ďThe Last Iron Fist Story: Part 1Ē
Writers: Ed Brubaker & Matt Fraction
Artists: David Aja (p), Travel Foreman, Derek Fridolfs (i), Matt Hollingsworth (colors)
Publisher: Marvel Comics
ďI am the Iron Fist. I hold back the storm when nothing else can.Ē
Ed Brubaker and Matt Fraction really know how to make any character interesting. With Immortal Iron Fist, theyíre taking a lower-tier character in Danny Rand and giving him the chance to try and carry another series. Accompanied by the gorgeous art of David Aja, I think they just might have a hit on their hands. Thereís just so much beauty in Ajaís storytelling Ė from the fight sequence in the opening pages against a horde of HYDRA soldiers to the simple boardroom sequences, he manages to switch the pace beautifully.
Thereís a couple of great moments in this book that really jumped out at me. A small sequence at Rand Industries where Danny turns down an offer by a Chinese group to buy some of Randís rapid-transit trains stating itís not about the money, but rather the record the Chinese have with human rights violations that he has a problem with. This speaks so well of his character, and itís very consistent with his earlier portrayals of honor and nobility. The other is when he finds out that not only were the Chinese representatives not forward with him, but it turns out that the company they work for was a front for HYDRA. Little sequences like these just echo how solid storytelling can make a book work.
I donít know what more I can say about this book. Brubaker, Fraction and Aja have a real hit on their hands here, and I predict it wonít be long before this is one of Marvelís top-selling titles. Itís just that good. Buy it. You wonít regret it.
Plot: Iron Fist takes on Hydra, while Danny Rand refuses to work with a Chinese corporation on a major project for his company, angering his CEO Jeryn Hogarth.
Comments: Brubaker does here what heís been doing in Uncanny X-Men and Daredevil: taking whatís best in the successful versions of the characters, and augmenting them with new adventures that build on whatís gone before. I have no idea why the John Byrne illustrated Iron Fist series failed after only fifteen wonderful issues (the one that debuted Sabretooth, and the finale guest-starring the X-Men are still valuable), yet then Power Man ran for another seventy-five issue once Chris Claremont added Iron Fist to the cast. Iron Fistís formula has always been a market-driven, unlikely and yet strangely enjoyable one.
In the wake of Bruce Lee and Blaxploitation movies, Marvel wanted an urban super-hero with martial arts skills. So they had a young blonde man emerge on the scene (and guest-star with Spider-Man, among others) whose mystical Asian origins had to do with being orphaned, and then raised in a mythical city of warriors. Itís silly and pulpy, and Brubaker preserves all of it here, including the fact that Rand was an heir to an industrial fortune, with troubles galore in the boardroom as well as the battlefield. He seems to have dropped the betraying partners, the Meachums, but heís added something as well.
Borrowing from the Buffy series and other sources, we now learn that Rand wasnít the first Iron Fist (whose power comes from a ritual confrontation with the dragon Shou-Lao), but is only the current one, in an ancient line of warriors with purposes and duties larger than their own short lives. Flashbacks to these earlier heroes complicate the Iron Fist myth, and expand it.
The battle sequences are darkly moody brawls on urban rooftops by Aja. His heavy black inks recall Maleev or Lark or other recent purveyors of gritty hand-to-hand combat. While supporting characters beyond Hogarth donít appear this issue, Luke, Misty and Colleen are mentioned, and an old villain lurks about. Just seeing Hogarth was enough to let me know Brubaker knows his Iron Fist (even if Jeryn seems to have lost his all-female staff of Bond Girl bodyguardsóoh, the seventies).
In one issue Brubaker and Fraction capture what was essential about Iron Fist before (mysticism, action-packed battles, robot foes like ďMechagorgonĒ) and promise to up the stakes on the very colorful life led by a fairly normal, bland young man. The last page reveal is suitably enigmatic, promising more to come from Dannyís newly mysterious heritage. There are challenges ahead to keep this rather reactive character vital, but this is a solid beginning that could lead to a new era of greatness.
Everyone take note: Brubaker and Fractionís Immortal Iron Fist is how you re-launch a title. Itís action-packed, witty, and, above all, holds promise for some truly epic story-telling. It begins with Rand tearing through legions of Hydra drones, and, oh, how Ajaís art depicts the mayhem. Necks crack, faces get kicked, and Randís fist explodes. Itís beautiful (sniff). The reason for the battle is told through brief flashbacks, and by the time the issue ends, itís clear that the writers are out to prove that we actually know very little about Iron Fistís power.
And thatís why you re-launch a title.
Iron Fist has forever been on the B-list of heroes in the Marvel Universe, attributable to any number of reasons: his limited interaction with the rest of the Universe; the perception that heís part of a set (with Luke Cage); or perhaps it lies in why he was created: to cash in on the martial arts craze of the 70ís. Once that fad petered out, Iron Fist was just another hero who could fight. The concepts that he was based on really didnít matter to those not interested in eastern spiritualism/chi/martial arts. And so he faded into the background.
Still, I always liked the character. I remember distinctly reading the story of Iron Fistís death in the 1980s and regretting that I hadnít been reading more Power Man and Iron Fist tales. And it was too late now. But then, sometime in the 90s (I had stopped reading while in college, and, as I understand it, didnít miss a heck of a lot), Marvel brought him back using one of the most egregious cheats Iíve ever read about; I mean, I was embarrassed for the writers who came up with the idea (if youíre unfamiliar with it, check out Marvel or Wikipedia for the details). But Danny Rand was back, and since then has appeared in a few series without much real import because Iron Fist was still showing the same limitations.
This series could change that. Brubaker and Fractionís series is examining something larger than Danny Rand: theyíre tackling the Iron Fist mythos. They recognize that this character has a history that goes beyond just Danny Rand; itís a family affair, for one, and two, the Shou-Lao force which Rand controls is timeless and undying. This direction will be important for this seriesí survival Ė Iron Fist fighting villain after villain from arc to arc canít sustain this character because of the limitations of Randís powers, which indeed we see with brutal honesty in the very first issue.
From Captain America to Daredevil to Uncanny X-Men and now to Iron Fist, Brubakerís writing is raising the bar for every title Marvel puts out. But despite the number of titles heís working on, the quality is there every time. Heck, at this point Iíd pull a Brother Voodoo title if Brubaker was involved. And the most impressive aspect about the number of titles heís writing for is this: all of them have their own feel Ė Iron Fist is not a mystical Daredevil, for example (Civil War storyline be damned). And for this reason, Iron Fist is one of the best comics Iíve read this year, and it has me excited about all the possibilities open to the character.
Everyone take note: Iron fist is finally moving up to the A-list.
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