Jan 28, 2013

Back Issue Ben: Iron Fist, Part 10

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

Part Ten: The (Actual) Return!

With the traumatizing death of Iron Fist at the conclusion of the Power Man and Iron Fist series, and the crushing disappointment of his teased but not real return in Namor: The Sub-Mariner, I had successfully given up on the character of Iron Fist. For reasons unrelated to these setbacks (girls) I walked away from comics for a few years. So it wasn’t until many years later that I learned what happened not too long after Byrne ripped my heart out of my chest with his Super Skrull trickery. Could it be that the one true Iron Fist had finally returned to the Marvel Universe? There’s only one way to find out, true believers. (Actually there are probably several ways to find out, but reading the comics is the best way. Though, I guess for everyone reading this that hasn’t read the books, then this is the way you’re going to find out. It’s a labyrinth of myriad possibilities, and I just made my own head hurt thinking about it.)

Come along with me, as I relate to you a tale, a tale years in the making. A tale, of a hero reborn! (This intro sucks, but I’m ready to end this thing, so let’s do this.)

(Remember that movie Labyrinth? David Bowie’s package made me very uncomfortable as a child, but in the plus column, Jennifer Connelly. If you haven’t seen her riding a mechanical horse in Career Opportunities, you’re missing out. That’s all I have to say about that.)

Namor: The Sub-Mariner #21. Words and Pictures: John Byrne; Editor: Terry Kavanagh

Namor sees to the destruction of the Lady Dorma clones (see previous issues of Namor). He returns what little remains of the corpse of the real Lady Dorma to her tomb, and mourns her loss all over again. Elsewhere, a mysterious figure lurks through the shadows. This same figure looks through a window to see a man in a suit having a conversation with a H’ylthri named Sssesthugar.

The figure tries to escape, but is captured by sentient vines. The stranger turns out to be Wolverine. (Is this one of the few times Byrne drew Wolverine after leaving the X-Men book?)

Scene change: New York, where Joy Meachum is not very happy about her company having been absorbed into Oracle Inc.

The next day, Misty Knight and Colleen Wing meet with Lady Jacqueline Crichton, an executive of Namor’s Oracle Inc. Misty still believes Danny Rand is alive somewhere. Namor agrees to help her find him and takes them to see an old colleague of his, Doctor Stephen Strange, who he asks to provide them transportion to K’un–Lun, to investigate the Iron Fist situation further. Misty brought along a sample of a strange plant that was found in the coffin of Danny Rand. Strange confirms that it is a piece of a H’ylthri.

Strange warns them that the H’ylthri may not be as peaceful as Danny might have believed them to be, since the plant kindom is a savage and territorial place. Strange then uses his magical abilities to teleport them directly to K’un-Lun.

Namor, Misty, and Colleen arrive to find the city still devastated following the attack by Chian Tang. Misty suggests they try to find Danny’s mentor and trainer, Lei Kung. And unfortunately for them, they do find him.

My brain thoughts: Lots of setup this issue as Byrne changes gears from Namor’s storylines back to the Iron Fist–centered stuff. I’m not sure if I ever read these issues before, but I definitely had never read the Chian Tang issues from Power Man and Iron Fist before, so it was good to see Byrne using continuity to his advantage (instead of erasing it all and making his own). See, I told you all those weeks back that the H’ylthri were going to be major players in the ongoing history of Iron Fist. But did you listen? I don’t know, I’m asking. Did you?

#22. Story and pencils: John Byrne; Inker: Bob Wiacek; Editor: Terry Kavanagh

Captain Scarfe is investigating the career of former police detective Tyrone King. They can’t find any records of him in their systems. Before Scarfe even realizes what’s happening, Tyrone King himself arrives and attacks him.

In K’un-Lun, Namor faces off against Lei Kung.

While Namor tries to combat Lei Kung’s quickness, Colleen prepares to match martial arts with martial arts.

There’s my sweet, beautiful, angel of death Colleen.

Misty surmises that the vines covering Lei Kung’s body must be controlling him. So Namor and Colleen hit him from all sides, until Colleen is able to sever Lei Kung from the vines controlling him.

The vines reach out and try to take control of all of them, but Namor cuts the plant off at the source by ripping it from the ground.

Misty’s clothes are shredded.

That first line could be interpreted….differently.

Lei Kung wakes up, and reiterates the events of Iron Fist’s last return to K’un-Lun. Something about the events (resulting in Iron Fist’s red suit) didn’t sit well with Lei Kung, so he set off to investigate. Before he could get very far, he noticed a sweet aroma surrounding him, and that was his last memory until they severed him from the plants. Lei Kung had been wary because of an ancient K’un-Lun story about a mysterious stranger that was killed, and his body revealed to be entirely made of plants.

The four of them head into the forest to continue that search, but quickly fall prey to a H’ylthri attack using the same plant toxins in the air that felled Lei Kung.

Namor is able to avoid the mysterious plants knocking them unconscious by leaping off a cliff into a stream. The H’ylthri assume him to be dead, not knowing that the water would merely invigorate the King of Atlantis. He then follows the creatures back to their home, where he finds hundreds of people encased in life-sucking pods. (A call-back to one of the original H’ylthri stories. They use people as fertilizer.)

Namor attacks the plant creatures, and in the battle, is knocked back against a pod containing the still-living body of Iron Fist.

Meanwhile, back at the mysterious house, the unknown man and Sssesthugar discuss their captive, Wolverine.

My brain thoughts: Byrne’s approach to continuity is something he gained a lot of notoriety, or scorn, for throughout his career. Sometimes, like in this story, he would deftly weave his story through the already established events of previous stories, usually finding an ideal spot to explain something like the return of a character from the dead. The point where Iron Fist’s costume changed (along with his personality) seemed to be the most logical time to make the switch, and it works very well in this instance. (I remember him creating a very convoluted sequence of events returning James Hudson back from the dead in his ALPHA FLIGHT run. But if I recall correctly, that was not the real James Hudson in that story either. That Byrne was a real jerk with the teases back in the day.) Adding in the already established H’ylthri as the culprits of the switch was another clever move on his part.

(The other approach Byrne would take with continuity was bulldozing the established history of the character and starting over, so that he can tell stories using what he considers the “correct” version of whatever character he was working on. He had achieved a great deal of success doing this on the Superman books following Crisis on Infinite Earths, which eventually led to him trying to modernize Spider-Man in Chapter One. Chapter One was garbage, don’t ever read it. If you see an issue of Chapter One, immediately burn it, to prevent its evil from spreading.)

#23. Pencils and story: John Byrne; Inks: Bob Wiacek; Editor: Terry Kavanagh

Iron Fist floats in the H’ylthri pod as it drains the life out of him.

His mind recalls the accident that resulted in his radiation poisoning, leading to his return to K’un-Lun. How Lei Kung helped him focus his chi, in an attempt to cure him, and the trancelike state it put him in. Then, how he dove into the water, after having been warned not to by Lei Kung, with that being the last thing he could remember.

Outside, Namor has discovered Iron Fist still alive inside the pod. He strikes back at the H’ylthri, but is gravely outnumbered. Misty, also a captive of the H’ylthri, wakes up, and is able to break free using her bionic arm. She has just enough time to pound on the outside of Iron Fist’s pod, pleading for Danny to wake up.

Her pleas were successful, as they reached through the barrier of the pod, and helped clear Danny’s mind from its confused state. He begins to use his chi, healing his body, and focusing that chi down into his hand…

…until it had become like unto a thing of iron!

He lets loose on the H’ylthri with a lifetime of pent up fury…

…until every one of them is destroyed. Then he collapses, exhausted from his long ordeal.

Back at the mysterious house, the unknown man and Sssesthugar have successfully enslaved Wolverine.

My brain thoughts: Finally, Iron Fist has returned from the dead. Just as he had done so many years ago with his writing partner Chris Claremont, John Byrne would make it a point to keep Iron Fist around and viable. Here he was, working on a book featuring Namor, a character that had nothing in common with the character of Iron Fist previously, and he still made it a point to use that book as a means of bringing Iron Fist back from the dead. You can fault Byrne for many things, but I will always be grateful to him for that. Not only did his stories probably make me a fan of Iron Fist in the first place, but he brought him back from the depths of character limbo.

#24. Pencils and story: John Byrne; Inks: Bob Wiacek; Editor: Terry Kavanagh

Namor, Misty, and Colleen return to Doctor Strange’s sanctum with the unconscious body of Iron Fist.

Strange immediately begins to examine the unresponsive Danny Rand. After an indeterminate period of time, he lets everyone know that he was able to use his skills as a surgeon and a sorcerer to help stabilize Danny, but he cannot guarantee that he will recover. Strange also says he senses that it was Danny’s undying love for Misty which had kept him alive, which makes sense, since the real Danny had never broken up with Misty. (It was Plant Danny that was smooching it up with his blonde-haired boss.)

After Misty and Colleen depart, Namor and Strange discuss the evil H’ylthri. Strange believes that the H’ylthri have already begun to try and take over Earth, as evidenced by the plant Iron Fist having been here already. Strange uses his mystic powers to discover that there are actually three portals from Earth to K’un-Lun, with one in New Jersey currently active.

Back at the office of Captain Scarfe, Tyrone King continues to taunt Scarfe after telling him his big secret plan. (It is always a great idea to let the good guys know your plans. Pixar's The Incredibles brilliantly mocked this.)

Namor arrives in New Jersey, at the same mysterious house we have seen Wolverine being held at in previous issues.Namor makes his way over the wall, towards the house, but is ambushed by a mind-controlled Wolverine.

They fight, and Namor eventually hits Wolverine with a very large tree.

They are interrupted by the arrival of the strange man from the previous chapters, who turns out to be The Plant Man.

Turns out his powers have always been tied to the H’ylthri, and now he is directly helping them in their sinister plots.

Lord Sssesthugar arrives, and dispatches Plant Man, believing his usefulness to them is at an end.

At the command of Ssesthugar, mind-controlling vines spring up from the ground and ensnare Namor.

He intends to enslave Namor, and then following that, every human within a thousand mile radius. After that, complete domination of the planet.

My brain thoughts: The plot of the story moves forward without Iron Fist, which I found surprising. Plant Man has to be one of the least impressive reveals in the history of comics. Tying his entire history in with the H’ylthri could be viewed either as bulldozing or clever, arguably. (If there are any big fans of Plant Man reading this, feel free to let me know what you feel about the history of your character being changed. Also, you might want to branch out and read more comics. Plant Man?)

#25. Pencils and story: John Byrne; Inks: Bob Wiacek; Editor: Terry Kavanagh

Namorita searches for her cousin. She can instinctively sense that he is in danger and flies towards the house in New Jersey, where she spots some H’ylthri from the sky. But it is too late, as the mind-controlling tendrils sprout out from the ground and pull her down.

Namor continues to struggle against the vines trying to take control of his mind.

At the offices of Nightwing Restorations, Colleen and Misty are shocked to find Captain Scarfe stumble through their door, wracked with pain. Tyrone King had tried to erase everything he had told Scarfe from his mind, but it did not work. (What did I tell you? There you go, revealing your whole master plan to your enemy, and villains wonder why they have such a low success rate.) Scarfe reveals that Tyrone King is really Master Khan, and always has been.

Scarfe continues repeating the epic plans as they were told to him. Khan had pulled the Super Skrull from his prison in the radiation belts around Earth (following an encounter with Sasquatch, of Alpha Flight fame). He offered to cure him of his super leukemia in exchange for his cooperation on his master plan against Iron Fist.

The boy that Iron Fist had befriended, Bobby Wright, had always been the Super Skrull in disguise, with even the Skrull not knowing the truth about himself. He really believed he was Bobby Wright. Master Khan was keeping an eye on things all along, disguised as Tyrone King.

But, not even Khan knew that Iron Fist had been replaced by a plant creature grown by the H’ylthri. So, when the Skrull killed the creature while still in the form of Bobby Knight, Khan believed it to really be Iron Fist that died.

Bobby’s fade-away job was really the Skrull being returned back to the radiation belt, until such time that Khan needed him again. Misty and Colleen are justifiably very upset (especially Misty, since she was shacking up with “Tyrone King” for a time, but I don’t even want to think about that aspect of this retcon).

Back in New Jersey, Namorita struggles against her plant bonds, and a dejected Plant Man helps to free her with his plant gun, before passing out (or dying, whatever).

Lord Sssesthugar continues to brag to Namor about their brilliant plan to take over the world. They are going to release a vast cloud of reproductive pollen, which, once inhaled, will kill every human on the planet.

Namorita comes in firing with the Plant Man’s gun, which is useless against the H’ylthri. Instead she points it at Wolverine, freeing him from his mind control. Wolverine proceeds to shred every H’ylthri he can see with his adamantium claws. Master Khan teleports in, and immediately teleports Wolverine out.

Namor warns Khan that he is too late to ally himself with the H’ylthri, but Khan hates the H’ylthri as much as them, and uses his powers to decimate all the remaining H’ylthri.

Namorita questions why Khan had come to help them, but he has not. He has come to punish Namor for aiding his longtime foe Iron Fist, by saving him from a slow death at the hands of the H’ylthri. Keeping both of them captive with his mystic powers, Khan strips Namor of his memory, and then sends him off to places unknown. Condemning Namor to a life without his true identity, left to wander without hope of rescue. (No doubt an intentional parallel to Namor’s first Silver Age appearance in FANTASTIC FOUR.)

Then Khan laughs and laughs, the laugh of the wicked.

My brain thoughts: Since this chapter was billed as the conclusion of this story, I was a little bit disappointed and confused that it was not. (I feel so cold, someone hold me.) I was anticipating Iron Fist making his big splashy return during the final battle, revealing that he was fully recovered from whatever was ailing him. Not to be. Instead, we get pages and pages of Byrne completely changing just about every story from the end of Power Man and Iron Fist. This counts as one of those unnecessary continuity “fixes” that Byrne likes to do. It was pretty deft of him to reveal Tyrone King to be Master Khan (explaining that one panel curiosity from issue #125 where he survived the exploding motorcycle without any damage), but I’m not so sure that the Super Skrull needed to be tied in with the character of Bobby Knight. That might be a little bit too much. (But I do appreciate getting that Tyrone King explanation all these many years later.) This chapter steered ever so close to Tobey Maguire territory.

#28. Writers: John Byrne and Joey Cavalieri; Penciller: Jae Lee; Inker: Jeff Albrecht; Editor: Terry Kavanagh

After several issues of an amnesiac Namor having adventures, we finally get confirmation to the fate of Iron Fist.

He’s back!

My brain thoughts: Feel free to skip the previous issues of Namor, because I definitely did. But here we have it, Iron Fist back in action. Jae Lee took over as penciler with issue #26, and it is not very pretty. He was not the artist he would eventually become yet, and that makes these issues very hard to get through. But whatever, one of my favorite characters is back from the dead.

My final brain thoughts: Plant Man, villainous vegetation, naked Wolverine, hitting people with trees, and the long-awaited return of Iron Fist.

This five-part storyline may have ventured a bit too far into “clever continuity-fixing territory,” instead of just telling a solid story featuring the return of a beloved character. Arguably, too much time was spent tying in all these different aspects of Iron Fist history and explaining away previous storylines. I understand why Iron Fist might have been left out of the final chapter, but that doesn’t make it satisfying. But to be fair, Byrne was trying to accomplish all of this while still trying to properly include Namor, the actual star of the book he was working on. What resulted was a bit of a mish-mash between the two worlds, and the results weren’t altogether smooth this time out.

Ultimately, the important thing is that Byrne brought Iron Fist back to the world of comics. And even though Marvel wouldn’t really capitalize on Iron Fist’s return right away (leaving the character to languish in bad mini-series after bad mini-series) it eventually led to the instant classic Immortal Iron Fist series, which is a great thing. (Seriously, like I said before, this was one of the best Marvel series of the past 10 years. If the past 10 columns of Back Issue Ben have interested you in Iron Fist in even the slightest bit, I cannot recommend highly enough going out and getting those comics immediately.)

The rest, as they say, is history.

That’s it for Iron Fist folks. I hope you have a good time exploring the history of the character with me. I know I certainly did, even learning some things I never knew along the way. If even a fraction of the passion and love I have for the character translated across, than I consider that a massive success.

See you next time.


Ian Miller said...

I might have to check some of these issues out. But man, that Byrne art is hard to look at sometimes. I loved his work on X-Men, but after that I felt like there was a drop-off. Was he rushing things more after becoming a writer/artist? Was part of the magic from Terry Austin's inks?

Back Issue Ben said...

I agree, you can really see a drop in quality with Wiacek inking Byrne's pencils. Austin definitely doesn't get enough credit as a member of that X-Men creative team.

Peter said...

Inkers ..... More than just tracers. :-)

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