Wednesday, March 3, 2010

Marvel Unbound - The Immortal Iron Fist Omnibus

I didn’t read any Power Man and Iron Fist comics back in the day. In fact, it wasn’t until I started reading things like the House of M trade paperback and the current New Avengers run and playing Marvel: Ultimate Alliance that I really got to know who Luke Cage, née Power Man, really is. And Iron Fist? Well, I didn’t know who he was beyond a kelly green and lemon yellow costume obviously born out of the Me decade obsession with chop-socky film culture until I started reading Ed Brubaker and Matt Fraction’s revival title.

It’s no secret I’m
a fan of Brubaker and Fraction. So it should come as no surprise that I love what they did in energizing this Marvel ’70s staple character. Back in 2007, my local comic book shop guy knew I was reading Brubaker on Captain America, and recommended I give The Immortal Iron Fist a try. I was blown away by the first trade paperback collection and immediately started picking up the current monthly issues on the shelves. Knowing how cohesive the first story arc was, I put off reading “The Seven Capital Cites of Heaven” storyline until it was complete, eventually taking them all in one sitting.

After I had collected the entire run, I bought the story in trade paperback and immediately reread The Immortal Iron Fist, Volume 1: The Last Iron Fist and Volume 2: The Seven Capital Cities of Heaven in quick succession. And when Marvel solicited The Immortal Iron Fist Omnibus last year, I couldn’t resist its call. My amazing wife came through in a huge way by ensuring this gorgeous book found its way under the Christmas tree.

Because this title was originally recommended to me before I was completely aware of who Brubaker and Fraction were, and I was fairly ambivalent about the character going in, a large part of the appeal was initially David Aja’s art. If ever there was a poster child for cover art that can sell a book, the first year and a half or so of Immortal Iron Fist are it. I was consistently blown away month after month by Aja’s (and other’s) cover art on the title, and if I hadn’t been reading the book I would have definitely been considering it on the strength of what was peering out from the shelves of the local comic book shop. And Aja’s interiors are the best of the series, a perfect pairing of story and art.

The tales contained within by Brubaker and Fraction and illustrated by Aja create one of the richest tapestries of character history, ongoing adventure, and Eastern mysticism. The writers introduce a simple but compelling premise to the Iron Fist mythos: that for sixty-six generations there has always been an Iron Fist. This “legacy power” idea enabled the writers to weave one-offs into the title (two within the ongoing series – issues #7 and #15; and two over the course of book – Annual #1 and Orson Randall & the Green Mist of Death; all collected here) chronicling the exploits of past Iron Fists and add emotional weight to the current character.

Although I have heard others complain about it being disrupted by the sequential placement of some of the one-offs, there is a logical flow to the omnibus. It moves from “The Last Iron Fist Story,” introducing Orson Randall to the mythos, to the traditional battle between the seven Capital Cities of Heaven’s analogous Immortal Weapons that occurs each generation.

As Danny Rand’s immediate predecessor as the Iron Fist, the first story arc is as much Orson’s story as it is Danny’s. Much of the history around Orson and his friendship with Danny’s father Wendell is explored here. Brubaker and Fraction weave a familiar theme into the book, one of brothers. There is Danny and Orson, Orson and Wendell, Wendell and Davos (the Steel Serpent and one of the book’s antagonists). That last relationship in particular echoes Snake-Eyes and Storm Shadow’s from Marvel’s original G.I. Joe series.

Both James Hilton’s book and Frank Capra’s film adaptation of Lost Horizon are among my favorites of their respective mediums, and I see elements of both woven throughout these Immortal Iron Fist tales. From the hidden city concept to the references of the “Kuen-Lun” mountains in Lost Horizon (“K’un Lun” is the Iron Fist’s city) to the powers of Eastern mysticism, there are threads throughout Brubaker and Fraction’s stories that lead directly – if not intentionally – back to that influential work.

As far as the omnibus itself goes, it’s the complete package and near-perfect in every way, right down to the color-coordinated green cover with yellow-gold embossed lettering found under the dust jacket. Apart from the stories contained within, the book also includes a wealth of extras. The Origin of Danny Rand (reprinting Marvel Premiere #15 and #16 with a Fraction framing story) i
s incorporated here, along with the repackaged and original Marvel Premiere covers.

Spanish artist Aja’s covers for the first six issues of this new series are truly graphic art, and seeing them presented in the omnibus, unencumbered by corporate logos and UPCs, is stunning. The curtain is pulled back a bit on Aja’s cover process for issue #1, along with the inks for that cover and pages from issues #0, #1, and #7. Eleven pages of character designs with commentary by Aja are also presented (this feature has quickly become one of my favorites among collected edition extras). Along with Aja’s work, we get Gabriele Dell’Otto and Kaare Andrews’ variant covers.

Text-based extras include the lengthy Iron Fist OHOTMU entry, the original story pitch by Brubaker and Fraction, original script excerpts for issues #0 and #1, and a slight-but-fun early “Behind-the-Scenes E-Mail Exchange” between Brubaker, Fraction, and Aja about the development of the Mechagorgons.

My one and only complaint is that Civil War: Choosing Sides (The Immortal Iron Fist #0) is presented in the back of the book as a part of the extras when it actually should be read first from a chronology perspective. But that’s hardly worth getting your little yellow silk booties in a twist over when everything else presented here is spot-on!

I can’t recommend The Immortal Iron Fist Omnibus highly enough. Other than the seminal Marvel Super Heroes Secret Wars, Brubaker and Fraction’s run on this title is the only comic series I have spent money on and read in three formats: single issues, trade paperback, and omnibus. And even after reading and rereading this story so many times, it has been worth every penny.


George said...

Good stuff Mr. B!

George said...

Good stuff MR B!