Jan 7, 2013

Back Issue Ben: Iron Fist, Part 7

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

Part Seven: The Red Fist of Death

If you’ve been tuning in for the past six weeks, you’ve witnessed my slow descent into madness. My exploration of the history of Iron Fist has brought us on through into his co-starring role in the Power Man and Iron Fist comic book of the ‘80s. Along the way, I’ve developed an unhealthy fixation on supporting character Colleen Wing, to the point where I threaten any of the fictional characters that try to date her.

I’ve been taking a look at key issues throughout the series, because not even I am crazy enough to try and cover all 75 issues of their co-starring run. Not after Rom: Spaceknight.

Enough foreplay, let’s get to the good stuff.

Power Man and Iron Fist #87. Script: Denny O’Neil; Pencils: Denys Cowan; Inks: Carl Potts; Editor: Ralph Macchio

Moon Knight is on the trail of a criminal named Al Jordan.

Al Jordan flees to the top of a building, onto the top of a water tower. They struggle, and both go tumbling into the water tower. The city is suffering from a blistering heat wave. Iron Fist and Luke Cage try to beat the heat in their Heroes for Hire office. Then two associates of Moon Knight (probably Frenchie and Marlene) enter and hire our two heroes to locate the missing Moon Knight.

Moon Knight wakes up on the bottom of the water tower. He has severely injured his knee and shoulder, leaving him unable to jump and climb his way out of his trap. The sun beats down mercilessly on him, and he discovers that Al Jordan is dead.

The issue cuts back and forth between Power Man and Iron Fist hunting down leads and busting criminal heads to find Moon Knight, and Moon Knight stuck in the tower with the dead body of Al Jordan.

Moon Knight wonders what Al might have been running towards the tower for, and hopes maybe there is a trap door or hidden compartment. He does find a hidden compartment, but all it contains is money, not salvation. After several days of intense heat, it begins to rain. The city starts taking advantage and filling up all the water towers while they have a chance.

Having found no leads, Power Man and Iron Fist return to the office. Al Jordan’s wife Bertie comes in, wanting to hire the duo to find her missing husband. She mentions how he went up to get the money he was hiding in a water tower two days ago, and hasn’t come back since. This having happened at the same time and place that Moon Knight was last seen, the guys put two and two together and rush off to save Moon Knight.

While the water level rises, the boys are delayed by some criminals from earlier in the issue. Finally, they find Moon Knight and pull him out to safety.

Turning him over to their clients, and making a nice buck for doing so, everyone gets a happy ending. Except for Al and Bertie Jordan…

My brain thoughts: A really solid, self-contained story guest-starring another street-level Marvel hero. The shots of Moon Knight next to the dead body of Al Jordan are creepily depicted, interspersed between the action shots of Power Man and Iron Fist looking for leads. Cowan’s pencils have really improved since his first work on the book, no doubt aided by the inking of Carl Potts. It’s a really clean looking style, instead of the rough and scratchy look of previous artists (I’m no art critic, so if I get the terminology wrong, please forgive me). The legendary Denny O’Neil scripted this book, and I wonder if this was where he and Cowan first began working together. (Denny had been editing the book of late, but this is the first one I’ve read that he wrote himself.) The pair would go on to do a fan favorite run on The Question for DC. A really excellent issue that I did not expect to be as good as it was.

#98. Story: Kurt Busiek; Pencils: Ernie Chan; Inks: Andy Mushynsky; Editing: Denny O’Neil

Among other things, this story sees the return of Joy Meachum…

…and Uncle Ward Meachum, still under the thrall of Master Khan.

After 75 something issues of existing, Iron Fist finally figures out that Ward has been trying to kill him.

My brain thoughts: Joy and Uncle Ward are back. I keep forgetting that these two exist and are still dangling out there, unresolved. Kurt Busiek wrote this issue, in what I have to imagine is one of his earlier jobs. He wasn’t quite “Kurt Busiek” yet.

#99. Writer: Kurt Busiek; Penciler: Ernie Chan; Inker: Andy Mushynsky; Editor: Denny O’Neil

#100. Writer: Kurt Busiek; Penciler: Ernie Chan; Inker: Mike Mignola; Editor: Denny O’Neil

A werewolf type character named Fera is introduced, who claims to be the head wolf that mauled Iron Fist’s mother all those years ago in K’un-Lun. Master Khan sends a magic glowing orb after Iron Fist, which drains him of his immortal soul and his power.

Luke Cage leads the attack back upon Ward and Master Khan, with Iron Fist reclaiming his soul from Master Khan.

With the destruction of the power gem, Master Khan disappears back to places unknown. Ward Meachum is taken into police custody.

 My brain thoughts: A pretty pedestrian story, but it finally seems to resolve the long-standing unresolved “threat” of Uncle Ward. I know Power Man and Iron Fist can do better than they’re being given here. (I will now dub this the Tobey Maguire and Kirsten Dunst era of Power Man and Iron Fist.) I hate werewolves and overly furry characters. Beast, Wolfsbane, whoever, it doesn’t matter. Never liked them. (Squirrel Girl is different, and not that furry really.) Fera speaks strangely too, and they’re trying to make her seem like a dangerous threat, but she’s mostly just a closet full of suck. Mike Mignola inked the 100th issue spectacular, but you would never be able to tell. Luke Cage continues to not use doors, and instead come busting through whatever wall is available. (He’s like a hip Mr. Kool-Aid. Remember in those commercials back in the 80s, Mr. Kool-Aid would come busting through the wall, and all the kids would scream “Kool-Aid!”. I wonder if their parents would come home later and wonder “what the heck happened to my wall?!?”)

#116. Writer: Jim Owsley; Penciler: Mark Bright; Inker: Jerry Acerno; Editor: Dennis O’Neil

Last issue, Power Man and Iron Fist were hired by a mysterious corporation named CCI to investigate one of their records vaults in Alaska. The guard at the vault wasn’t expecting them, and let loose with the heavy artillery, including a nuclear powered fission bazooka, which was broken and set off a nuclear explosion. Iron Fist and Luke Cage are trapped in the vault.

CCI helicopters are on their way to investigate. Meanwhile, the guard, Stanley Lumas, has physically survived the nuclear blast, but is mutated in mind and body. He shoots down the helicopter coming to rescue them.

Luke Cage freaks out about the helicopter and tries to open the vault door. Iron Fist is forced to use the iron fist to knock him out.

Before Iron Fist can close the door, Stanley comes in blasting.

Power Man and Iron Fist successfully put down Stanley, just in time for a different CCI helicopter to arrive. Quarantined off due to radiation contamination, they meet the boss of CCI.

My brain thoughts: The events of this story will have far-reaching effects on the history of Iron Fist. I thought the boss of CCI was Joy Meachum at first, but it’s not, so don’t make the mistake of getting excited about that like I did. I’ve always liked Mark Bright’s pencils.

#117. Writer: Jim Owsley; Penciler: Mark Bright; Inker: Jerry Acerno; Editor: Denny O’Neil

Luke Cage tries to lighten the mood with some football.

Due to his steel-hard skin, the radiation had no effect on him, but Iron Fist is relegated to a containment suit, slowly dying while doctors around the world try to save him. Luke Cage tries to convince Danny to return to K’un-Lun and see if there was anything mystic that could be done to save him. Maxine Walters, Chairwoman of CCI, arrives on the scene.

Meanwhile, John Lumas is notified of his brother Stanley’s death by a CCI memo.Maxine is flying Danny to Paris, when they are attacked by another CCI helicopter. It is John Lumas seeking revenge for the death of his brother.

He chases them down into the subways, where Danny is eventually forced to remove the suit and use the iron fist, essentially ensuring his death.

Maxine prevents him from striking the killing blow, and the two of them kiss.

The issue ends with Colleen trying to guilt-trip an apparently cheating Misty Knight into going with her to see their dying friend.

My brain thoughts: Oh Colleen, what have they dressed you up in? I guess no one was immune to the fashion disaster that was the ‘80s. Iron Fist is forced to remove the suit keeping him alive, thus ensuring another return to K’un-Lun.

#118. Writer: Jim Owsley; Penciler: Mark Bright; Inker: Jerry Acerno; Editor: Denny O’Neil

Iron Fist, Power Man, and Colleen Wing seek help from Doctor Druid in transporting them to K’un-Lun.

He is able to successfully transport them, but when they arrive, they find the city in ruins.

Lei Kung greets them, and pulls Danny away to discuss important mystical things with him.

Doctor Druid goes exploring, leaving Luke Cage and Colleen to do some investigating on their own. They run across a crazy old man that tells them the city was destroyed by the Dragon King’s brother, Chiantang.

Danny tells Lei Kung of the radiation poisoning that is killing him. Lei Kung offers to teach him how to use the power of the iron fist to heal himself.

Colleen admits to Luke what has been bugging her, about Misty cheating on Danny. Luke urges her to let it go, to let Danny and Misty work out whatever situations they have going on.

Luke and Colleen meet Chiantang.

Luke Cage is taken down, and buried under rock and rubble. Colleen fights Chiantang to a standstill. At least, she thinks she does, until he stops toying with her and puts her down easily.

Then he turns into a giant purple dragon.

My brain thoughts: Jim Owsley (the future Christopher Priest) infuses the book with a sense of humor that is very welcome. We get some Colleen samurai action this issue, and it is glorious. If only they didn’t have her dressed in that getup, but we all have embarrassing photos from our youth that nobody should ever see. (It’s okay Colleen, you’re still pretty. No, you do not look fat in those jeans!)

#119. Writer: Jim Owsley; Penciler: Mark Bright; Inker: Jerry Acerno; Editor: Denny O’Neil

Lei Kung teaches Danny to use the power of the iron fist to heal his radiation poisoning.

While he works, Danny is put into a trance world, where Lei Kung relays the story of the Dragon King and Chiantang to him (multi-tasker!).

He finds himself on a beach, and is warned not to enter the water, or he will never awaken from the trance. He meets a woman, the daughter of the Dragon King. She is sad. She had married a mortal against her father’s wishes, and the mortal shamed her, leaving her penniless and homeless.

Danny is transported to the castle of the Dragon King, beneath the waves. Chiantang isn’t too happy about his niece being disrespected, and storms off to K’un-Lun, destroying it in his dragon form.

A year after that incident, Chiantang and Master Khan meet. Chiantang talks of the mortal that dishonored his niece. His name was Shou Lou, and Chiantang got his revenge by turning him into a serpent, imprisoning him in a cave, and ripping out his still-beating heart.

Master Khan is amused by this story, and allows Chiantang to leave.

Flash forward through the origin of Iron Fist, and how he kills Shou Lou to gain his power.

Chiantang feels this has caused him to lose face, and moves to attack the city once again. This time he is stopped and captured by Master Khan, who forges a magical sword called the Dragonslayer, and gives it to the guards watching over Chiantang.

Three years pass, and the Dragon King’s daughter uses her shapechanging powers to free her uncle Chiantang. Chiantang, thinking it is just another guard, cuts off her head, to his immediate sorrow.

Distraught, he once again ravages the city in his dragon form.

Present day, Chiantang bursts through the wall upon Lei Kung and Danny. Lei Kung is forced to turn his attentions towards the giant dragon.

In his trance state, Danny is distraught for his perceived guilt in the destruction of K’un-Lun. If he had not killed Shou-Lou, the city would have never been attacked again. He jumps into the water.

Lei Kung faces off against the dragon Chiantang.

Suddenly, from behind, appears a fully revitalized and pissed off Iron Fist.

My brain thoughts: Interesting take on the origin of Shou-Lou the undying. It’s really fascinating how writer after writer added layer upon layer to the history of K’un-Lun over the years. Mark Bright is doing his best to channel his inner John Byrne in these issues, at least on the covers.

#120. Script: Jim Owsley; Pencils: Mark Bright; Inks: Jerry Acerno; Editor: Denny O’Neil

Iron Fist is a being of pure rage. He fights Chiantang with the full power of his inner forces unleashed.

His costume has turned red, to reflect the evil that consumes him (and prompting a neat variant action figure from the legendary and sorely missed Marvel Legends line).

With Chiantang distracted, Lei Kung and Luke Cage leave to talk to the Dragon King. When they get there, the Dragon King has no interest in helping, still distraught over the death of his daughter.

Lei Kung moves to Plan B, stealing the Dragonslayer sword form Chiantang’s private chambers. They succeed, after some obstacles, and return to fight Chiantang.

Luke moves to get Danny out of the way, while Lei Kung tries to release the mystical energies of the sword.

Both succeed, and Chiantang is transported off into another dimension.

The dragon gone, Iron Fist finally starts to form some coherent thoughts. Meanwhile, the dimension that Master Khan had devised the sword to banish Chiantang to, is Earth.

My brain thoughts: Another satisfying story revolving around the return to K’un-Lun. Throughout the history of the book, the K’un-Lun stuff was always a good bet for some quality storytelling. The twist of Chiantang being sent to Earth is a good one, and I wonder if it was ever followed up on. Once again, Owsley’s little touches of humor are a great addition to the seriousness of the plots.

My final brain thoughts: Purple dragons, inept Moon Knight, horrible were-chicks, glowing magic balls, and delicious, delicious Colleen.

Who would have thought that among a group of writers including Denny O’Neil, Kurt Busiek, and Jim Owsley, that Busiek would be the weak link? Not I, said the Back Issue guy! (How cool would it have been to get an issue done by the eventual superstar Mike Mignola, instead of the fill-in inker Mignola? Throw some of that mystic Iron Fist stuff at him and it would have been like drinking $100 bills. Sweet, delicious U.S. currency.) Denys Cowan turned in the best looking book of this bunch, followed by Mark Bright, with a pat on the back to Ernie Chan. Good job big guy.

Another quality stack of ‘80s era comics. I was not bored reading them. I’m doing a pretty solid job of randomly picking issues that wind up being significant to the ongoing legacy of the Iron Fist character. It seems as if they used a lot of the anniversary issues to go back to his specific storylines. Which is great, K’un-Lun seemed to inspire a lot of creativity in the people working on the book, layering more and more depth into the history of the city and its people. Except for Fera. Hopefully she is destroyed with acid. I can’t decide if Colleen dating Chuck Norris is awesome or horribly traumatic. (I’m leaning towards traumatic. She is my fictional obsession. I need to get my wife a white tracksuit with dragon embroidery, and a samurai sword. But does that make me Chuck Norris in this scenario? I don’t want to be Chuck Norris, I want to be Iron Fist. But if I’m Iron Fist, then I have to start dating women like Foxy Cleopatra. Yes, I have combined the Austin Powers character famously portrayed by Beyonce, with Marvel Comics mainstay Misty Knight. Whadda you going to do about it?)

We’re hitting the homestretch of the POWER MAN AND IRON FIST series, and the explosive finale that sent a young boy into the depths of despair, irrevocably damaging me for the remainder of my ill-conceived life. Well, maybe not that bad, but it did really suck.

Want to find out what happens? Me too! Join me next time.

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