Friday, July 10, 2015

You Are Iron Fist -and This is Your Graphic Novel

The Immortal Iron Fist: The Complete Collection, Vol.1
Marvel, 2013
Written by Ed Brubaker and Matt Fraction
Artists: David Aja, Travel Foreman, and others

Karen: Sometimes we actually do read modern comics here at the BAB. Usually it happens when there is some great celestial event, an alignment of the planets, a comet passing through our orbit for the first time in a hundred years -you know, one of the those moments of significance. So it was when I decided to pick up The Immortal Iron Fist: The Complete Collection a few weeks ago. This hefty trade paperback collects Immortal Iron Fist #1-16, and Annual #1, as well as Immortal Iron Fist: Orson Randall  and the Green Mist of Death #1, and parts of Immortal Iron Fist: The Origin of Danny Rand #1 and Civil War: Choosing Sides #1. Whew! It's a whole lot of reading, but it all flows pretty well.It's written by Ed Brubaker and Matt Fraction, but there are a bunch of different artists; the main one is David Aja, who I was unfamiliar with prior to reading this book.

Karen: If you have been coming around these parts for any length of time, you know I am a fan of Bruce Lee, TV's Kung Fu series, and martial arts movies from the 70s in general. I'm also an Iron Fist fan. Because of the choppy distribution back in the day, I never got all of the Marvel Premiere and Iron Fist issues as they hit the stands; I got enough to understand who the character was and to develop an interest in him, but it would take years to fill in all the gaps. One of the most appealing aspects of Iron Fist was his background, with the mystical, mysterious city of K'un Lun where he received his training, and his powers. In Iron Fist's original series, through flashbacks we saw glimpses of this place, of how young orphaned Daniel Rand grew to become a living weapon. But the reveals of Iron Fist's history were, for the most part, unsatisfying and even incongruous. Like many books back in the mid-70s, Iron Fist was plagued, at least early on, by an inconsistent creative team. In Marvel Premiere alone, five different writers pieced together the story of Danny Rand's rebirth. 

Karen: Things improved when he got his own title and Chris Claremont took over the writing reins regularly. But while Claremont slightly expanded on the Iron Fist's origin, the book mostly focused on pedestrian super-hero action. Right before it got cancelled, in issue 14, we got our first taste of what was to be the best Iron Fist story so far -the Steel Serpent saga. It would play out in Marvel Team-Up #s 63 and 64, of all places. Iron Fist would face Davos,  the son of his teacher, Lei Kung the Thunderer, who wanted to steal the power of the Iron Fist from him. Finally we got some real sense of what it meant to be Iron Fist. More than just being another super-hero, being Iron Fist was something Danny Rand had earned, and came with both power and costs.

Karen: This is where this graphic novel comes in and truly fleshes out the backstory of Iron Fist, something I have wanted to see for years. We find out that Danny is just one in a long line of Iron Fists -which makes sense -and we get to see some of those who came before. Due to circumstance, Danny is drawn together with his predecessor, Orson Randall, who was the mentor of Danny's father. It's Orson that opens Danny's eyes to the history of the Iron Fist, as the two of them face mutual enemies, including Davos. Orson sacrifices himself, giving up his chi to Danny, so he will be able to beat Davos eventually. In the course of things, Danny is compelled to return to K'un Lun for a tournament of champions among six other 'immortal cities' and he faces opponents straight out of a Kung Fu fantasy film, with names like Fat Cobra, Prince of Orphans, and Bride of Nine Spiders. Also there is Davos, now known as Steel Phoenix. He is the adopted champion of one of the other cities, joining his grudge to theirs. In the background are two other plots, one involving a revolution against the rule of Yu Ti, the masked leader of K'un Lun, and another enemy on Earth who plans to use a high-speed train launched through a dimensional portal to destroy the  ancient city.

Karen: This might sound like there is a lot going on, and there is. But since it all plays out over 16 -
plus issues, it doesn't feel over-crowded. I will say that I didn't quite get the connections with the train sub-plot until near the end, and the revolution sub-plot seemed a little under-developed. But these are minor complaints. All in all, this was a compelling read. Brubaker and Fraction weave together a tale that feels very pulpy, at home with Doc Savage (indeed, the standalone Orson Randall story is clearly an homage to Doc) more than super-heroes, even though this storyline takes place during the Civil War event (which is mentioned but plays no real role). Danny Rand is given more depth, and learning of the long line (66!) of previous Iron Fists gives him a certain heft that makes him more than just another costumed hero.

Karen: Another pleasure of this collection are some of the guest artists who pop up to illustrate some of the segments. We get our pal Sal Buscema (with Tom Palmer) doing two pages of Davos' backstory, and Tom Severin and Russ Health both illustrating parts of Orson Randall's history. There were a lot of artists spread throughout this collection. Not all of the art appealed to me; but most of it was very good. David Aja has a very realistic style that grew on me. The book also contains character sketches and a story outline and script excerpts. 

Karen: I devoured this book over the course of about four days. Every spare moment I would go back to it. It renewed my interest in Iron Fist, and kept me entertained. I couldn't ask for much more from a comic.


pete doree said...

Iron Fist is my all-time favourite Kung-Fu character ( well, maybe tied with The White Tiger ), though Danny never felt like a fully fleshed out character bizarrely - except in that Marvel Premiere where he played baseball, remember that?
I did try the early issues of this run, but didn't like 'em much, though Aja is very good. Maybe I'll give it another go..

Anonymous said...

Yeah ol' Iron Fist has always been one of my favourite characters, even more than his kung fu compatriot Shang Chi (and I'm a Bruce Lee fan like Karen!). I don't possess the complete run of this series, probably about 75 percent of it, but it clearly was one of the better runs on an IF title in recent years. Fraction, Aja and company really hit it out of the ballpark with this series.

I really dug the pulpy, retro vibe they brought to this series, all the while bringing in fresh elements of their own. You gotta love protagonists with names like Fat Cobra or Tiger's Beautiful Daughter, characters straight out of a 1970s kung fu flick. One thing bugs me though - when Steel Serpent became Steel Phoenix, did he just tattoo those wings onto his serpent brand? :)

It'll be really interesting to see how they portray IF in the upcoming Netflix series. Personally, I would have loved to see him up there on the silver screen along with Iron Man, Cap, the Avengers or Spider-Man.

- Mike 'Shhhkowww!' from Trinidad & Tobago.

William said...

LIke you Karen, I am a big fan of the kung-fu genre. (Bruce Lee, Jackie Chan, Jet Li, Donnie Yen, etc.) "Enter The Dragon" is just about my favorite movie, and one of the best superhero movies ever made, btw.

I also have big love for Iron Fist. I always liked him just a little better than Shang-Chi, because Danny combined my two favorite things (superheroes and kung-fu) better than Shang did. Danny had the nifty superhero costume, and he hung out more with other Marvel superheroes (like Spider-Man), and he also fought more traditional super-villains. (Especially once he teamed up with Luke "Don't call me Powerman" Cage).

I also missed a lot of Iron Fist's early adventures when they originally came out, but I made up for that by purchasing both Iron Fist Marvel Masterworks volumes, that reprint the entire run of his solo adventures, including the 2-part Marvel Team-Up story.

As for the series you are reviewing here, I actually read the first five or six issues and didn't really care for it much. But from what you've said, it sounds like it may get better as it goes along. I have never been a very big fan of Ed Brubaker, as I personally find his writing style a little too slow paced for my taste. However, based on your favorable review, I may have to pick this collected volume up sometime and give it another chance.

On another side note for all you kung-fu fans out there, if you have never seen a martial arts movie called "Chocolate", you should definitely check it out. It is about a 15-year-old autistic girl (played by JeeJa Yanin) who basically has the same abilities as the Taskmaster. Meaning she can perfectly mimic any action she sees just once (such as kung-fu fighting styles). And she watches a lot of kung-fu movies, and plays a lot of martial arts video games. Eventually she is forced to use her amazing fighting skills to go on a rampage through the Thai mafia. (Oh yeah, she also loves to eat chocolate, thus the movies title). If you can get past the far-fetched concept, it has some of the most spectacular martial arts action ever put on film, ever!! So, if you haven't seen it, you owe it to yourself to give it a look. (I have it on BluRay and I watch it at least once a year).

JJ said...

I really love the headline for this review. A clever tip of the cap to the early Iron Fist. I'd love to pick this trade up. I read a couple of issues of Fraction's Hawkeye series and didn't care for it at all. Slight, boring and too cute for its own good. This seems like a much more satisfying read. Perhaps that's Brubaker's influence. -JJ

Anonymous said...

I've been meaning to read this for a long time...I guess I should actually get to it.

Mike Wilson

Karen said...

Sorry about any issues with that first picture. it looked fine when I set the post up.

I think I might have not enjoyed this as much if I had to wait for each individual issue to come out and read them one at a time, but having them collected spared me any sense of things moving too slowly, which I agree, is a problem with many comics today.

There were a lot of small things I like din this -for example, Orson teaching Danny to use the Iron Fist for more than just fighting. We'd seen him use it to heal himself and others before, but he really starts to learn to do more with it here. I suppose it's sort of like the Force, but then, that was really derived from old samurai films anyway, right?

I'm really curious to see how far they go with K'un Lun and the mysticism in the Netflix show. My understanding is that the Chinese gang from the Daredevil show was actually affiliated with Steel Serpent, so maybe they were from one of the 7 Heavenly Cities.

Edo Bosnar said...

This sounds like an interesting series, your observation that it sometimes evokes the old pulps has me intrigued.
However, I'll not be getting to this any time soon. First I have to get through the original Iron Fist - which Amazon tells me should be shipped sometime in late July/early August (I pre-ordered the Iron Fist Epic Collection, which contains all of IF's original stories, including the two issues of Marvel Team-up, in color). All this talk of K'un Lun, though, has me wanting to re-read that excellent double-sized issue of Power Man & Iron Fist (#75 I think), which takes place there. Of course, my original copy is long gone... :(

J.A. Morris said...

Nice review Karen, it looks like a "modern" comic that's worth reading. But I'm in the same boat as Edo. I just picked up my Iron Fist Epic Collection on Wednesday, I'll read the new stuff after that.

Martinex1 said...

Yes a nice review. I like Iron Fist's revised costume. It looks sleeker. I also like how he is lean and wiry. Sometimes Danny is drawn too bulky in my opinion... too much like Captain America's physique. He looks good here. Is tha David Aja's art on the cover?

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