Friday, May 29, 2015

IRON FIST (2004)

Writer: James Mullaney
Pencilers: Kevin Lau (#1-4, 6) & Rick Mays (#5) | Inker: Udon's Alan Tam
Colorists: Udon's Omar Dogan (#1-4, 6) & Jamie Noguchi (#5) | Udon Chief: Eric Ko
Letterers: Virtual Calligraphy's Dave Sharpe (#1-4, 6) & Cory Petit (#5)
Assistant Editors: Nicole Wiley (#1-2) & Andy Schmidt (#1-6)
Editors: Tom Brevoort (#1-2, Consulting Editor #3-6) & Nicole Wiley (#4-6)
Editor-in-Chief: Joe Quesada

I'm a fan of Iron Fist and I was still reading Marvel comics back in 2004, but somehow this mini-series flew under my radar. Having finally read it now, eleven years later, I can comfortably state that missing it was probably fortunate for me. It is, to put this charitably, not good.

The story finds Danny Rand, a.k.a. Iron Fist, retiring from superheroics after a woman is inadvertently killed when he stops a street gang from accosting some kids. Danny moves to Colorado to settle down in a cabin. But a Native American teenager named Mary Blue Cloud, who has precognitive dreams, realizes that only Iron Fist can keep her safe from a gang of ghostly beings called the Shadow Thieves. After much cajoling and a couple attacks from these creatures, Danny agrees to protect Mary and they set out on a journey to learn the Thieves' origins. Eventually the path leads to a medical investigator in South Dakota, and from there to the Himalayas, where the Thieves' leader, Chi -- an exiled warlord from Danny's mystical home of K'un L'un, is revealed.

There are several problems with the story, but I feel I should touch on the good points first. Chief among these is that James Mullaney seems to know his Iron Fist history, peppering the issues with bits of backstory on Danny Rand and his company, Rand Meachum. Mullaney also uses third person narration, something that had gone all but extinct at Marvel in 2004, and even briefly introduces Iron Fist with second person narration, in the style of his original series from the seventies. And of course we get cameo appearances by the character's classic supporting cast, including Misty Knight, Luke Cage, and even NYPD detective Rafael Scarfe.

The art from Kevin Lau is nice too, infusing the series with a very manga-esque look. And any book colored by Udon Studios is going to get top marks from me. I've been in love with Udon's "cel-shaded" coloring style since the late nineties.

But unfortunately the sum of these parts is much less impressive. First, the story is nonsensical, relying on a great deal of mysticism to hand-wave away inconsistencies. Karen, the medical examiner, is over a hundred years old and is a loyal follower of Chi -- but for some inexplicable reason she works as a medical examiner in South Dakota. Chi himself is after Mary Blue Cloud, but never explains why. His end goal is to open a portal to the other realm where K'un L'un is located, but Mary plays no role in this. It seems that perhaps Chi wanted to lure Iron Fist to him (as Fist does play a role in opening that portal), but if that's the case, why not simply go after him directly rather than taking the convoluted route of luring him in with a kidnapped girl?

The idea of Iron Fist retiring after an innocent's death makes sense too -- but when Mary shows up, pleading for help, he refuses her time and again -- even after she's attacked by the Shadow Thieves in his presence! He saves her life three or four times before finally agreeing that maybe, just maybe, he should travel with her until the Thieves are defeated. I get that he wants to hang up his costume, but since the impetus for his retirement was an innocent woman's death, you'd think he might be more open to keeping another innocent alive, rather than callously disregarding her. This doesn't come across as the journey and acceptance of a stubborn man -- it reads like the reluctance of a callous dick.

And while we're on the subject of Iron Fist hanging up his costume -- believe me, he does. He doffs the outfit at the end of issue 1 and spends the majority of the series in street clothes before putting on a makeshift costume at the end of issue 5. I'm fine with this in principle -- I love costumes, and I think they're part of the fun of reading superhero comics -- but I understand that he retired, moved to Colorado, and left his outfit in New York. And in general, seeing a martial artist like Iron Fist running around fighting bad guys in street clothes is a lot more palatable than seeing Peter Parker or Steve Rogers do the same thing.

But my issue is the misleading covers. Iron Fist is shown in costume on every cover, when he only wears the actual classic costume inside the first issue. But this series comes from the days when Marvel covers rarely, if ever, depicted an issue's contents, going for "iconic" pin-up style images instead. Additionally, in another sign of the time, the story itself is terribly padded -- it could've easily been told in about half the space, if that -- but this series came about right at the highest point of "write for the trade" Marvel.

Lastly, issue 5 is horrendous to look at. It seems the series must've been running into deadline issues, as 5 features a guest penciler, colorist, and letterer -- but whatever the cause, the results are just awful. Remember in high school, when there was one kid who was a really good artist? You thought everything he drew was just awesome at the time, but in retrospect, you realize it was really unsophisticated, poorly rendered, and amateurish. Well, Rick Mays must've been pulled out of tenth grade art class to draw issue 5, because his work is that bad. Not even Udon's coloring can help his terrible layouts and awkward, anatomically incorrect figures.

IRON FIST is a big fat mess of a limited series. I think I need to wash the taste out of my brain by reading some classic Fist tales from the seventies.

Hmmm... that's not a bad idea!

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