The Black Panther battled Captain Marvel in the busy market in the heart of Wakanda. The Panther had been there as part of a conference with the new President of his former nation, (1) when this strange simulation of the cosmic hero appeared, blasting through his guards. (2)
Avoiding his power-blasts was easy; making sure to avoid them in such a way that they did not strike any civilians or damage buildings inhabited by those civilians, that was a much more difficult task. If only the Wakandan government had time to see him coming, as they were able to prepare for the invasion of Doombots a few weeks earlier, (3) the villain would have been wiped from the face of the planet before reaching the busy city streets.
Still, he was the Black Panther, leader of the Panther Clan, sworn protector of the Vibranium Mound and Wakanda, both the people and the land on which they lived. He would not allow this violation to go undefended.
The Captain Marvel tilted his head, his smile fading, as he powered up another photonic blast. Black Panther crouched, ready to go on the attack, energy dagger in hand. The Captain Marvel began to spasm, limbs jerking involuntarily. Foam dribbled from his mouth, first white, then greenish.
Whatever it was, the thing that resembled Captain Marvel collapsed and began to rapidly decompose. Someone, somewhere, had shut it down. Black Panther clawed at it with his anti-metal claws, then stared at the goopy residue left behind, the genetic material he would take with him for analysis.
"Bast protect us from ourselves," he whispered as he turned, allowing the surviving members of the security detail to deal with the remains that bubbled and steamed in the street.
Half Kree. Half Titan. A bastard child, born in a laboratory. Some even say he's destined for greatness. Destined to become something above the photonic energy manipulating powerhouse he is right now. He is Genis-Vell. He is Captain Marvel.
Captain Marvel #83
"The Restless King"
Guest-starring the Black Panther!
Writer: John Flint
Webmaster: Liam Gibbs
T'Challa had spent the last week pacing and working in the vast technological jungle underneath Wakanda. He had received word of success from Detective Cole, his White Tiger, in New York. He had saved Dr. Strange from his mysterious coma. (4) Now, the White Tiger was a member of Strange's curious non-team.
This pleased the Panther, who had not slept during the time since the fake Captain Marvel's attack. He had tried to study the genetic tissue himself, but it broke down before analysis could be completed. It broke down into simple proteins. When he tried to study the proteins, they broke down even further, until eventually there was simply nothing left.
He was still dressed in the ceremonial garb of the Black Panther, mask removed. No one disturbed his thoughts to mention the possibility of a bath to the former king. He was still working out implications and applications of the strange residual samples when he thought he heard a buzzing sound.
Spinning on his heel, he saw too late an arc of red energy snake across the room, singeing his shoulder. T'Challa went down, dizzied by the frenzied attack. It felt curiously familiar, and yet
"Klaw," T'Challa said, eyes narrowed, anti-metal claws out, ready to attack as soon as he saw or heard or smelled or felt something, anything, moving.
There was nothing.
T'Challa waited for three minutes in silence, his breathing and heart rate slowed as much as possible given the conditions. When there was no reprisal, he began to wonder if he had hallucinated the attack. A week without sleep, with little food or drink, could make a man nearly mad
That familiar red body reappeared, misshapen, translucent, as though a picture received poorly on a television set. Klaw stared him down, aiming his sonic inducer at his most hated foe.
Normally, the Panther could have leapt aside in time to avoid the sonic-beam. In his exhaustion, he was a fraction of a second slower than he would have otherwise been and it bounced off of him, pounding him against a metal wall with a poom.
Klaw began to laugh as he vibrated towards the fallen Panther. He crackled in and out of existence and growled with displeasure as he tried to maintain his form, annoyed with the possibility of losing his greatest success.
T'Challa rose, his head murky, and gripped his mask, pulling it down over his face once again. It was time to be serious; it was time to let the spirit of the Black Panther lead him as it would, to success or to failure. He put his faith in Bast.
[Outside of spacetime.]
The Surgeon General shouted obscenities at the Suture Artists bobbing through the ether around him. "Another anomaly? More and more of them all the time, popping in and out of existence like antimatter! What's going on here?"
He punched up a randomly selected anomaly on the computer and the huge screen showed Klaw as he vibrated through the Black Panther, nearly shattering his bodily molecules. "This one looks fairly dangerous. Have three Slashers deal with him.
"Tell them to be careful, though. I don't like the look of this one."
Klaw laughed as he watched the Black Panther stagger back onto his feet. He couldn't think, not with his head throbbing, his mind nearly asleep, his body shaking now from the vibrations in the air all around him, not with his most hated foe, the man who killed his father, standing there, gloating, gleefully killing him
"Now," Black Panther said, spinning 360 degrees around, his arm lashing out after a quarter-turn, slicing through Klaw's sonic weapon with his anti-metal claws. The device squawked as sparks flew and Klaw staggered backwards, dumbfounded.
" His voice became inaudible, a vibration.
Klaw exploded around the jungle of technology, ripping through everything, vibrating at such a savage rate that beakers exploded and coils fell, chains shattered with links flying like shrapnel debris.
The Black Panther ducked and curled up to protect himself from the assault, feeling the vibrations in his teeth.
"nnnnn," the room hummed.
"Nnnnnot enough," Klaw said, finally, reformed without his technological aid. He resolidified himself and kicked the Panther in the stomach, knocking him over. "I have absolute control of my energy-form now. I can become hard-noise, solid enough to beat you to death, or I can become vibratory frequency, intangible, and make you explode from within."
The Black Panther rose to fight him, but Klaw proved what he said was true by shifting into pure sound and passing through him. The Black Panther spasmed, painfully falling back to the floor. Klaw solidified once more and laughed.
"I can play with you for as long as I want, now," Klaw said, "No one can save you, Panther. No one."
The Black Panther's eyes widened as he watched. A black-armored being came up behind Klaw, seemingly from out of nowhere, and sliced through his midsection, effectively cutting Klaw in two.
Klaw screamed in pain and confusion as the Slasher went to work on the rest of him, cutting him up with machete-like arms that somehow damaged his sound energy form.
Two more Slashers marched up and went to work on his extremities.
The Black Panther watched in amazement, forcing himself to stay conscious long enough to witness the pyramidal Suture Artists sweep the shattered pieces of Klaw into a tear in the fabric of spacetime. Panther thought he'd finally lost his mind.
As the Slashers turned to exit, the Black Panther finally closed his eyes and passed out.
[One week later.]
T'Challa awoke in his private bedchambers, his medical needs looked after by the best surgeons of Wakanda. The President had made sure that he received the very best care possible. It meant the former king now owed him one.
"You must rest," said the servant who was assigned to keep watch over him. "The doctors said"
"I am the Black Panther," T'Challa replied, limping to the window to view the sunrise. "There are forces at work beyond your ken. Beyond my own, in fact."
Whatever was going on, T'Challa knew it hadn't been an hallucination. Whatever those things were, they were real. Whatever had happened to Klaw had happened. He had felt all along that something had been different, wrong somehow, this time with Klaw.
"It wasn't `my' Klaw," T'Challa whispered to himself in sudden realization. "An alternate, an Other, or
Had the pyramids spoken? He almost thought he heard something, as he drifted out of consciousness
"Anomaly." That was it; that was what they'd said.
"Contact Reed Richards of the Fantastic Four," T'Challa said, "tell him that the king has a most urgent need to conference with him."
"At once, my liege," the servant said, bowing, and then left the room.
T'Challa felt as though his every muscle was about to slough off, but he forced himself to remain on his feet. He still had work to do. Whatever the Panther God had set him up against, he would persevere. For the honor and glory of Wakanda.
"Anomaly," he repeated, tasting the word, and then began to work up a plan of attack, deciding what would be needed for the battles to come.
[To be continued
1. See issues of AMU's Black Panther series for details.
2. This scene takes place immediately after issue #74 of this series.
3. See recent issues of AMU's The Avengers.
4. See recent issues of AMU's The Defenders.
NEXT TIME: THE DIAGNOSIS