(Welcome to Comics Rewind, a weekly column devoted to discovering – or re-discovering – great comics published some time in the past. Here you will find looks back at comics published in every era, from the Golden Age to the Modern Age, as well as retrospectives on the work of important comics writers, lists of “essential” comics, and evaluations of important works, as well as works worthy of a second look or a wider audience. Enjoy!)
After his heyday in the late ’70s and early ’80s as a part of Heroes for Hire and the best buddy of Luke Cage, it was a bit hard to keep tabs on Iron Fist. He had a rather spotty time of things at Marvel, and then Matt Fraction, Ed Brubaker and David Aja launched this short-lived but amazingly fun ongoing series that brought things back to basics and reminded us all why Iron Fist is one of the Marvel Universe’s great badasses.
I heard a Q&A with Fraction a while back in which he said (paraphrasing) “You’re never going to make it better, you’re just going to remind people why you love it” in reference to Iron Fist. He also noted “It’s kung fu billionaire. It’s right there.” That first statement is generally very true when it comes to comic reboots, and both statements are very true when it comes to Iron Fist. But in the case of this series, Fraction and Brubaker found a way to take all the cool parts of Iron Fist – the super-punching, the cool martial arts villain names, the best friends with Luke F-cking Cage thing – and revitalize them for new readers. The result might not be some kind of profound dissection of the superhero, but is an example of the fun you can have with superhero comics when they’re really done well.
It all works not only because Fraction and Brubaker are two of the best writers Marvel has to offer, but because they pepper in story elements that take the character back to a classic martial arts movie style. There’s the mentor in the form of Orson Randall, a prior Iron Fist who’s been hiding out for decades. There’s the classic nemesis in the form of Steel Serpent, making his return to the Marvel Universe with new powers and a new scheme. There’s a rich mythos filled with warriors, magic cities, mystic powers and larger than life characters with awesome kung fu powers. And there’s Iron Fist in the middle of it, ready to do battle.
Fraction was right. It is all right there. Taking Iron Fist and turning him into Batman or Spider-Man or Deadpool was never going to work. Iron Fist had to be Iron Fist, of course, and The Immortal Iron Fist does that extremely well. But there’s also the sense that the writers (and the artists) are after something bigger here. They take this classic Marvel hero and put him in the middle of the struggle of his life, beyond the simple superpunch trappings of his birth, and it works because they’re true to who he is and what he does. Beyond that, there are also plenty of wonderful bits I won’t spoil here, surprises and twists and big characters moments that make it all worthwhile even for the most cynical reader. And then there’s David Aja’s art, which is among the best in modern comics (I’m not exaggerating).
If you only know Iron Fist from stuff like New Avengers, you owe it to yourself to take a step back and read this series. If you only know him from the ’70s stories, you owe it to yourself to take step forward to read this series. If you just want a cool comic about the man with the biggest punch in comics…Oh hell, just read the damn thing. Thank me later.