Marvel Comics
The Immortal Iron Fist #1
By Al Kratina
December 4, 2006 - 21:58

Marvel Comics
Writer(s): Ed Brubaker and Matt Fraction
Penciller(s): David Aja
Inker(s): David Aja
Cover Artist(s): David Aja

Kung-fu comics have been in somewhat of a slump lately. Not that they'd reached any particular zenith to begin with, but there was a bit of a momentum going in the 1970s, when Bruce Lee ruled the drive-in and the Shaw Brothers churned out incomprehensible chop-socky film by the mile. Quickly, however, all but the most die-hard fans tired of monks in their bathrobes fighting corrupt officials or bandit kings over mildly delayed sound effects and bad dubbing. However, there's been a bit of a resurgence in the film genre, and as all the various facets of pop culture are as interdependent as a high school romance, it seems that this has had an effect on comicdom as well.

Danny Rand, aka Iron Fist, hasn't had much to do since the 70s, aside from an occasional appearance in a Bendis-penned Luke Cage conversation, and a couple issues filling in for Daredevil in Brubaker's run on that tite. However, he's now been given his own ongoing series, courtesy of writers Ed Brubaker and Matt Fraction, and penciler David Aja. While I doubt that anyone's really been wondering what the green-unitarded fighter's been up to in the past few years, aside from probably watching a lot of Chuck Norris movies and practicing opening the buttons on his shirt just enough to let girls in bars see his chest tattoo, it's good to have him back. What's more, there's a lot more potential to the character than has yet to be exploited. The East, of course, has a rich mythology to draw from, and while much of that exoticism has been mainly used thus far to give Dr. Strange really colorful dresses, there's still plenty left for Iron Fist.

Judging from the first issue, writers Brubaker and Fraction manage to avoid the curse of the co-writer. Instead of fragmenting the book, they’ve allowed their individual voices to unite into one minimal yet evocative style. The Immortal Iron Fist is darker than I remember Power Man and Iron Fist being, but that's no surprise, as Marvel's current editorial directives seem confined to "pretend you're Frank Miller". The first issue finds Danny Rand battling Hydra, while flashing back to previous incarnation of Iron Fist. Much of the comic book has Rand's first person narration questioning his origin and his destiny. A unique quality of sequential art, where the written word and the visual image unite, this sort of narration has an especially insightful quality, which makes it one of the most overused techniques since the splash page. Still, Brubaker and Fraction don't overdo it too much, keeping the interior dialogue somewhat spare. Ending in a series of cliffhangers, one in each timeline, the issue is strong, and succeeds in hooking the reader in for the next installment.

As for the art, David Aja is not Jae Lee, but he'll do in a pinch. Aside from a 3 page introduction illustrated by Travel Foreman and Derek Fridoles, the issue has a gloomy, heavily shaded look, spattered with rain drops and splashes of dark color, like John Romita Jr, by way of Jackson Pollock and a shadow. Eschewing the simpler line art of the introduction for a deeper, more textured feel, Aja seems like he would be well suited for a darker book like Swamp Thing or Punisher. Here, the style occasionally seems a little incongruous, but it appears as if the direction Brubaker and Fraction will be taking the book may end up suiting the art quite well. It's not clear where that direction will lead,  but as long as it heads out of the kung-fu slump and doesn't involve too many bathrobes, fans will be happy.

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