December 23, 2008

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Immortal Iron Fist Volume 1

Written by Ed Brubaker
Illustrated by Matt Fraction, David Aja, and others
Marvel

Ed Brubaker is an amazing comics writer--if you are okay with just forgetting people have histories. His stories are engaging, the dialog is crisp, and there's always a logical progression.

The problem is that Brubaker frequently likes to take his characters and run right over their past characterizations (he made Cap frankly ineffectual and never the "three steps ahead of everyone else" that even Ultimate Cap seems to exude for example) in order to tell his great story. Sometimes, there's no problem with the revisions--like the Doom origin. Other instances, such as Cap, it's unforgivable. In the case of his revamping Iron Fist, the answer's something in-between.

Iron Fist is not really an iconic Marvel character. He was born of the 1970s desire to get Kung Fu characters into the Marvel Universe and has kinda been beat around a bit here and there, bouncing about in the hands of Byrne and a few other limited or aborted series. Basically, since his days teamed with Luke Cage, life hasn't been that good for Danny Rand.

So as far as creating a whole line of historical Iron Fists that stretch back through the ages, including a lost Iron Fist, I have no issues. As far as retconning Luke's personality back to 1977, well, I'm not overly fond of the idea--I like Bendis's take on him better--but I guess I can live with it under the "hey, he was feeling nostalgic" banner. But the key to springboading the ongoing series--a war in which the Iron Fist must always take part--just requires me to stretch my feelings about allowing a character to grow just a bit too far.

In short, nothing I've ever seen would make be believe--nor did anything in this mini-series make me believe--that Danny would radically alter his personality traits and go off to participate in something he clearly won't--or at least shouldn't--believe in. And that's where this all leads.

Up to the end, I actually liked this one a lot. Danny is kinda set adrift in matters he neither knows nor seems to care much about, which appears to be the one character trait all writers have used through the past 20 years or so. I liked the links back to Rand's past, with Luke and the others, even if I thought the dialog was a bit off. I thought the flashbacks were perfect--including Our Pal Sal Buscema providing one designed to harken back to the 70s. I even dig the idea of multiple Iron Fists--it makes sense, if you don't think too hard about how if that was the case, why didn't anyone get the Iron Fist er, fist, when Danny died?

The story itself is, as with all Brubaker stories, very well done. The pacing is good and even looks like it would have read well in single issues. Danny's more or less in character until the very end, right down to being Oliver Queen carless with his fortune. The art is not perfect, marred by too many inkers (Would it kill Marvel to hire just one inker for a project? I mean, I don't much care for Klaus Jansen, but at least he can be relied on to ink an entire series for as long as you ask! See what Scott Hanna is doing for crying out loud.) but in general has a good mystic feel. Each part of the story comes together by the end of the arc, and sets up what presumably comes next.

It's a good solid comic that just as a few issues I can't quite let Brubaker off the hook for writing. In general, however, I want to read more, and honestly, that's a high compliment considering the subject material. Looking forward to volume 2.