2010 was a hard year for Daredevil/Matt Murdock. During the Shadowland crossover story, Daredevil/Matt Murdock took over the villainous group of ninjas known as the Hand. While initially he attempted to use the organization for good, Murdock was instead possessed by a demonic entity known as “the Beast of the Hand.” This drove him to commit several unthinkable acts, including killing his perennial foe Bullseye. After the situation stabilized and Murdock recovered from his bout with the Beast, he decided to travel abroad, recognizing his need to “heal and reflect.” Before doing so, though, he asked T’Challa/Black Panther to keep an eye on Hell’s Kitchen.
Written by thriller novelist David Liss and illustrated by Francesco Francavilla, Black Panther: The Man Without Fear follow a particularly tumultuous time in T’Challa’s own life. The hero abdicated the throne of Wakanda following the harrowing events of the 2010 storyline “Doomwar,” which saw saw Doctor Doom attempting to steal the country’s supply of Vibranium. This resulted in a showdown between Doom and Black Panther, whose allies included the Fantastic Four and Deadpool.
After the resolution of that conflict, T’Challa temporarily gave up his kingship, leaving Wakanda in the hands of his sister Shuri and X-Men member Storm, to whom T’Challa was married at the time. Having left behind his kingdom and his family, Black Panther found himself operating as a street-level hero, like Luke Cage and Moon Knight.
This entire sequence of events occurred during a time at Marvel Comics when several such shake-ups were in progress, including the polarizing Spider-Man storyline One More Day, where Peter Parker and his then-wife Mary Jane Watson sacrificed their marital status and all memory of it to the demon Mephisto in exchange for the life of Aunt May. Elsewhere, the Fantastic Four’s Human Torch was killed off, after which that team was rebooted as “the Future Foundation” under the newly christened title FF.
This situation also depowered T’Challa, as he was forced to give up the heart-shaped herb that granted him his powers. In a phone interview with CBR, Liss discussed the choice, saying, “Since I saw this essentially as a story about a man at his lowest point, trying to regain who he his, I was in favor of completely depowering him.” Liss stated that the result was a very “street level” story that he enjoyed writing.
Liss was approached by Marvel with the basic idea of Black Panther operating in place of Daredevil, and then commissioned to create the story from there. “I was given free reign within the context of the aftermath of Shadowlands,” he said. “All those conditions on the ground being what they were, they said, ‘Pitch us, come up with something, and see if we like it.’ I had a fair amount of creative wiggle room.”
The arc concluded in Black Panther: The Most Dangerous Man Alive! #529, in which the titular hero defeated Kingpin in a battle over the mastery of Wakanda. Around this same time, Daredevil returned to Hell’s Kitchen, after which T’Challa returned to Wakanda. This issue was also the last installment of a Black Panther title for four years, as the series was not re-launched until 2016.
Black Panther’s tenure as the defender of Hell’s Kitchen, while short, received praise for introducing the villain Vlad “the Impaler” Dinu, a cunning, super-powered Romanian crime boss. Francavilla’s art and action sequences were also well-received. However, not everyone loved the book. Liss mentioned that depowering T’Challa received mixed reviews from hardcore Black Panther fans. But he and his editors at Marvel had “a lot of conversation” about the subject, ultimately deciding to depower Black Panther as it “made sense narratively.”
Overall, Black Panther’s time as Daredevil was a marked change for the character, transforming him from a king into a street-level hero. While T’Challa hasn’t subbed in for Daredevil again since, the Black Panther definitely proved he was capable of being the Man Without Fear.
Marvel tried something different with Black Panther in 2010, retooling him as a depowered vigilante in conflict with a vicious Romanian mobster.