Art by David Aja and others
Kung Fu was cool in the 70’s. Bruce Lee was inspiring people to high kick, wear yellow jump suits, write terrible pop songs and in the case of Marvel Comics create a new super hero called Iron Fist. Danny Rand was raised in the mystical city of K’un-Lun where he trained in the martial arts, rose to become their champion, and defeated an undying dragon to earn the title and power of the Iron Fist. This means he can focus his life force (chi) into his fists, making them ‘like unto a thing of iron’ and whoop all kinds of ass. Returning to the modern world he inherits his family’s Rand corporation and uses his martial arts prowess to fight crime. I am a sucker for a good kung fu comic and this is as good as they get.
As the Kung Fu boom faded Iron Fist was quickly partnered with the blaxploitation inspired Luke Cage (known then as Power Man, a chain wearing, hard-hitting, unbreakable skinned strongman). They have been around ever since but have never really been written to their potential.
Ed Brubaker and Matt Fraction (two excellent writers whose work I will cover further in the future)* saw this potential and ran with it. They had me with the pitch line, ‘kung fu billionaire’. It’s a pulpy, violent comic with snappy dialogue that expands on its roots and makes a camp 70’s character modern and relevant. They do flash backs to previous Iron Fists, including the Pirate Queen of Ping Hai Bay who shoots chi-arrows from her bow, Bei Bang-Wen who fought the British in 1860 and Orson Randall fighting the Germans in the mustard gas-filled trenches of WWI. The plot involves that staple of Marvel, Hydra (a world-wide terrorist group) teaming up with unknown enemies from the Iron Fists’ past and trying to take over the world. There are legions of Hydra troops, evil kung fu bird women, Davos the Steel Serpent, giant robot MechaGorgons and lots and lots of kicking.
The art is phenomenal. David Aja is one of the best artists regularly working in super hero comics today, a gifted craftsman who draws beautifully rendered characters. He draws a lean and athletic Iron Fist who looks and moves like a kung fu expert, not a generic beefcake superhero.
His use of panels is exceptional. Aja is great at having the movement flow from one panel to the next taking your eye along with the character. And sometimes he just draws Iron Fist kicking Hydra goons through a train.
I love how you can see the power transfer from him flying through the air, into the goon and flinging him through the train. Boom.
Or he does a breakdown of all these different kung fu strikes and they frame the larger image of an epic gun battle.
Damn, I can’t add anything to that.
This is the hardcover collection of the first six issues. It ends with a great new wrinkle to the story, finishing this arc but leading you right in to the next one.
Should I buy it? This is as good as superhero comics have ever been. Brubaker and Fraction do a great job and David Aja can draw the hell out of a comic book. So yes.
Next week: Warren Ellis broke my brain-and I liked it. Or how the Authority made super heroes relevant (and even more awesome).
*Ed Brubakers’ books Criminal and Fatale, and Fractions’ Casanova are all too good for you to wait for me to write about them. Buy now, thank me later.