Writers who started out doing other things are showing up more and more often in comics these days, it seems like, and David Liss is a good example. He became well known for writing historical mystery novels (I haven't read any of them yet, but I plan to get around to it), so at first he seems like an odd choice to take over the writing chores on a superhero comic. But he's the scripter of BLACK PANTHER, THE MAN WITHOUT FEAR, and the trade paperback URBAN JUNGLE collects the six issues of his first storyline on that title.
As long-time Marvel fans might guess from that title, T'Challa, the Black Panther, former king of the African nation of Wakanda, has abdicated his throne, moved to
, and taken over from Daredevil as the protector of the Hell's Kitchen neighborhood. This storyline has its roots in things that happened while I wasn't reading comics, so I wasn't clear on all the details, but I got up to speed quickly enough. And the set-up is really pretty simple, as I just summarized. T'Challa works as the manager of a diner, and in his spare time he battles a super-powered Romanian crime lord known as Vlad. Liss throws in a nice twist, though, because in addition to all the organized crime shenanigans and superhero battles (and guest appearances by Spider-Man and Luke Cage), there's also a serial killer roaming Hell's Kitchen, apparently selecting victims at random. New York
Liss does a good job of managing the different threads of this plot, and his scripts are well written. There's a lot of dialogue, a lot of captions, and although these stories take longer to read than many comics stories do, which isn't a bad thing as far as I'm concerned, they don't come across as wordy. Those of you who are really long-time Marvel readers may recall a previous Black Panther series that ran in a title called JUNGLE ACTION. That one was written by Don McGregor, who established a tradition of densely packed but very well written scripts. Liss doesn't take that to the extremes that McGregor did, but I still find his work here refreshing compared to some of the more bare-bones writers in the comics field these days.
The art is by Francesco Francavilla. It's a little dark and murky, but what would you expect, considering the setting? I'm not a big fan, but it's okay, and there are some pages that are very effective.
I almost started buying this title when it first came out but decided not to. Now that I've read the first collection, I may have to change my mind. It's pretty darned good stuff if you're a fan of the grittier side of superhero comics.