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Essential Iron Fist Volume One
posted December 12, 2006
Chris Claremont, John Byrne, Gil Kane, various
Marvel Comics, softcover, 584 pages, 2004
The central irony about Iron Fist, the most superhero-y of Marvel's mid-'70s sops to that decade's martial arts craze, is that he spends an inordinate amount of time pining for his Lost Horizon
-style hidden homeland K'un-Lun even though everything we learn about the place makes it seem like the Worst Hometown Ever: our hero was resented as an outsider, various citizens would occasionally attack him, he spent all his time training his ass off with other males, the reward for his training was he got to burn a tattoo into his own chest in something akin to a ludicrous fraternity stunt where the guys who were supposed to stop it were laughing too hard to jump in, the community's leaders may have been plotting against him and his family, while the few friends the poor guy managed to put together were banished from the city into a valley of angry, sentient plant people. Even the mostly psychotic world of Marvel Comics' street-gang happy Manhattan and other assorted cityscapes had to have been a vast improvement over that Alpine craphole. Plus, he's some sort of millionaire in our world and routinely gets to hang out with beautiful, strong women. It's amazing Iron Fist didn't immediately retire the mask and spend his days racing powerboats and eating like a pig; if there were a Superhero Fit Club, one would expect to see Danny Rand on one of the first couple of seasons.
Anyway, this is almost six hundred pages of mostly solo Iron Fist
comics, which might become of interest to more fans now that the character's monthly title has been relaunched in successful fashion by David Aja, Ed Brubaker and Matt Fraction. It's a fairly typical 1970s Marvel comic: it's wordy to an astonishing degree compared to today's serials, use of the central power is repeated over and over as the solution to every problem, and the writers clearly hate the Irish, all of whom are given ludicrous accents and the icky comic book version of crude, womanizing charm (sideburns and leering).
The specific point of historical interest is getting to see John Byrne's first extended Marvel work. Except for a bizarre stretch where he's inked by Frank Chiaramonte to a thin and feathery result the exact opposite way Byrne is usually inked, what you get is solid work -- especially fun are pages where Byrne uses silhouette and multiple figures to show the flow of combat. It's like those pages where Jeffy wanders around Family Circus
in a dotted line, only for ass-kicking. There's also an appearance by the Uncanny X-Men that's so appealing in comparison to the modern, mopey, self-important walking metaphors it's kind of mind-blowing to remember they're the same characters. All in all, this is one of the more entertaining Essentials, particularly as this work was so little read in its time. It could get you through an airplane flight pretty easily, this one.