Immortal Iron Fist Trade Post: Volumes 1 & 2

THE IMMORTAL IRON FIST VOLUME 1: THE LAST IRON FIST STORY (Marvel)
Written by Ed Brubaker & Matt Fraction, drawn by David Aja, Travel Foreman, Russ Heath, John Severin & Sal Buscema
Collects Immortal Iron Fist #1-6, excerpt from Civil War: Choosing Sides
After re-reading all the post-Rebirth Green Lantern comics in Books Of Oa and all ten volumes of Ex Machina, I wanted to re-read another recent favorite but one that wasn’t quite so involved. I’ve had the first three Immortal Iron Fist books sitting around for a while now and figured it would make a great candidate. Even though the comic suffered from timeliness issues if memory serves, they came out with a few one-shots here and there to fill the gabs and really broaden the idea that Danny Rand is but one of 66 Iron Fists from throughout history. As it turns out, Danny’s predecessor, dubbed the Golden Age Iron Fist Orson Randall who also had a Doc Savage kind of a thing going on for a while, is still alive.

As this first volume progresses we not only learn more about Randall and some of the other previous Iron Fists, the present story involves Danny and Orson teaming up to fight the newly powered Davos (his old enemy called the Steel Serpent) along with an army of Hydra agents. The seeds are also laid for the next arc including an evil businessman blackmailing the guy that run’s Danny’s company Jeryn into arranging for some trains to be built. Fraction and Brubaker also mention six other celestial cities like K’un L’un where he became Iron Fist which have their own immortal weapons all of whom fight in a tournament.

I’m a sucker for superheroes with a legacy, so the idea that a character who, as far as I knew, was the first of his kind, had this long ranging history with all kinds of story potential was right in my wheelhouse. Thankfully, the book also proved to be pretty damn good. Sure, there’s action elements that don’t always work because of the constraints of the form. I’ve recently realized that action, especially fisticuffs are really difficult to convey in comics. Sometimes it’s the art, sometimes it’s the eye not catching all the things it’s supposed to. One thing that artist Aja does to help get rid of some of that confusion is putting red circles around impact points. It might seem a little obvious, but the redness zooms the attention from one crack to another, just like in a great action flick. Aja’s my favorite of the many artists in the book. Some fit really well with whatever story they were tasked with while others leave me wanting more. All in all, this volume not only adds a depth to an existing character (I knew nothing about Iron Fist when I started reading this book, so don’t worry about not knowing what’s going on) and tells a great action story where two kung fu masters fight an army of goons and a few legit fighters, but also gives you plenty to look at and even includes some behind the scenes sketch material from Aja. Best of all, though, is that the collection does it’s job in making me want to move right on to the next volume. Oh, my only complaint is that Heroes For Hire Luke Cage, Misty Knight and Colleen Wing come off a little too 70s blaxploitation for my tastes, but that’s all I got.

THE IMMORTAL IRON FIST VOLUME 2: THE SEVEN CAPITAL CITIES OF HEAVEN (Marvel)
Written by Matt Fraction & Ed Brubaker, drawn by David Aja, Roy Allan Martinez, Scott Koblish, Kano, Javier Pulido, Tonci Zonjic, Howard Chaykin, Dan Brereton & Jelena Kevic Djurdevic
Collects Immortal Iron Fist #8-14 & Annual #1
While the first volume of IIF was a lot like a 70s kung fu movie with some pulp elements thrown in and a butt-ton of (for lack of a better word) ninjas throwing down, the second one focused more on the fantasy elements of the character, his fellow immortal weapons and his former home K’un-L’un. As it happens, every so many years all seven Capital Cities of Heaven come together and have a tournament where each of the seven immortal weapons (Iron Fist, Steel Phoenix, Tiger’s Beautiful Daughter, Dog Brother #1, Fat Cobra, Prince Of Orphans and Bride Of 9 Spiders) all fight each other using rad sounding moves like The Black Milk Of Hell and Burning Chi Thunderfoot, but the larger story revolves around Danny trying to find out more about Orson Randall’s life and teaming up with his former trainer The Thunderer to plan a revolution in K’un-L’un.

Brubaker and Fraction really know how to pack a lot into a comic because, in addition to the elements I mentioned already, this volume also has repeated flashbacks to Danny’s father training to become Iron Fist (SPOILER, he fails) and his relationship with Davos which turns a little quicker from friend to enemy than seems realistic, but that’s more of a nitpick. Danny also escapes to Earth to meet with some of Orson’s friends and learn more about his history AND the guy with the trains from the last volume is causing more trouble, this time trying to shoot a train full of explosives at K’un-L’un in an attempt to destroy ALL the cities. Oh and a more toned down Heroes For Hire are there too, trying to help. Seriously, the issues are just packed with goodness.

I don’t want to get into too much spoiler territory here because I want everyone to go into these books fresh, but I found it really interesting how the tournament ended and then even more so how the volume ended. I also read the third volume but since this review is running a bit long, I’ll save that for another day and a pretty good amount of the issues after that, but not the Immortal Weapons series. I know the creative team changed, so I’m curious to see how the excellent set-up played out. Speaking of which, what’s the deal with Iron Fist right now? Where’s he at?

Best Of The Best: HERO

Like with movies, I’ve been reading mostly newer trades (stuff I haven’t read before), but after getting most of the issues of HERO bound recently, I decided to sit down with that book and read it all in one sitting. Damn, is this a good book.

Written by Will Pfeifer and drawn by a series of artists including Kano, Patrick Gleason, Leonard Kirk and Dale Eaglesham, HERO doesn’t so much follow a character, but an object. In this case it’s the “H Dial” an old device from DC comics where the gimmick was that it would change the user into a random hero, sometimes suggested by the readers themselves. Over the course of the series, the device lands in the hands of many different characters and they use it as they see fit, kind of like that show Gun that was on ABC in 1997. Sometimes they use it to turn into a superhero only to discover that’s not as easy as it seems, sometimes to become a mega powered master criminal and sometimes to impress the kids at school. Like 100 Bullets, though, the gimmick eventually leads into a larger story with many of the characters coming back in the last few issues.

But the important thing about this comic, which ran for 22 issues between 2003 and 2005, is that it never felt like a gimmick. Pfeifer had this incredible ability to introduce us to brand new characters every few issues and give us something to like in each of them. Whether it’s the business man who wants to fly or the dudes who just want to make a super-powered Jackass, these characters all felt interesting in one way or another.

You might remember there being a lot of hype about this book when it first came out because Geoff Johns offered a moneyback guarantee if anyone bought the book and didn’t like it. He talks about that in the forward of the first and sadly only trade. Johns brings up the point that Pfeifer seemed to be getting at with the series which is that every comic book fan has thought about having these awesome powers, but how hard have we really through about what we would do with them if we did in fact have them. I think in the real world you’d have a lot more people doing what these characters did with the H dial and far fewer taking the Superman and Batman route. It’s interesting that, while firmly set in the DCU HERO never had any guest stars, but the whole point of the series kind of shines a spotlight on what those other heroes do day in and day out. Basically, it’s not easy being Superman.

I could get into an arc by arc breakdown of why this is such a good book. Every artist absolutely nails their arcs and the series actually has a very satisfying conclusion, though not necessarily a happy one for everyone involved. I liked how everyone who had the H dial earlier in the series came back. I first heard about this book when I interned at Wizard. I read all the issues then and even bought a copy of HERO from Pfeifer at the 2003 Mid Ohio Con. I went on to get the rest of the issues here and there and thank goodness I did because it doesn’t look like there’s any plans for DC to collect this story anytime soon. HERO introduced me to some of my favorite artists like Gleason, Kano and Eaglesham (my buddy Rickey owns the splash page of the woman who’s all cubed up and I’m super jealous of that fact). Plus it drew my attention to Pfeifer whose work I thoroughly enjoyed on Aquaman, another run that got cut short too soon.

I know it’s not easy to pick up HERO. You’ve got to hunt down an out of print (I assume) trade plus a bunch of issues, but I bet they’re not too expensive. Maybe add them to your shopping list this con season and see what you can come up with. I’m not about to lay down a moneyback guarantee like Johns did (he said in that forward, which was written in 2003, that no one ever took him up on that, I wonder if it still holds true), but I highly HIGHLY recommend this book for anyone even remotely interested in superhero comics. Even if you’re a Marvel zombie, I wager you’d like this book. Heck, even if you’re not a superhero fan and prefer more real world-based comics because you think no one would really act like superheroes do in mainstream comics, then this is the book for you because it basically says just that.

That’s the end of the actual review. Now I just want to briefly talk about the reading experience I had with my bound comics. There were 16 issues not collected in the first trade, so I was a little worried about losing text balloons and art to the gutter (the space where the staples go). I mainly figured this would happen in the middle, but the only place I had even the remotest amount of trouble was in the first and last few issues. And even then, I just had to stretch the book open a little bit more and I had no problem. I’m also currently reading a stack of single issues about the same size and I can easily say that I prefer having everything all in one convenient space. I recommend getting comics bound like I recommend HERO, all the way.