ninjas while teaming up with Luke Cage and the Falcon, so it feels like the best of both worlds here. Plus, you can't go wrong with hearkening back to the much-beloved Christopher Priest-era with T'Challa's constant master strategies. Hell, even the art from Michael Avon Oeming brings to mind Mike Manley's work on Priest's Enemy of the State arc, with its well-executed cartoonish style.
In Black Panther: The Most Dangerous Man Alive #528 (why they're still using Daredevil's numbering, I don't know), the Kingpin is living in Shadowland and controlling The Hand, and he's been trying to strongarm the board members of the Bank of Wakanda to give him control and thus millions of acres of land as well, so he can expand his empire to rule an entire nation. You'll remember Wakanda is currently suffering massive economic damage thanks to the results of Doomwar (which you should read) and the loss of all its vibranium, thus it's ripe for this kind of chicanery. Or so Wilson Fisk thought. Targeting Wakanda has lifted T'Challa out of his provincial 'go-it-alone-to-prove-myself' mentality and brought back that guy who knows how to think three steps ahead of everybody else and completely run the game on whatever jackhole thinks he can mess with the homeland.
God, I missed this guy.
There are still differences in tone, naturally, as T'Challa doesn't have to be regal and enigmatic all the time, and is allowed to actually have some banter with Cage in the midst of fighting ninjas, as well as with his own sister Shuri, who is amusing in her ability to shift back and forth effortlessly between Wakandan Big Talk and casual snarky lingo. He's even good at trading barbs with the Kingpin during a big fight, completely putting him off his game. Fisk's attempt to be unpredictable by having a crapload of ninjas attack the Wakandan Royal Palace backfires, because Wakandans are badasses. He may be the Kingpin of Crime, but Wilson, you're out of your element when dealing with these people. Perhaps even moreso than you are with running a ninja clan.
So Liss has finally found the magic combination of Panther uniqueness and Panther streetwiseness that makes his story click so much better than it had seemed to before this arc. Perhaps I was wrong, or at least too hasty, to be so frustrated with the Hell's Kitchen vigilante aspects of the early going of his run, as it makes a bit more sense now that it's built to this rebirth of what makes T'Challa such a singular and compelling character. Maybe he had to go through that stuff to get to where he is now – the master manipulator that was always the coolest, but with the sense of flair and good (or at least decent) humor that he had at his inception back in the Stan Lee/Jack Kirby days – the same attitude that he'll fully regain in the future, when he becomes the Happy Pants Panther.
Alas, I was so concerned that nobody would bring the Panther back to what made me a fan of his in the first place that I felt compelled to keep shouting about it. And perhaps that helped lead to the unfortunate cancellation of this series, which ends with the next issue. We don't know what the future holds for T'Challa. Which side will he take in the big Avengers vs. X-Men war, since he's an Avenger and his wife is an X-Man? WIll he even be remembered in all the commotion? Let's hope so. But for now, Liss looks to be poised to send the Black Panther out on a really kick-ass high note, and if he's actually able to go through with dismantling Fisk's entire status quo, then it's a victory and a respect well and truly earned.
CRAVE ONLINE RATING: 9/10