Nov 19, 2012

Back Issue Ben: Iron Fist, Part 2

Back Issue Ben is a column written by Ben Smith for the Comics Cube! See his archives here.

LIKE UNTO A THING OF IRON
Part 2: Enter Claremont and Byrne

As I told you last time, Iron Fist is arguably my second favorite superhero character of all time. Mystic Kung-Fu cities with martial arts action, combined with superheroics as only Marvel comics can portray, make for a winning entertainment formula. Plus he wears a cool yellow mask and has a dragon tattoo. Chris Claremont and John Byrne take over as writer and artist on the character during this time period, and as near as I can tell, through half-hearted internet research, this was the second time they worked together on a comic book. (The first being an early Starlord story, who would go on to much fame as a member of the modern day Guardians of the Galaxy.) Byrne was still a relatively new artist as well, still learning as he goes. So, witness it here, the beginning of what would eventually become a legendary creative team.

Previously, on Back Issue Ben: Danny Rand was raised in the mystical city of K’un-Lun learning the martial arts, in order to gain the advantage he needs to get revenge upon the man that killed his parents. When he finally gets his chance, he walks away, as Harold Meachum had become a broken, legless man in the years that passed. Unfortunately, a mysterious ninja killed Meachum anyway, and Iron Fist was blamed for the murder.

Most of the stories that finished up Iron Fist’s appearances in the Marvel Premiere title are pretty pedestrian (practically Tobey Maguire-ish), so I’m going to do us both a favor and just hit the highlights, so we can skip on to the good stuff.


Marvel Premiere #19-25

Iron Fist comes into contact with Colleen Wing, and her father, Professor Lee Wing.


Fights ensue. Danny attempts to convince Joy Meachum that he did not kill her father, but she will not believe him.


Joy’s uncle hires Batroc to go after Iron Fist, which results in much hilarious dialogue and entertaining action.


The mysterious ninja is revealed to be Professor Wing.


Iron Fist meets Colleen’s private eye partner, Misty Knight, a woman who would wind being a very important part of Danny Rand’s life.


Fights ensue.

Colleen and Iron Fist discover that the ninja was only inhabiting the body of Professor Wing, but the two entities were separated after the destruction of “the book of many things.”


Seems the ninja was a disgraced samurai that attempted to attack K’un-Lun, but was defeated by Lei Kung and imprisoned within the book by Yu-Ti.


Fights ensue, and the ninja is defeated and left stranded in another dimension.

With the help of Colleen, Danny tries to adjust to modern day life in the city, and to find his place in it. Turns out Colleen is fairly well versed in the martial arts herself, a bit of a modern day samurai. Iron Fist has a bit of trouble sparring with her though, as women are not allowed to learn the martial arts in K’un-Lun. Fights ensue. Other things happen.


(Marvel Premiere #25 marks Claremont and Byrne’s first work on the character.)

A friend of Professor Wing, police Lt. Rafael Scarfe, and Iron Fist discover that Colleen has been kidnapped. In a battle with Angar the Screamer, Professor Wing is hurt badly, and Iron Fist discovers a clue to Colleen’s whereabouts, a Stark Enterprises identification card.

Iron Fist #1. Author: Chris Claremont; Artist: John Byrne; Inker: Al McWilliams; Editor: Marv Wolfman

Iron Fist finds himself at Stark International’s New York complex. As he makes his way inside, he runs into a familiar face.


Misty Knight is on the trail of her kidnapped partner Colleen Wing as well. A gunshot sends them both running, where they find the lifeless body of Donald Cauley, the man Misty had come to meet.


Iron Fist shows Misty the identification card he acquired, which happens to be the access card to the Delphi system, an advanced (for that time period) computer. The intruder alarm wakes Tony Stark, who sees Donald Cauley down on the floor, and suspected murderer Iron Fist accessing the Delphi system room.


Meanwhile, at the airport, Colleen attempts to escape her kidnappers, but is stopped by a mysterious man. A mysterious man that bears a similar-looking dragon tattoo on his chest (minus the wings).


Iron Man arrives on the scene, and he and Iron Fist fight under mistaken circumstances (in the true Marvel manner!).


Misty, still in the computer center, is approached from behind by someone with a shotgun. The computer center bursts into flames, sending Iron Fist into a blind rage. He hits Iron Man with a flurry of blows, focuses his chi, his hand begins to smoulder, until it becomes unto a thing of iron.


Not much good that will do long term against Iron Man though, but before Iron Man can deal the knock out blow, Misty arrives with a not quite dead Cauley. Turns out Cauley is working for a group of sleeper agents planted inside Stark International , working for someone named Mr. Big in Halwan. They also are responsible for kidnapping Colleen.


Iron Man apologizes for the confusion, leaving Iron Fist and Misty to continue tracking down their friend.


My brain thoughts: Byrne really wasn’t very good at drawing Iron Man yet, at all. Other than that, the art was fantastic. He wasn’t quite at the peak of his powers, but he was clearly better than just about everyone else in the business. I see it time and time again reading comics from that era, and the Byrne-drawn ones just look better, I don’t know how else to say it. I’ve always loved his rendition of Iron Fist too. (If his prices weren’t ridiculously high, I’d love to get an original art commission from John Byrne. If I was going to get one, I’d pick Iron Fist. While I’m dreaming, I want Mike Zeck to draw me a recreation of the cover to Web of Spider-Man #32.) Kind of funny that Marv Wolfman was the editor on this book with this creative team, since he would later become their main “rival” over at DC while writing the New Teen Titans. (Could he have been laying the seeds of discord even then? That would make Marv quite the forward thinker, planning to sabotage the future best creative team in comics before they even were the best team in comics, all so that his future run on Teen Titans could flourish in a non–Claremont and Byrne world. Dropping little sayings here and there like, “Hey John, you’re a pretty good plotter yourself, have you ever considered writing comics too?” Diabolical! He hadn’t planned on one thing though. And that thing? Tobey Maguire!)


#2. Author: Chris Claremont; Artist: John Byrne; Inker: F. Chiarmonte; Editor: Marv Wolfman

Iron Fist visits the comatose Professor Wing in the hospital. As he sits there, he thinks back to the events that occurred right before he left K’un-Lun and returned to the world. A K’un-Lun nobleman named Merrin, jealous that Danny had been chosen to become the Iron Fist, ambushes him with a group of men. Aid comes in the form of two individuals, who are revealed to be lovers Conal and Miranda. Danny questions Conal’s decision to teach a woman the martial arts, which is forbidden in K’un-Lun. Before they can discuss it further, the two are arrested.


Colleen and her kidnappers arrive in Halwan, where she is delivered to mysterious man by the name of Masterlord.

Iron Fist catches Conal and Miranda sneaking away into the night. The punishment for their crime had been determined to be a complete mindwipe, which would leave them complete strangers. They’d rather take their chances in the unknown region outside of the mystical city. Before he can stop them, Conal knocks Iron Fist unconscious.

Back in the hospital, Lt. Scarfe hits Misty with a lead on Masterlord. One of Masterlord’s people has contacted Interpol about coming forward, with the meet going down in London. Meanwhile, Danny had gone looking for his friends, but falls victim to plant creatures called the H’ylthri. (They will show up again throughout Iron Fist’s history.)


The H’ylthri had captured Conal and Miranda too, encased in some kind of life draining pods. Iron Fist escapes and battles the creatures, but to no avail. As he loses consciousness again, Miranda pleads with him to help, and calls him her brother.


Iron Fist wakes up alone, with no trail to follow. He somberly returns to K’un-Lun. In the present, Misty and Iron Fist prepare to leave for London.

My brain thoughts: I’m almost positive that Miranda returns at some point. I know the H’ylthri do, they end up being fairly important in the history of Iron Fist. A well drawn issue that introduces some important characters for the future, but it seems like they’re trying to stretch this kidnapping plot on as long as possible.


#3. Author: Chris Claremont; Artist: John Byrne; Inker: F. Chiaramonte; Editor: Marv Wolfman

Misty and Iron Fist’s plane is ambushed as it arrives in London by an armored villain calling himself the Ravager. They fight, with Ravager eventually making his escape. In the battle, Iron Fist (and the reader) learn an important bit of information about Misty.


Danny visits Misty in the hospital later, where he tells her he’s going to go after the Ravager. Misty is angry, wanting him to focus on Colleen’s kidnapping. Torn between the two, Danny’s mind is made up for him when a young girl that was on the plane with him dies in surgery.

Iron Fist tracks the Ravager to the General Post Office Tower. They fight, with Iron Fist eventually causing massive damage to the Ravager’s armor. He removes it, revealing a body glowing with nuclear energy, and renames himself Radion, the Atomic Man.

Misty watches a news report about the fight at the hospital, ending with a shot of a massive explosion coming from the top of the tower.

My brain thoughts: This issue seems like its biding time even more so than the previous one. At least the previous one introduced characters that I already know will be key figures later on. This one introduces yet another generic villain, and ends on a cliffhanger, so I already know we’re going to get more of him. I’m kind of making this sound worse than it was, it’s not a bad issue, it just doesn’t have anything to do with the plot that’s already been established back to the end of the Marvel Premiere run. It’s like the creators, and Marvel, want us to keep buying the comics or something…

I blame Tobey Maguire.


#4. Author: Chris Claremont; Artist: John Byrne; Inker: Frank Chiaramonte; Editor: Marv Wolfman

Iron Fist and Radion continue to fight, causing a massive explosion. In New York City, Ward and Joy Meachum watch the events on the news with the mysterious stranger that shares a dragon tattoo with Iron Fist.

Iron Fist wakes in the wreckage of the tower, leading to this panel that made me chuckle.

“Yes!!”
Iron Fist breaks free, and coincidentally enough catches a video report of Henri Sorel. Sorel had been working on a cure for radiation poisoning, until goons hired by Ward Meachum came to force him to work for Meachum. During the ensuing struggle, he is doused with chemicals, turning him into Radion, and then eventually Ravager. He was just about to cure himself for good until Iron Fist intervened.

Back at the hospital, Misty prepares to leave to help Iron Fist, who she has come to realize she cares about, but collapses in pain before she can leave.

Iron Fist tracks down Radion, and they fight. Iron Fist is able to lead him into the anti-radiation transformer that Radion had developed as Ravager, and cure him of his affliction. Sorel returns, now cured of the madness caused by the radiation, and sorrowful over all the death and destruction he had caused.

My brain thoughts: Lots of Claremont waxing poetic in this issue. The Meachums are reintroduced into the story. I was beginning to wonder if they had been forgotten about completely.


#5. Author: Chris Claremont; Artist: John Byrne; Inker: Frank Chiaramonte; Editor: Marv Wolfman

The trail had grown cold on Colleen’s kidnappers, until Iron Fist received a letter from Hassan urging them to meet. Misty still lays in the hospital after hurting herself in the previous issue. Iron Fist changes into his civilian clothes, and comes upon a group of thugs beating on one man. He takes them down, and then meets the man he saved, a reformed I.R.A. terrorist named Alan Cavenaugh. Cavenaugh accompanies Danny to the meeting point on the note, only to find Hassan has been murdered by the Master’s assassins.


During the confusion, Danny changes back into Iron Fist, and runs into a costumed villain by the name of Scimitar. They fight. Cavenaugh is injured while helping Iron Fist to defeat Scimitar. As they walk away, Cavenaugh asks him a question Iron Fist apparently hadn’t given much thought to before.


In Halwan, Angar the Screamer continues to torture and warp Colleen’s mind. They have successfully brainwashed her, to the point that when she sees a robot duplicate of Iron Fist, she deals with it in the deadliest way possible.


My brain thoughts: Another issue of a fight with the generic villain of the month, but the end holds some promise for the future, as it teases a showdown between Iron Fist and his friend Colleen Wing. (I’ve always liked Colleen Wing as a character. She’s never been able to break out on her own in any significant way. She had a tie-in miniseries during Shadowland that focused on her a great deal, but it also wasn’t very good.)

My final brain thoughts: The Marvel Premiere issues following the initial origin issues were pretty awful, mostly due to the generic art. Once the character graduated to his own series, with Claremont and Byrne, the stories got better, or maybe the improvement in the art just makes it seem that way. Overall, the stories were pretty good, if not anything spectacular. Mostly, the series seems a little unfocused at this point. By the time they started on the X-Men, Claremont and Byrne were very good at carrying this ongoing plot bubbling under the surface while providing satisfying battles month to month approach. But at this early point in their careers (and collaboration), it just comes off like they’re stalling the resolution of this kidnapping plot. Most of that is probably because the villains they were creating are just not very good. It’s hard to get really invested when Iron Fist is fighting Count Chocula every single issue. (Actually, that would probably be pretty cool, fighting Count Chocula. After the battle where he narrowly beats the Count, the teaser on the bottom of the last page could read, “Next Issue: Frankenberry!”) They had some energy going between Iron Fist and Misty Knight, but then they took her off the table halfway through.

I know there are better things coming for Iron Fist, but at this point, it seems like the character is trying to find its feet a little bit (along with Claremont and Byrne themselves). Misty Knight and Colleen Wing are solid supporting characters, but they aren’t being used enough. They also haven’t been able to find that breakthrough villain that so often can elevate a heroic character, yet. Maybe he would do better as part of a team, or maybe, with a partner…

Don’t quit on Iron Fist yet, I know things get a whole lot better next time. Join me for some more Kung-Fu hijinks!

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