Liss & Francavilla Relocate BLACK PANTHER: MAN WITHOUT FEAR

Liss and Francavilla On BLACK PANTHER

Marvel's announcement earlier this week that the ongoing Daredevil title would be renamed Black Panther: The Man Without Fear with December's issue #513 — and that T'Challa, King of Wakanda, would become the Guardian of Hell's Kitchen — got a lot of fans talking. 

Fittingly, the book has a buzzworthy creative team. Writing Black Panther: The Man Without Fear is novelist David Liss, known for his acclaimed historical fiction novels A Conspiracy of Paper, The Whiskey Rebels and last year's The Devil's Company. Francesco Francavilla provides art, recently of Wildstorm's Garrison and Dynamite's The Green Hornet: Year One.

Newsarama contacted both Liss and Francavilla to learn more about Black Panther's new path, how Francavilla will balance this series and the Detective Comics co-feature over at DC, and get some assurance that the comic won't be Coming to America with Marvel superheroes.

Black Panther: The Man Without Fear #513 cover by Simone Bianchi.

Newsarama: David, Francesco, what are your own personal "histories" with the Black Panther character? How familiar were you with the character before starting work on this series? Any favorite stories, maybe a certain point in the history of the character you're looking at for inspiration?

David Liss: I've always enjoyed the character, and I think I was pretty familiar with him, but I never imagined myself writing a Black Panther story if only because I found the Wakandan setting intimidating. I loved a lot of the stuff Christopher Priest did with BP. Those books were sharp, engaging and funny, and BP himself came across as all kinds of scary bad. But, that said, I want to have a very different take than those books because Priest always made those stories about other characters, keeping T'Challa distant and mysterious. I liked how Reginald Hudlin and Jonathan Maberry wanted to make him a more knowable, human character, and I definitely plan to build on the T'Challa they built up in their runs.

Francesco Francavilla: I read a few Black Panther arcs back in the day, when I was still in Italy (in trade paperback format) and have been following his adventures also in recent years here in the US so I was very excited to be part of a long tradition of talented BP artists, a tradition started by the "King" Jack Kirby himself.

Black Panther: The Man Without Fear #513 variant cover.

 On a related note, what personally drew you to wanting to work with the character?

Liss: The minute I read the premise for the new series, I knew I wanted to work on this project. I love the idea of writing about a character in a strange environment where he doesn't quite know all the rules, out of his element, in over his head, learning to deal with a totally new skill set. This is a great opportunity to write the kind of character-driven comics I love.

 David, this is the obvious question, but one worth asking — how has your career as a novelist prepared or informed you for the current job of writing Black Panther: Man Without Fear? Your specialty — even in your first comic book work for Marvel — is historical fiction, and this is clearly set in the modern day, so it's a departure for you on at least a couple of levels.

Liss: The great thing about writing historical fiction is that it prepares you to write almost anything, because you have to be able to imagine how people you can never know would deal with circumstances you can never experience. We can say with any certainty how people who lived in the distant past spoke or thought or interacted with their world, so in many ways, historical novelists have to do a lot of (well-informed!) fabrication. I'm simply extending my skill set to the world of superheroes and costumed vigilantes. Beyond that, my novels are generally filled with despicable people doing terrible things, and I love writing about protagonists who live by their own code and take matters into their own hands. I'd also add that I've previously written fiction with a contemporary setting and horror stories, so I love moving into new settings and genres.

Interior page from Black Panther: The Man Without Fear #513.

That said, as noted, this isn't your first foray into comics. Had you been anticipating getting the chance to work further in the world of comics after your experience writing the Phantom Reporter in last year's Daring Mystery Comics 70th Anniversary Special?

Liss: Absolutely. I love working in this medium, and I have other projects in development at Marvel and elsewhere. My goal is to become a guy who writes novels and comics, not to be seen as a novelist who dabbles in comics.

Nrama: Francesco, this is your first work for Marvel — how important is that to you as an artist? Are you a pretty big Marvel fan?

Francavilla: I am a pretty big fan of good books and good characters, and Marvel has quite a few books and quite a few iconic legendary characters, so that got me pretty excited. I have to confess, though, that technically this is not my first work with Marvel. I have been working on several film and TV features for Marvel in the past as a storyboard artist. I worked on the Ultimate Avengers animated movie and on TV animated series like Wolverine and the X-Men and Avengers: Earth’s Mightiest Heroes, so I got a chance to draw Wolverine, Mystique, Professor Xavier, Thor, Beta Ray Bill, Toad and many more cool Marvel characters.

Interior page from Black Panther: The Man Without Fear #513.

 And a lot of people are curious about your schedule — you're doing this, and also signed up for the Commissioner Gordon co-feature in Detective Comics over at DC Comics, which start around the same time as Black Panther: The Man Without Fear. People aren’t used to seeing an artist on two books at once. Are you going to be able to do both? Was it a matter of being far enough ahead on the Commissioner Gordon stuff that you were able to take on this assignment?

Francavilla: I have been known for some time to be quite a fast artist, even the legendary Steranko told me that once. I actually started on this assignment before I got offered the Commissioner Gordon co-feature, so I have been doing some work before either of these projects were finally announced. That's how it usually works. For my creator-owned Garrison, the book was announced after I finished all six issues. So, to answer the question that many are asking, yes, I can handle both books and also keep doing some covers for other titles I have been working on for the last year or two.

 David, I kind of asked this a little bit earlier, but how familiar were you with current Marvel continuity and what's happened to Black Panther and the Marvel Universe as a whole lately before taking on the gig? I know it's cliché to expect someone from outside of comics to not be totally up to speed on the intricacies of Marvel happenings, but just wondering what kind of research was involved.

Liss: There was some research involved, but I am a comics reader and I do keep up with much of the Marvel continuity. Also, I'd been following Black Panther and DoomWar anyhow because Jonathan Maberry is a friend and I enjoy his work.

Interior page from Black Panther: The Man Without Fear #513.

Nrama: Moving to the comic itself — what can we expect to see starting in December? It seems that a major theme will be T'Challa being out of his normal Wakandan settings and comforts and in NYC.

Liss: That is certainly an issue, but there won't be any scenes of him bumbling around the supermarket or subway station as he tries to fathom how these simple peasants live their lives. Most of the elements of his alienation and lack of familiarity will come through his interactions with other characters. This book will not be like the old Eddie Murphy movie, Coming to America. T'Challa has been in New York many times before and he knows his way around. The real difference this time is that he doesn't have his powers, wealth, or technology to depend on, and he has no monarchy to return to. This time he's working without a net.

Nrama: What about the conflicts he'll face? Will we see him taking on the same type of street-level villains that Daredevil would deal with? Might some of his traditional opponents make their way to Hell's Kitchen?

Liss: I love the street-level stuff. I love watching a character like this take out thugs he clearly outmatches and trade blows with guys who are a genuine match. As far as traditional DD villains go, Hell's Kitchen has had a pretty serious shake-up. The first arc will not focus on traditional DD bad guys, but I think T'Challa is going to need to be ready when some well known villains start moving back.

Interior page from Black Panther: The Man Without Fear #513.

Nrama: What about a supporting cast? Who's going to be around — if anyone — to help ease him into this new role?

Liss: This is probably as good a time as any to out myself as a long-time Daredevil fan. I started reading Daredevil back in the Miller years, and it's been my favorite Marvel title since. So no one should interpret the scarceness of traditional DD supporting characters as some kind of lack of familiarity with, or interest in, these characters. I decided pretty early on that it would be silly to have T'Challa start a legal practice with Foggy Nelson, hire Dakota North to do some sleuthing, and score tips on the underworld off Ben Urich. That said, some of those things may happen in the future, but we wanted to establish our own identity for this title from the beginning, not make this Daredevil with a different character wearing the horns. So there will be mostly new supporting characters for now, but Hell's Kitchen is a New York neighborhood, and that means sooner or later T'Challa is bound to run into some familiar faces.

Nrama: Francesco, before the announcement, you drew all five of the "Who Will Be The New Man Without Fear?" teaser images — was it cool to be involved in that kind of marketing campaign (and confounding readers in the process)?

Francavilla: That was a really cool assignment, especially considering the fact it gave me the chance to tackle a few characters I have never drawn before. As an artist I always welcome the chance to put my spin on or have a stab at drawing as many characters as I can. Once [series editor] Bill Rosemann asked me to draw these teasers, I thought to add an extra Easter Egg by making them fit together as a puzzle. Which reminds me I still have to reveal a piece …

Excited for Liss and Francavilla's take?

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