Sorry about the long, long, long, long, long, looooong absence. School. Bleh. I’ll continue to post when I can, but it won’t be as often as I’d like.
Moving on, it’s funny that my three favorite current comic titles are all a) ongoing series featuring perennial C-list characters, and b) written by a team of two writers. I could be wrong, but I don’t think that writing duos have ever been very commonplace in comics–especially not in mainstream comics. Those three books, by the way, are The Incredible Hercules, Booster Gold, and The Immortal Iron Fist. I recommend picking all three of these up if you like comics, but for now I’m going to tell you about the latter: probably one of the most critically lauded series around right now… but I’m gonna be unoriginal and gush about it anyway.
The last thing you’d expect from the deliciously convoluted Marvel universe would be that anyone would find any corner of it in which they could set up world-building shop and start forming an entirely new mythos and set of rules. Nearly 50 straight years of continuity–along with bits and pieces that trickled in from the 30’s, 40’s, and 50’s–have made said fictional universe a very crowded place, yet writers Ed Brubaker and Matt Fraction manage to take the rather undeveloped idea of K’un Lun, a mystical Chinese city that only appears on our plane of existence once a decade, and flesh it and its world out ridiculously well.
It all centers, naturally, around Danny Rand, otherwise known as Iron Fist, a Marvel superhero created in the 1970’s to cash in on the kung fu boom, whose never really done much in the Marvel universe as a whole. His origin was that he was trained in the aforementioned K’un Lun, and when his martial arts expertise aren’t quite enough to get the job done, his fist glows and he… punches harder, I guess.
The point is, like Hercules and Booster Gold respectively, Iron Fist is enough of a c-lister that his writers can do whatever the hell they damn well please, and so they decided that K’un Lun is only one of the Seven Capital Cities of Heaven, each of which are mystical and don’t quite exist in our dimension, and (more importantly to Vol 1: The Last Iron Fist Story, the first trade, which I am technically reviewing) they also started to show the history of K’un Lun’s past Iron Fists, since Danny is not the first.
What this means, is that suddenly the rather inconsequential superhero Iron Fist (for whom I’ve always had a bit of a soft spot) is suddenly given a good deal of weight that he was never really allowed to hold before. It makes for a great read, and the frequent flashes that we get of the lives of past Iron Fists (not to mention the first issue after what’s collected in this first trade, which exclusively concerns the only female Iron Fist) make wonderful little interludes: an anti-colonialist slaughtering the English here, a pirate queen clearing out a bay there, and so on. Not to mention the so-called Golden Age Iron Fist, but I’ll get to him in a minute.
Further aiding the series is the fact that it does, in fact, still take place within the greater Marvel universe, and this is never forgotten. That universe is itself in a state of turmoil these days, and that affects Danny’s life quite largely at first. What’s more, we are also treated to some wonderful little character moments involving our hero and longtime odd-couple-type best friend Luke Cage, not to mention the Daughters of the Dragon (too bad Misty Knight has lost her afro in recent issues, but in this first story it is there in all its glory). Lest you worry, however, rest assured that one can go into the book with little to no knowledge of the Marvel universe and still get a whole hell of a lot of enjoyment out of it. Especially fun, though, for us fans is the depiction of supervillain/terrorist organization HYDRA, who are shown as stock villains skewed slightly towards the obscure in a very funny way (that wouldn’t be funny if I just explained it here).
Now, as I mentioned earlier, one of the best parts of the series is one of the past Iron Fists: most specifically, the one that came right before Danny. His name is Orson Randall, and he’s a WWI/20’s & 30’s pulp hero version of the character… which is such a great spin that it’s ridiculous. In the modern-day section of the story, Randall is an old and grizzled bad-ass drug addict, which is plenty interesting on its own, but to make it even better, we’re treated to a good number of flashbacks involving the character. We see how WWI scarred him, but we also see him having a drinking contest with one of The Lightning Lords, (silly old fashioned villains) and learn that his father was a Jules Verne-ish 19th century science hero. I should add that all of these cool little bits and pieces have been fleshed out even more in the issues to come after that first book, and Randall himself is now quite clearly an out-and-out Doc Savage type hero, complete with a team of 1920’s archetype sidekicks. (And did I mention that every flashback, about whichever character, utilizes artists other than the book’s very good regular one? It’s all quite reminiscent of Tom Strong, actually.)
Randall manages to bring to the series, and the Iron Fist mythos, a silly pulpiness (that goes in a whole other direction than the kung-fu-flick silly pulpiness that’s already there) as well as, at the same time, a real sense of gravity and pathos, which is incredible. More importantly, though, he just adds to the overall richness of these stories, and the very world that’s being created around them.
Superhero, chop-socky, old school pulp, and 19th century science fiction are so many of my favorite things that seeing them mixed so well almost makes me mad that I didn’t somehow do it first. I’m kinda ashamed that I came to this series so late, because now I see that it is as goddamn good as everyone’s been saying.