Nov 26, 2012

Back Issue Ben: Iron Fist, Part 3

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

Part Three: Finally, Colleen Wing!

As I’ve told you before, Iron Fist is arguably my second favorite superhero character of all time. He’s got a cool yellow mask, and a dragon tattooed on his chest. All that, plus his first solo series was handled by two of the all-time best in the business, Chris Claremont and John Byrne. The results have been average at best so far, but the best is yet to come.

Previously, on Back Issue Ben: Danny Rand was raised in the mystical city of K’un-Lun learning the martial arts, one day earning the power of the Iron Fist. Harold Meachum, responsible for the death of Danny’s parents, is dead. His daughter, Joy, blames Iron Fist for his death. Danny attempted to acclimate to modern life with his friend Colleen, who was suddenly kidnapped. Together with her private investigator partner Misty Knight, they are trying to hunt down her kidnappers. However, Colleen has been brainwashed to hate Iron Fist.

Now that everyone is all caught up, let’s dive on in.

Iron Fist # 6. Author: Chris Claremont; Artist: John Byrne; Inker: Frank Chiaramonte; Editor: Marv Wolfman

Iron Fist comes gliding in to the Jera’ad Al-Din in Halwan, silently taking out several guards when he lands. As he makes his way through the fortress, he thinks back to the events of the past few days. Alan Cavenaugh sees Danny Rand off at the airport. He boards a private plane to find, to his surprise, Misty Knight waiting for him. He asks about her arm, prompting her to flashback to when she was still on the police force, and lost her arm in an explosion.

Their catching up is interrupted by a laywer named Jeryn Hogarth. (Jeryn will wind up being another longtime supporting character for Iron Fist.)

Jeryn had been keeping Danny under surveillance, to make sure he really is the rightful heir to the Rand business and fortune, worth a quarter of a billion dollars.

As Iron Fist prepares to jump from the plane and glide into the fortress, Misty Knight gives him a long hug, hinting at possibly something more than feelings of friendship from her.

Meanwhile, in K’un-Lun, Yu-Ti also monitors his nephews activities through a crystal. Lei Kung comes barging in, dropping all kinds of information.

Apparently, the use of the crystal leaves K’un-Lun open to a H’ylthri attack, Lei Kung has a son that fled the city as a condemned traitor, and Lei Kung suggests that maybe Yu-Ti had more involvement in the death of Wendell Rand than he lets on.

Iron Fist finally finds Colleen, only to be surprised when she attacks him. At the same time, Angar the Screamer lets loose with his mindstorm attack.

Iron Fist gains his focus, and tries to defend himself against Colleen’s attacks.

He finally is able to draw her in close, and attempts something he never has before with the power of the Iron Fist, by merging both of their minds together.

The ordeal leaves Colleen unconscious, and Iron Fist weakened. Weakened enough for some soldiers to grab him, and prepare to murder him for their big boss man, Master Khan.

My brain thoughts: That’s more like it. Finally this story starts getting going. Iron Fist finally catches up to Colleen and learns the identity of the big bad causing him all these problems. Long-time supporting character Jeryn Hogarth makes his debut, along with the fact that Danny is a multi-millionaire (later on a billionaire, adjusting for inflation). We have little hints to deeper developments. Misty Knight may be developing deeper feelings for Danny. Yu-Ti may have a darker side to him that we haven’t seen to this point. (Should have realized, considering that full head hood he wears ala Cobra Commander. Nothing good has ever come from a person draping a piece of cloth over their entire head.) Overall, the storyline finally moved forward, with some great action, and threads of other storylines were dropped that could be picked up on later. An excellent chapter.

#7. Author: Chris Claremont; Artist: John Byrne; Inker: Frank Chiaramonte; Editor: Archie Goodwin

Iron Fist, still weakened, struggles with the men holding him captive. Before the killing blow can be struck, Colleen bursts to life and takes out the would-be executioner.

Having gained a second chance and a second wind, Iron Fist takes off after Master Khan. Colleen stays behind and goes all badass on the remaining soldiers.

Left face to face with Angar, Colleen does not hold back.

Iron Fist runs into a bruiser named Khumbala Bey, and makes short work of him.

He catches up to Master Khan, who binds him with his magic.

Master Khan tells Iron Fist of how the King of Halwan had wanted to steal his occult powers from him, how he tortured and killed his wife and daughter. He tries to convince Iron Fist to leave him to his vengeance, and in return, he will help him return home to K’un-Lun.

While Iron Fist considers returning home, Master Khan tries to convince him further by suggesting that Yu-Ti was the one ultimately responsible for Wendell Rand’s death and how he drove him from K’un-Lun ten years earlier so he could claim the throne that was rightfully his brother’s. Iron Fist’s confidence in Yu-Ti, and all of K’un-Lun itself, is shaken, but he uses the power of the iron fist to destroy the portal anyway.

The resulting vortex pulls Master Khan in, and he disappears.

Colleen and Iron Fist regroup outside. She is angry at him for invading her mind the way he did, but ultimately decides that they know each other far too well now for her to stay angry.

My brain thoughts: Another superb chapter. The action is even better than it was the last issue, thanks to Byrne’s masterful artwork. Colleen’s ruthlessness is both stunning and intriguing. (Arousing?) Too often in these older stories you see characters that utilize these deadly weapons, but never actually do anything deadly with them. (Early Wolverine comes to mind. He’s got claws that come out of the back of his hands, but never actually hurts anyone with them. Not that I have a bloodlust or anything, but if your character has a deadly weapon like a sword, but never does anything with it, it makes them seem ineffective, to me. One of the main problems I had with Wolverine in that highly popular, yet horrible, ‘90s X-Men cartoon, is that he was all talk. He couldn’t do anything with those claws on an animated series, so he would talk a big game and then ultimately get his ass handed to him.) Further clues are dropped implicating that Yu-Ti might be more evil than he lets on. In the short time that this character has existed, Iron Fist already has an evil uncle and an unknown sister that may or may not be lost forever. The Rand family is complicated.

#8. Author: Chris Claremont; Artists: John Byrne and Dan Adkins; Editor: Archie Goodwin

This is the first cover John Byrne actually did for the series,
and it’s always been a favorite of mine.

The story begins with a member of the Golden Tiger gang threatening some subway passengers, and a cop that intervenes. The gang member puts the cop down and takes his gun, but before he can fire a shot, in comes Iron Fist, feet ablazing.

Iron Fist makes short work of the gang in this stunning splash page by John Byrne.

Hmm, that guy in top right corner looks a little familiar.

Before he can take down the last Golden Tiger, Iron Fist is distracted by the oncoming train, giving the gang member the opportunity to kick him into the wall and escape.

It’s a slow news day, so the press descends upon the crime scene, including a familiar-looking photographer…

…and one of the victims happens to have a familiar name and profession (told you that guy looked familiar).

A man by the name of Bill Hao leaves the crime scene, following a woman by the name of Cynthia Wu, a member of the Golden Tigers “female auxiliary”. He has a personal reason for tracking down Chaka, the leader of the Golden Tigers, since it is really his brother Robert. (So their parents basically named their kids Bill and Bob?) He follows her to an abandoned warehouse, where he witnesses Chaka making several claims about his crew running the city, and Bill is eventually discovered.

In Riverside, Danny has moved into his childhood home, thanks to the work of Jeryn Hogarth. In familiar surroundings, Danny struggles with the memories of himself as a child with his parents, and their gruesome deaths.

Over in the Meachum building, Joy has a conversation with the mysterious man with the tattoo, now revealed to be a man named Davos. She wonders about the legality of some of her Uncle Ward’s business dealings.

Danny, Misty, and Jeryn leave for a meeting with the Meachums to discuss Danny’s stake in the company. At the same time, Golden Tiger members descend upon the building, making their way up to the top floors.

The meeting is interrupted by the arrival of Chaka, and Danny is powerless to do anything without revealing himself as Iron Fist.

My brain thoughts: See, these types of stories are much better for a character like Iron Fist. Focus on the Kung-Fu and street level action, instead of trying to put him up against your generic supervillain of the month. The Golden Tigers have a cool-looking logo, even if the name Chaka does make me think of the ape boy from Will Ferrell’s Land of the Lost remake. (An underrated comedy movie, or maybe not, but it makes me laugh. I remember when I was in Korea and we were on 24-hour ops, so we would split into two 12-hour work shifts. Me and my boss were on one shift, and one day we watched Land of the Lost during the downtime. We spent the rest of our tour on that base yelling “dammit Chaka!” anytime anyone did anything undesirable. It’s all about having some fun in between all the torture.)

Byrne got his first cover of the series this issue. Knowing now how popular he was going to get later, it’s strange to think he didn’t get to do his own covers most of the time yet. From what I understand, Dave Cockrum did a lot of the Marvel covers in that era. Maybe they wanted to keep a unified look among the line.

#9. Author: Chris Claremont; Artist: John Byrne; Inker: Frank Chiaramonte; Editor: Archie Goodwin

Iron Fist is on the run down the dark streets of New York. He is exhausted, or hurt, and it takes all of his energy to beat one lone Golden Tiger before passing out himself.

Flashback to earlier, when Chaka and his crew had broken in on the meeting between Rand and the Meachums. Danny charges at one of the gang members, and is thrown through and out of the window. Danny had planned for this though, and is able to save himself by landing on a balcony below. He changes into Iron Fist and returns to the meeting room upstairs. A short battle takes place, with Misty and Davos getting involved, before Chaka knocks Iron Fist out with an electrically charged triple-iron.

Iron Fist wakes up in another abandoned warehouse. Chaka has injected him with a nerve toxin that will kill him in a hour, unless he agrees to face him in a public battle. Iron Fist’s actions against his crew have left him looking weak, and Chaka means to regain his rep by publicly beating him. All Iron Fist has to do is survive against his Golden Tigers until he can get to Chinatown and face Chaka, and he promises to give him the antidote.

After Iron Fist leaves, Chaka brags about how there is no antidote, surprising no one. He enters another room where he has his brother Bill captive. He uses a mystic crystal to hypnotize his brother into fighting and killing Iron Fist for him, and then accepting the blame for his murder.

Interlude in London, where a redheaded man with an afro named Cavenaugh buys his way onto a steamboat heading for New York. Two men are watching him from a distance. Men that refer to him as a “traitor”, and that they have orders to kill him and Iron Fist both.

Back to present day, Iron Fist is on his last legs. He runs into a man claiming to be Chaka, but Iron Fist can tell something is off, that the man has a different fighting style. He puts the imposter down with a good punch, and just as he is about to breathe his final breath, the power of the iron fist flows out all over him. The man dressed as Chaka moves in to attack again, and Fist punches him back against the wall. A well timed triple-iron hits the man in the head at the same time as his head impacts the wall.

Cured of the poison (or so it seems), Iron Fist rushes to the body of the man, just as the police come bursting in, yelling at him to freeze.

My brain thoughts: How many times is Iron Fist going to get framed for murder, only for the police to really kind of never follow-up on it? He and Spider-Man are horrible at getting caught standing over a dead body. I was kind of hoping Cavenaugh wouldn’t make his way back into the series. Byrne and George Perez just loved drawing a good afro back in the day. With sideburns, can’t forget the sideburns. (Is he the inspiration for Terry Long? Maybe Marv was reading these issues thinking, “I do love me a hairy white man.” The more logical answer is that this is what all the guys working on comics at that time looked like.)

Where’s Colleen been at? I love me some Colleen. This was a good chapter by the way, I just don’t have much to say about it really. (If you haven’t noticed, I’m not very good at these reviews. I just really like Iron Fist and want someone else to read it. That and Rom. If I can get more people to read Iron Fist and Rom, then maybe I’ll feel like I accomplished something in life, something other than getting married and raising two wonderful boys. Who cares about that kind of stuff?)

I can’t help but notice that Archie Goodwin took over as editor for the past three issues. I wonder if he had any kind of influence on the improvement on the stories and overall approach. Can’t be a coincidence right? (Marv Wolfman: “foiled again!” I’m watching you, Marv Wolfman…)

#10. Author: Chris Claremont; Artists: John Byrne and Dan Adkins; Editor: Archie Goodwin

Iron Fist is on the run, framed for the murder of Bill Hao. This title splash is beautiful, I love it. Byrne would do something very similar to this with his famous X-Men: Days of Future Past cover later on in his career.

Iron Fist makes his way through the streets, trying to avoid cops, or put them down as gently as possible. Misty and Colleen track him down on a rain-soaked roof (I do love me some well down action drawn in the rain).

Iron Fist has to convince them of his innocence, of how he noticed a triple-iron shaped bruise at the base of Bill Hao’s skull before the police barged in on him.

They believe him, but it doesn’t matter much unless the police do too. Iron Fist decides to hit Chaka and his operation hard instead.

Iron Fist does so much damage that Chaka has lost all credibility and power on the streets.

As Iron Fist relaxes at the Nighwing Restorations offices (Misty and Colleen’s private investigator business), Chaka comes bursting in and knocks out Misty and Colleen before they can react. Chaka has amped up the power on his beloved triple-iron weapon.

Iron Fist and Chaka battle throughout the building, and the city.

Iron Fist finally bests Chaka, and when the police arrive, he tries to get him to admit to killing his own brother. He won’t, but it doesn’t matter, as Bill Hao arrives, still alive.

It seems Lt Scarfe had faked the death of Bill, so that he could tell the police everything he knew about his brother and his operation. At the same time, they would use Iron Fist as bait to draw Chaka out into the open, so that he could be arrested when the time was right.

Everything worked out according to plan.

My brain thoughts: More action excellently rendered by an ever improving John Byrne. Lt Scarfe’s plan seems a little convoluted (and unlikely, if I go and use my “adult” logic), but it made for some pretty cool visuals, so whatever.

My final brain thoughts: Ape boys named Chaka, bad ‘90s cartoons, flaccid Wolverine, afros with sideburns, and slashed Angars.

Boy, I sure do love a healthy dose of Colleen Wing. After a stunning origin story, the end of the Marvel Premiere run and the beginning of the Iron Fist series left me a little bit disappointed. I began to wonder just what I liked so much about the character as a kid. But Claremont and Byrne really hit their stride over this stretch of stories (possibly because of the influence of Archie Goodwin?). Fighting martial arts criminals in the streets of New York is where it’s at. That is where this character excels. Hopefully you stuck with me, ole faithful readers (or reader, singular), because there were some pretty great comics going on here.

Well, if you did stick with me, don’t go anywhere now. Coming up next time is the Wrecking Crew, the X-Men, the debut of Sabretooth, and Iron Fist versus Captain America. That’s right you heard me. How can you resist a tease like that?

You can’t, I say, you can’t!


Geoff Roberts said...

Good stuff, Duy. I was entering my teens when these came out, reading your review is a trip down memory lane, IF was definitely one of the best superhero mags at the time.

Geoff Roberts said...

Oh yeah, one more Easter Egg, in the panel where the police detective is offering the sketch of the gang's emblem, the detective holding the sketch is supposed to be Detective Phillip K. Fish, from an ABC sitcom that ran at the same time as these comics, "Barney Miller".

Geoff Roberts said...

Whoops! Just realized I should have addressed my first comment a little while ago to Ben..., sorry Ben I just saw Duy's name next to the comment box. If you publish my comment, please edit in "Ben" where I reference Duy.

Ben said...

Thanks for the kind words Geoff. Keep reading because there's going to be a whole lot more Iron Fist.

Ben said...

and don't worry, Duy is always trying to take credit for my hard work :)

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