“The Seven Capital Cities of Heaven, Part 1”
Writers: Ed Brubaker, Matt Fraction
Artists: David Aja, Roy Allan Martinez
Publisher: Marvel Comics
Plot: Iron Fist wants to rescue Jeryn Hogarth from Hydra. But duty calls in K’un-Lun, and you don’t say no to Lei Kung the Thunderer or the August Personage in Jade.
Comments: Brubaker and Fraction deepen the Iron Fist myth with every issue. This new arc has a bit of video-game silliness to it; things are as complicated as the most esoteric role playing game at this point, with seven heavenly cities (each with a disturbingly different aspect) and seven champions who must compete in a tournament to determine the pecking order in heaven, all because that’s a pretty nifty structure for an extended story arc. Brubaker and Fraction are writing "Iron Fist Mortal Combat," almost as if they’re setting up the comic for the marketing push it’s always deserved.
Hey, I like video games as much as most comic fans, and in this case the ever-complicated myth seems to add a lot to the Eastern mumbo jumbo that has always characterized this title, actually making more use of the potential than many of Iron Fist’s past plots (which often treat him just as a street fighter) have done. Brubaker does his homework for projects like this, and damn if he hasn’t found time for Danny’s love life (and his lone wolf persona), his great wealth (and his boyish simplicity), his Americanisms (and his full-on commitment and immersion in Eastern beliefs). Danny’s a mass of contradictions, and Fraction and Brubaker are willing to use all of them.
The Hydra war was fun for the last two issues, especially when the Daughters of the Dragon and Luke Cage showed up to provide some street cred. And the exploration of the history of the Iron Fist that Danny now possesses has been fascinating. But this issue we’re looking forward not back. Davos, his long-time enemy, the man who coveted the Iron Fist but proved unworthy of it, has made new alliances, cast out of K’un-Lun and into the hearths of its enemies. K’un-Lun, in a pretty accurate conception, is sort of like Sparta in the recent film: a city of noble warriors, with a very strict code of conduct.
The other cities, and their champions, are much more corrupt in aspect. There’s little that’s heavenly about most of them: there’s a big sumo wrestler, a prince of thieves, a decrepit hooded figure, and two sexy femme fatales (calling Gong Li and Maggie Cheung for the film version!). And of course Davos, angry and prideful, the ultimate traitor. The cliffhanger humorously implies a rather schematic sporting match. Like all of Brubaker’s other books, this one relies on formula. It’s just that he and Fraction are smart enough to pick the best formula for the project at hand (Iron Fist should be fighting, every issue, yes?) and enact it with enough creative details to keep it interesting.
This issue the details are in a very interesting framing flashback with Danny’s father, who discovered the mystical city when Danny was still a child. Fraction even adopts the stilted second-person narrative that characterized Iron Fist’s earliest solo series (a device that served at once to make him seem both disciplined and detached, as if he considered everything he encountered, and always made rational decisions about how to face chaos, based on his exceptional training) in a witty homage.
They have jettisoned one aspect of the old days that I miss, though. Jeryn Hogarth has been kidnapped, and his mother is being tortured; Danny’s chosen CEO seems completely without resources of his own, and that wasn’t the case back in the day. Maybe it was a cheesy James Bondian bit of fluff, but Jeryn always traveled with his own bodyguard cadre of deadly supermodels. If the writers can reinvigorate everything else about Danny’s pulpy, contradictory roots, surely they can update the femizon police force. It would have been fun seeing them kick Hydra’s ass, too.
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