Jan 21, 2013

Back Issue Ben: Iron Fist, Part 9

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

Part Nine: The Return! (or is it?)

Last time, you saw me reveal the comic that caused my mental breakdown as a child, the final issue of Power Man and Iron Fist. For years I mourned the death of quite possibly my second favorite superhero character of all time, Iron Fist. Finding consolation in X-Men and Spider-Man comics, never even wondering for a second there could be a day when he would return to the world of comics anew.

And then, there came a day unlike any other…

John Byrne had returned to work for Marvel Comics in the early ‘90s. In the years since he worked on Iron Fist and the X-Men with Chris Claremont, he had become one of the superstars of the industry. He had successfully established himself as a writer/artist, with most of the books he worked on receiving universal acclaim. He left Marvel to reboot and revitalize Superman for DC, to various levels of acceptance. Byrne eventually made his way back to Marvel, and began work on a new Namor book, as writer and artist.

I don’t remember exactly how I learned about what happened next, but I imagine wandering into my local comic shop one unsuspecting day, only to receive a figurative kick to the face. Right there on the new comic releases shelf, on the cover of Namor: The Sub-Mariner #16, rendered beautifully by John Byrne, was Iron Fist punching Namor right in the face. Could it be true? Was Iron Fist finally returning? I’m fairly certain I immediately plunked down my dollar to find out.

So, was this the long-awaited (by me at least) return of Iron Fist? Read along with me, will you?

Namor: The Sub-Mariner #15. Story/art: John Byrne; Editor: Terry Kavanagh

(First, we’re going to back up an issue, as this was the beginning of the storyline. I hadn’t been reading Namor at the time, so I couldn’t have known that Iron Fist had returned(?) until I saw him on the cover the following month.)

Namor is the head of a corporation called Oracle, Inc. He is notified by an Atlantean warrior that his wife Dorma, long thought dead, had mysteriously reappeared in Atlantis. As he prepares to make his return to Atlantis, Namor makes the rounds to notify people of his departure.

After a long trek, Namor and Namorita return to Atlantis. He confirms that someone that looks like Dorma has returned to the city, but has the intellect of a child. While he waits for an elite squad to investigate Dorma’s final resting place, Namor’s attentions turn to the unusually warm waters, together with an unknown foreign element, that is making the citizens of Atlantis sick.

The source of the trouble has been traced to the Savage Land, but so far the three parties that have been sent there have disappeared without a trace. Namor decides to travel to the Savage Land himself, to discover the secret of the affliction falling over his people.

When Namor arrives, he finds vast structures being constructed, indicating some kind of massive operation. As he looks out, a mysterious figure sneaks up behind him in the shadows. A massive blow is struck…

…and the figure stands revealed as Iron Fist.

My brain thoughts: Most of the book deals with elements from Namor’s ongoing storylines, but Iron Fist finally appears on the final page, acting a little bit strangely. John Byrne’s art is still as good as it ever was. John Byrne’s writing is a little bit on the wordy side, and a little bit…flowery. Funny how he and Claremont couldn’t maintain their working relationship, but then Byrne ends up being every bit as wordy as a writer. (He’s got to be one of the most exposition heavy writer/artists I can think of.)

#16. Written and drawn by: John Byrne; Edited by: Terry Kavanagh

Prologue one sees Shanna return home to find Ka-Zar missing, and signs of a struggle. A second prologue sees Colleen (Colleen!) finding a note from Misty saying she knows where Danny is.

The last prologue sees Namor’s current girlfriend Phoebe Mars demanding arrangements be made to take her to Atlantis. Namorita is worried that Namor has been gone too long without any word. She meets up with a freshly arriving Phoebe.

Namor awakens tied to posts, and surrounded by heat lamps. He is the prisoner of Ward Meachum.

Before he can get any answers out of Uncle Ward, a very boisterous Danny Rand enters the room. He tries to determine how much Namor knows about his operation, all while making threats to kill him. Namor then breaks free from his bonds, and punches Danny clear out of the structure.

The battle is on.

Misty Knight looks on from afar, determined to discover the truth of Danny Rand’s reappearance.

The fight continues, with Namor continuing to question the actions and words of a man he has only heard noble things about.

Namorita and Phoebe have made it into the Savage Land, where we’re treated to a clothes changing scene from Phoebe. (The giant mosquito reminds me of the scene from Land of the Lost, a previously mentioned favorite of Back Issue Ben. Plus, Byrne drew some ginormous boobs on that one didn’t he?)

Namor is staggered by a seemingly invisible force from behind him. Before Iron Fist can move in for the finishing strike, Namorita comes flying in and punches him off the cliff.

Iron Fist looks up to find himself staring down the barrel of Misty’s gun.

Namorita and Namor fly down to look for Iron Fist. A shot bounces off the skull of Namorita. The shot came from Misty’s gun, and now, Iron Fist threatens Namor to surrender, or he’s going to splatter his cousin’s brains all over the jungle floor.

My brain thoughts: This is it, the return of…Ward Meachum! Danny Rand doesn’t appear to be acting like the Danny Rand we used to know at all. Ruthless tactics, and an overall harsh attitude. At this point you have to assume it’s mind control or he’s being pretending for some reason. (As a kid, I fully accepted Iron Fist was probably doing the right thing. I didn’t have any feelings one way or another about Namor, so as far as I was concerned, Iron Fist was doing what he had to do. And I supported him, fully.) John Byrne still draws an excellent Iron Fist. He is also well versed in scenes of women undressing and/or changing clothes.

#17. Written and drawn by: John Byrne; Edited by: Terry Kavanagh

Joy Meachum is speaking to the United Nations on behalf of Rand Meachum’s exploitation of the Savage Land.

She signals the arrival of Ka-Zar, who intends to speak as unofficial ambassador to the faraway land.

Back in the Savage Land, Namor and his allies find themselves locked in an unbreakable cage. Shanna arrives, and then departs to find whatever gadget is magnetically bonding the cage closed.

Phoebe is in Ward Meachum’s quarters, and tells her cryptically about his goal for power in all this.

Misty watches Iron Fist as he supervises the work being done. She can tell that something is different in him. She is right. As soon as she leaves, this Iron Fist begins to think thoughts the real Danny Rand would never think.

Shanna was unable to find the power source for the cage, but Namor gives her a scrap of clothing and sends her off to find his Griffin. She finds it, and they ride back to free Namor.

Namor and Namorita, together with the Griffin’s strength, are able to break open the cage door, and they tear into the soldiers around them.

Misty walks in on Ward about to physically attack Phoebe. Ward lets it slip that her beloved Danny isn’t really alive after all.

Ward continues to brag, about how he will be the king of the entire planet, with the most beautiful woman in the galaxy as his queen. Iron Fist enters the room, and scolds Ward for talking too much. Before he can continue, he is alerted to the sounds of battle outside. Having decided the time for subterfuge is no longer necessary, he changes back into his true form.

The form of the Super Skrull!

My brain thoughts: You have got to be kidding me! This was like eating a big bowl of ice cream right in front of a little kid. It would be like buying a child a puppy, and then making him watch as you take it to the pound a few days later, for no reason. How do you tease the return of Iron Fist and then pull it right from our greasy little palms like that? I’m almost positive this was one of the deciding factors in me giving up reading comics for a while. (The real reason was that I was getting to be Junior High School age, and the prospect of girls was much more appealing at the time than comic books.)

All hyperbole aside, this was probably one of my earliest major disappointments in comic books. I was so excited to see Iron Fist back. There was a minor buzz around the previous issue, with it actually being sold above cover price for a short while. And then it all turns out to be an imposter. That’s Tobey Maguire levels of wrongness.

#18. Written, penciled, inked, ‘n’ lettered by: John Byrne; Edited by: Terry Kavanagh

Misty Knight is shocked. She had gone from thinking her former lover Iron Fist had returned from the grave, but it was revealed to be the Super Skrull in disguise.

The Super Skrull taunts her, but Misty is convinced that he knew things only the real Danny Rand could have known, so that he must be alive somewhere. (A glimmer of hope? I wouldn’t have known at the time, as I immediately stopped reading the title after the last issue.)

Outside, Namor and his friends have no trouble with the Super Skrull’s soldiers. Namor demands to know what the Skrull’s game is. And of course, the Skrull plans to destroy the entire planet.

Back at the United Nations, the committee concedes that they have no authority to prevent Rand Meachum’s exploitation of the Savage Land.

Phoebe tries to motivate a still shocked Misty. They demand Ward tell them what exactly is being planned here.

The Super Skrull had cooked up a plan to use the resources of Rand Meachum to exploit the Savage Land for his needs. He freed Ward from prison to help with the ruse, and hypnotized Joy to go along with their plan.

The Skrull plans to use the alien machines that control the environment in the Savage Land, to melt the ice covering Antarctica, setting off a chain of events that will cause the great ring of fire surrounding the Pacific rim to explode. The exact effects are unknown, but the planet will die in any number of ways. (Is this comic trying to teach me something about preserving the environment? No learning!)

Ward has been promised an entire planet of his own to rule, and the most beautiful woman in the Skrull galaxy as his queen. Phoebe immediately starts laughing at this part of his tale, and taunts him about what exactly he thinks a beautiful woman looks like to a skrull. (I find it hilarious that this portion of the plot revolves around something as superficial as the beauty, or lack thereof, of an alien woman. Like Ward Meachum just realized, “oh man, you mean she might not really be hot?! Maybe I should stop helping to DESTROY THE PLANET EARTH!”)

Shanna hops on a dinosaur, while Namor and Namorita take turns punching the Super Skrull.

After taking a short beating, the Skrull flees to activate the machines that are now ready to begin the process of destroying the planet. Before he can, Ward Meachum stands his way.

Ward, suddenly realizing that a Skrull woman might not be worth destroying the planet for, moves to instead destroy the Skrull’s machines.

He is fried where he stands by the Super Skrull. As Ward lays dying, Namor swoops in and destroys the machinery.

The Super Skrull yells at Namor about foiling his plans (the villain always seems so shocked that someone dared to prevent their schemes from happening), and then flies off to fight another day. Namor lets the Super Skrull leave, with his attention once again turning toward Atlantis.

My brain thoughts: I don’t really care what happened here. It was the stupid Super Skrull instead of Iron Fist. That’s a load of crap. I bet Tobey Maguire and Kirsten Dunst both loved this comic.

My final brain thoughts: Griffins, Land of the Lost, bikinis, Iron Fist, not Iron Fist, and ugly alien chicks.

This four-part story is a perfect representation of the perilous highs, and the depressing lows, of comic book fandom. Here I thought one of my all-time favorite characters might finally be returning for some new stories. Instead, it was a hurtful (and quite possibly criminal) trick pulled by the man that had made me love the character in the first place, John Byrne.

Would he redeem himself? Would the hints dropped about the real Danny Rand possibly being alive somewhere come to fruition? Well kids, you know the drill, come back next time to find out.

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