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Comics You Should Own – The Immortal Iron Fist #1-16

It’s another comic from this decade – I’m Nu Skool!!!!!

The Immortal Iron Fist by Matt Fraction (writer), Ed Brubaker (writer, issues #1-14, Annual #1, Orson Randall and the Green Mist of Death), David Aja (artist, issues #1-6, 8-13, 16), Travel Foreman (penciler, issues #1-5), Russ Heath (artist, issues #3, 6, Orson Randall and the Green Mist of Death), John Severin (artist, issue #2), Sal Buscema (penciler, issue #4), Leandro Fernandez (penciler, issue #7), Khari Evans (penciler, issues #7, 15), Roy Allan Martinez (artist, issue #8-9), Scott Koblish (artist, issue #9), Kano (artist, issue #10-14), Javier Pulido (artist, issue #12), Tonci Zonjic (artist, issue #13-14), Clay Mann (penciler, issue #14), Howard Chaykin (artist, Annual #1), Dan Brereton (artist, Annual #1), Nick Dragotta (penciler, Orson Randall and the Green Mist of Death), Lewis LaRosa (penciler, Orson Randall and the Green Mist of Death), Mitch Breitweiser (artist, Orson Randall and the Green Mist of Death), Derek Fridolfs (inker, issues #1-5), Tom Palmer (inker, issue #4), Francisco Paronzini (inker, issue #7), Leo Fernandez (inker, issue #7), Victor Olazaba (inker, issues #7, 15), Raul Allen (inker, issue #9), Mike Allred (inker, Orson Randall and the Green Mist of Death), Stefano Gaudiano (inker, issue #14, Orson Randall and the Green Mist of Death), Matt Hollingsworth (colorist, issues #1-6, 8-14, 16, Orson Randall and the Green Mist of Death), Dean White (colorist, issue #2), Laura Martin (colorist, issue #6), Dan Brown (colorist, issue #7), June Chung (colorist, issue #8-9), Edgar Delgado (colorist, Annual #1), Jelena Kevic Djurdjevic (colorist, issue #15, Annual #1), Paul Mounts (colorist, issue #15), Laura Allred (colorist, Orson Randall and the Green Mist of Death), and Dave Lanphear (letterer).

Marvel, 18 issues (#1-16, plus The Immortal Iron Fist Annual #1, which comes after issue #9 and The Immortal Iron Fist: Orson Randall and the Green Mist of Death one-shot, which comes after issue #12), cover dated January 2007-August 2008.

Minor SPOILERS below. I try to keep it vague!

One of the important reasons The Immortal Iron Fist is such an excellent comic is that it was published by Marvel. What I mean by this is that DC has a more sense of “history,” as there are legacy heroes, elderly heroes, a history of different “earths” where the heroes grew old and had children, a strong history of war comics and westerns that stretch the days of the DCU further back in time to the nineteenth century, and a legacy of printing comics that don’t “fit” into an official “continuity.” Marvel, while they have published such books, doesn’t have as much of a legacy in this area as DC does, with most of their comics fitting into a very rigid “continuity” that began with Fantastic Four #1 but has been extended back to include the early Marvel superheroes of the 1940s. Even with their “quirkiest” titles (until recently, that is), at some point someone fits it into regular Marvel continuity. For years, there wasn’t much room at Marvel for comics like this, and even though Fraction and Brubaker place this firmly in Marvel continuity, they also create a strange world that isn’t necessarily in sync with the Marvel Universe we’ve come to know. That’s not to say it wouldn’t be a great comic if DC had published it (difficult to do, as the book is full of Marvel characters), but the fact that it takes place in the Marvel U. but also expands that universe makes it a bit more interesting.

Of course, it’s a great comic on its own, too, and Brubaker and Fraction make sure that the comic doesn’t become too much of a regular Marvel Universe book. They acknowledge the post-Civil War reality, use Hydra as one of the evil forces, and … well, that’s it, really. Other than the fact that Iron Fist and his cronies are owned by Marvel, this is simply a pulp story with a veneer of superheroing on top of it. Brubaker, presumably, adds in the noir-ish elements, while things like The Empire of Hypothetical Science screams Fraction. The two writers blend their strengths to give us a giddy examination of a strange world full of possibilities. So we get crazy mechanical spiders, women who turn into cranes, pirate queens, airplanes with angel figureheads, hauntingly beautiful subway stations with pneumatic trains, floating trains packed with explosives, steampunk interdimensional tunnels, Lightning Lords of Nepal, gun-toting courtesans in Harlem, the Green Mist of Death, scantily-clad and buxom cowgirls, Frankenstein’s monster, poet emperors, bloodthirsty folk legends, and all sorts of cool martial arts action. All of these elements could easily show up in a regular superhero book, of course, but the way Brubaker and Fraction blend it into one delightfully pulpy stew makes this comic a world-building exercise that’s breathtaking to read. That it exists side-by-side with the rest of the Marvel Universe is just a nice cherry on top.

The big innovation that Fraction and Brubaker come up with, of course, is the idea of a succession of Iron Fists stretching back over the millennia. This allows them to tell stories that take place in the past without screwing up Danny Rand’s established continuity while also, through Orson Randall, Danny’s immediate predecessor, indulging in their desires to tell pulp stories set in the 1920s and 1930s. This not only gives us some great pulp stories, it puts Danny into a context and deepens his connection to K’un-Lun, the mystical city where he gained his powers. It’s a nice twist to Danny’s history, and although the concept of a legacy hero is a bit overdone, it’s all in the execution, and Fraction and Brubaker are able to seamlessly create an alternate history of the twentieth century through these tales. It’s one of the things that makes this comic so much fun.

Ultimately, the grand plot (the run is technically separated into two big arcs, but it’s really the same plot) doesn’t matter too much, because it becomes bad guys versus good guys very quickly, and when the bad guys include Hydra, it’s tough to take them seriously. The plot is certainly exciting and interesting, but Brubaker and Fraction are much more concerned with the major theme of the series, which is family and how it affects our lives and the decisions we make. Yes, this is a family drama dressed up as a martial arts comic masquerading as a superhero story. But it’s about what binds us together and what’s important in life, and Brubaker and Fraction come down on the side of family, however that family is defined. This is evident from the first pages of the book, when Danny reminisces about how he arrived in K’un-Lun after his parents died. Almost immediately after that we’re introduced to Danny in the boardroom and Jeryn Hogarth, his major domo. Hogarth is his friend, but he also treats Danny as if he’s a child. In quick succession Fraction and Brubaker bring in Orson Randall, who acted as surrogate father to Danny’s biological dad and will soon be a mentor to Danny himself; Luke Cage, Danny’s “brother”; Davos, who was Wendell Rand’s “brother” and therefore intimately connected to Danny; and Misty Knight, Danny’s ex-lover. The comic becomes a tangle of familial alliances and obligations, driving the characters forward. Danny learns about his past and what it means to be an Iron Fist, and this drives him to join the tournament in the second arc. Davos feels the need to impress his father, Lei Kung the Thunderer, who trains the Iron Fists and becomes their mentors, making Davos jealous in more ways than one. Jeryn is forced to work for Xao and Hydra because they kidnap his mother and threaten her life. Luke, who operates outside the law, buries the hatchet with Misty and Colleen Wing, who are working for the government, because Danny needs them and they’re family. Orson Randall’s “Confederates of the Curious” form familial bonds as well, with Wendell Rand learning how to live from the older members of the group. In the excellent standalone story, issue #7’s “The Pirate Queen of Pinghai Bay,” Brubaker and Fraction give us a wonderful and exciting story of martial arts that’s ultimately a love story. In “The Capital Cities of Heaven” arc (issues #8-14), Danny learns of the champions of the other cities, and he forms sibling-type bonds with them, as well. And Orson Randall’s daughter leads the revolution within K’un-Lun as a way to honor her father. In fact, the two main bad guys – Yu-Ti and Xao – are distinguished by their disrespect of familial ties, as Yu-Ti rejects his father’s teachings and Xao drags Jeryn’s mother into their business, showing a lack of respect. Davos, who is the other main bad guy, gains redemption by coming back into the family unit and asking forgiveness from his father.

This theme makes Iron Fist an interesting comic because unlike most other superhero books, there’s a strong sense of history and generational conflict to it. Most superhero books, even if they adopt a family structure (team books do this a lot, but Spider-Man is very concerned with family, too), are locked into the present so much that the family structure never changes too much, and it’s more of a sibling dynamic anyway. By expanding Danny Rand’s universe into the past, Brubaker and Fraction are able to examine the way sons relate to their father figures and how this changes the way they live. Orson Randall’s father crashed in K’un-Lun a century ago, and Orson struggled to live up to not only his biological father’s legacy, but his adopted father’s (Lei Kung) as well. Then, he became a father figure to Wendell Rand, and struggled with being a good role model to a boy who wanted to follow in his footsteps, even though Orson tried to dissuade him. Davos craves the approval of his father and tries for years to prove himself, only doing so when he lets go of his pride. By stretching these conflicts over the generations, Brubaker and Fraction give us a more complex characterization than we expect in a mainstream comic book, and they’re also able to examine family bonds from many different angles. There’s no one dominant way a person relates to his family in this comic, and it makes the nuances more subtle and varied. We can look at Orson’s relationship with Wendell and see how Orson learns from it and applies those lessons when he meets Danny. We can see how the Thunderer treats his biological son, Davos, and how he treats his surrogate sons, Wendell and then Danny, and wonder whether he could have made different choices. We can compare Danny’s life to Davos’s or even Orson’s and speculate how it would have been different if he didn’t have Luke, Misty, and Colleen to lean on. That Fraction and Brubaker place this complex skein within the framework of a superhero comic is often a dazzling achievement.

The fact that Iron Fist is a terrifically good adventure comic shouldn’t be overlooked, either, and a lot of the strength in that regard comes from the art. Aja is a wonderful artist for the book, with a noir-ish style that works well for the often gritty stories that Brubaker and Fraction come up with. Aja is also excellent at the martial arts in the book, creating the wonderful characters at the tournament and giving them each a unique look and style of fighting. He’s also very good at the quiet moments, such as issue #16, in which he illustrates Fraction’s final script beautifully even though there’s very little action in it. The haunted look on Danny’s face as he realizes the implications of it being his birthday is fantastic. Obviously, Aja had big deadline problems, which led to the ridiculous number of artists working on just 18 issues of the series, but the artists are almost universally strong on the book, and the selection of artists again shows how nicely this comic fits into a historical setting. John Severin illustrates a section during World War I. Daniel Brereton’s funky style works perfectly for the mystical adventures of Orson Randall in the 1920s and 1930s. Russ Heath gives us a story set in the West. Khari Evans has a fine style for the tale of Bei Bang-Wen in the 1860s. All of the artists bring unique styles to the book, but they blend together very well, and although the lack of Aja is occasionally frustrating (at no time more so than in issue #14, the climax of “The Capital Cities of Heaven”), the fill-in artists do a marvelous job and, more importantly, are there for specific sections, so we know that when we see Kano’s art, it’s for the story of Wendell and Davos training together. By breaking the art chores into discrete sections, the book gains a consistency it would otherwise not have.

Ultimately, the reason this is such a good comic is because you can simply read it as a high-spirited adventure, but there’s plenty going on underneath that deepens our appreciation for it. Fraction and Brubaker take a simple concept and broaden it to the point where they create a new world within the Marvel Universe. This is different from going back and “filling in the blanks” in the lives of current Marvel superheroes. They expanded the Marvel U. to make it a much more interesting place, full of crazy new characters. Danny Rand becomes a more interesting character simply by fitting into this universe. The Immortal Iron Fist is a wild ride that leaves you breathless, but it also makes you think about how people react to each other and how people can use the past to create a better future. Unlike many superhero comics that came out at the same time, there was a sense of freshness to this title that made you feel like anything was possible. And for 18 fine issues, anything was.

Marvel’s policy of releasing everything in trade means that this is available. It appears like there are three trades collecting this run, although a single, giant Omnibus edition would look nice a shelf, wouldn’t it? And be sure to check out the archives if you have some time to kill.

28 Comments

You should own #17-27 too, Swierczynski’s run was good as well.

I got the first Swierczynski story arc and thought it was okay, but nothing special.

Agreed — I read them all back to back in trades recently and noticed a sudden drop in my reading pleasure before I took a closer look and realized there was a new writer.

Easily the greatest Iron Fist stories ever told. Admittedly, it’s a small mountain to climb, but there it is.

Haven’t read Swierczynski’s run, but these few issues were amazing. My favorite book at the time. Now Marvel, lets get with more Esssential Heroes for Hire.

Comics you should own: Yes!

Brilliant stuff. Everyone should own these.

Bought the Omnibus this Summer without ever having read an issue. They are some of the best comics I have ever read. It kind of felt MiracleMan good. Seriously. It was an amazingly well-done series.

Stephane Savoie

October 28, 2009 at 4:11 pm

Worth noting that, unlike many of the characters listed, the Green Mist wasn’t an original character, but a reinvention of a Golden Age one.
That said, yeah, terrific run. Swierczynski’s run isn’t bad, but loses the spark of the first.

Orson Randall and the Death Queen of California should have got a nod even if Swierczynski’s run is being ignored.

Issues #1 through #3 are impossible to find! Own the rest though.

*Looks at IIF Omnibus on shelf*

Ah yes, one of the best runs of the decade in one giant, pretty hardcover. Thank you Marvel Omnibus system.

First time I’ve commented on this site, and JUST because it is this comic. I’m an Iron Fist fan from way back, but that bias aside, this series represents what Marvel should be attempting with MANY characters. To me, this run on this title represents one of the few modern series worthy of the ‘Omnibus’ treatment. If you missed this, you missed a masterpiece. Swierczynski’s run has been good (though his backup in Immortal Weapons has been dreadful) – Escape from the 8th city was working toward the standard of the Bru/Fraction run. Awesome.

Really good series. Really though, Swierczynski’s run is pretty much just as good (as others have mentioned). I would say that it moves from chronicling Danny’s struggle to fit into this huge, convoluted family into how Danny can forge his own family and try to actually change, instead of just playing out the same story as every other Iron Fist. Of course, the whole thing is taken from Fraction’s setup in #16, but it’s still excellent.

I love this- my highlights of the book were the entire first arc, and whatever issue it was where Danny fights Fat Cobra (I think it’s #9).
And I agree that all of the artists were great, but, to me, there was always something missing when David Aja wasn’t around.

Terrific Run.

One of the hardest things to do now in fiction is to come up with decent names but Fraction has his own pulp lanuage. Prince of Orphans, Fat Cobra, Bride of 9 spiders. who the hell comes up with stuff like that? I fell in love with the kung fu moves as well. The palm of a thousand sorrows, the stabbing newlywed (as seen above) and the ‘brooklyn headbutt’.

Ill also put the mini series coming out at the moment in the same essential list (as a companion piece). The fat cobra story was hysterical and the dog brother one was amazing.

This entire series was the best thing I have read in years.

I really don’t get why everyone loves this series so much.

It’s probably just that I like my martial arts stories to be more grounded, but I think that there were a lot of tonal conflicts in the book and I dunno, I never felt that the stakes were that high. It’s like, “Something bad might happen to the Heavenly City!” or “Someone in the tournament may not be who they claim” and I’m just like “…Alright.”

This isn’t to say that it was bad, just that I don’t know why everyone gets so bowled over by it.

..and the dark comedy notes during it just classic like Jeryn’s line in #13:

“GREEEEAAAT You know what the four most terrifying words in the english language are? “Danny has a plan.”

I remember laughing out loud on the bus when first reading that line. Pure Awesomeness!

I kind of like that the book depicts a level of reality divorced from the mainstream MU but still with tenuous connections to it. Marvel rarely depicts anything dated before WWII, and that stuff is either Westerns, Conan-era, or overdone Victorian era nonsense. It’s great to see Marvel acknowledging its Pulp roots (Ka-zar/David Rand).

This was an absolutely fantastic run. The names Bru, Fraction or Aja would put any book on my pull list, but having them all together was like a match made in Heaven. I was terribly sad when their run ended and wasn’t very impressed by the initial few issues of Swierczynski’s run. I gotta admit though, that while the his run didn’t quite match up to what came before (and let’s be be honest, very few books can) it was certainly better than 90% of the stuff on the stands at the time.

Rob O., speaking of books that need to be collected…Waid’s Ka-Zar and Cap run after the skrull imposter are also must collects! Thx for the reminder.

Only read issue #1 when it was released and been planning on reading the whole run for a very long time. Must do it sometime soon.

Swierczynski had a nigh-imporssible task – living up to the previous arcs.

He fell short, but still made good comics.

#16 is the best issue released last year.
That is all.

[…] with some news, I saw that COMICS SHOULD BE GOOD gave a more than deserved shout-out to the first sixteen issues of THE IMMOR…, and I agree with that – even if it kind of stops short of the book’s proper acclaim. […]

FunkyGreenJerusalem

March 31, 2010 at 7:31 pm

The two writers blend their strengths to give us a giddy examination of a strange world full of possibilities. So we get crazy mechanical spiders,

According to the Omnibus backmatter, the mechanical spider was all down to the artist – so everyone was throwing in on this one.

I got most of this from my local shop’s euro bin. One of the best buys I’ve ever made.

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