I is for Iron Fist
Iron Fist first appeared in Marvel Premiere #15 in May 1974. This was an effort to jump onto the martial art’s bandwagon. Danny Rand was a boy who was travelling with his family in the mountains north of China, his father was betrayed and murdered by their family’s business partner and his mother died saving him from wolves, Danny was taken in by the inhabitants of a mythical city called K’un L’un. The city is where Danny’s father was taking them, knowing that it would be there on this date and no other for ten years. Taken in and cared for by the city’s leader Yu Ti, the August Personage in Jade and trained in combat by Lei Kung, the Thunderer, Danny excelled in martial arts and became the most talented in the city, giving him the chance to battle the dragon Shao Lao the Undying and acquiring the power of the Iron Fist. By 18, ten years after arriving in the city, he had done so. Given the choice of remaining in the city, eternally, or returning to his home to gain revenge, Danny (also known as Daniel Rand’Kai chose to return to New York and seek his vengeance.
Things didn’t go according to plan and what followed was a series of adventures with him, his girlfriend Misty Knight and her business partner Colleen Wing. Along the way he met with Luke Cage, the hero for hire called Power Man. The two hit it off and in a move to save them both from cancellation, became a partnership. They were a mismatched Starsky and Hutch for the Marvel Universe. The two of them had ebbs and flows of popularity and both had several series through the years. Iron Fist had a series about ten years back by Matt Fraction, Ed Brubaker and David Aja and it was a fantastic mix of intrigue, martial arts action and well written characterisation. Of any of the various attempts to give Iron Fist a headlining series, this is the one that worked the best, allowing him the team ups with other heroes, but giving his book it’s own identity.
Iron Fist has recently had his own TV series, so maybe the era of his being overlooked is coming to an end, but this has raised another issue that this character treads into, race and representation. When the casting of (y’know I don’t know the guy’s name, he’s one of them from Game of Thrones) was announced, there was a lot of furore over the fact it was a white actor and not an asian one. I disagreed with this complaint, but not for the traditionalist view of ‘he was always a white character’ stance, which is something of a fallacy. Before I piss someone off, I want to say that representation of differing races, creeds, nationalities, cultures and orientations is a serious failing in comics in particular and entertainment media in particular and no matter how far we think we have come, we’re not there yet. That said, Iron Fist is the wrong character to change that with, because he is in essence a culture clash character. Orphaned as a child, this western mortal boy was taken in by immortals from what seems to be an ancient chinese city, or is at least populated by people who look like that. Immediately he doesn’t fit in. He finds his way in and excels and becomes that city’s champion. Then he returns to his homeland. He looks like everyone else now, but having lived so long in literally another world, he doesn’t really fit in there either. His appearance is part of that. If he was an asian character, then that visual shorthand would be lost and comics and TV are visual mediums. There is now an Iron Fist that is Asian, a brand new character that doesn’t need to go over the older culture clash story and do something else and it is about time.
Iron Fist is a fun character crossing from martial arts to super-heroics to street level crime action and am glad to see him get a little more exposure.
I is for Incognito
Incognito was a limited series by Marvel Comics’ Icon imprint, which was an imprint used for creator owned comics. This series in 2008 was written by Ed Brubaker with art by Sean Phillips. The series was a throwback to the pulps of the 1930’s before the bright and shiny comic heroes of the golden age. This was grimier, grittier and all the more interesting as a result. The protagonist (I hesitate the use the word hero) is Zack Andersen, who three years ago was the science villain Zack Overkill, one of the Overkill Twins, working the science villain Black Death. Zack’s been in Witness Protection for a few years and hates this pale imitation of life that everyone else lives. To escape it, he gets high, this returns the powers he shared with his twin brother Xander and he immediately gets himself back into trouble. There were pulp heroes, villains, Feds, bad guys and Femme Fatales. This was an interesting, morally grey comic series that again, isn’t thought of much. The back pages also included essays on other pulp heroes such as The Shadow and Doc Savage as well as less well known characters like Operator 5.
Action packed and full of wit, this morally grey story with not so good ‘good guys’ and not so bad ‘bad guys’ was a lot of fun to revisit, from a creative team that went on to produce the well received and much loved Criminal. There was also a sequel to this series with the subtitle Bad Influences. A nice little hidden gem in my comic collection.
I is for Image
In the early 1990’s art was king. More and more, comics seemed to be focused on the penciler’s input. Whilce Portacio, Rob Liefeld and Mark Silvestri were the superstars of the massive selling X-Men line whilst Todd McFarlane and Erik Larsen were killing it on the Spider-Man titles in terms of sales. These 5 as well as Guardians of the Galaxy artist/writer Jim Valentino were becoming disillusioned by the pay structure at Marvel Comics. For many years by this point Marvel and DC were the only game in town for comics. There were other publishers, but Marvel and DC were the show. The problem was that Marvel owned the intellectual property of all the Marvel Universe characters and the remuneration for any new characters created in there were less than the artists felt that they were worth. Also in this group was Jim Lee, the artist who contributed to Chris Claremont’s departure from the X-Men comics after 17 years and also responsible for the I think still best selling comic of all time X-Men vol 2 #1. Jim Lee was loyal to Marvel, but he too was convinced that he could earn more elsewhere. The group went to Marvel to argue their case and when Marvel wasn’t biting, they decided to go into business for themselves. Mostly artists, this group called themselves Image each creator set up their own little studio and anything they created would remain theirs. The first batch of Image titles sold like gangbusters, including:-
Todd McFarlane’s Spawn
Rob Liefeld’s Youngblood
Jim Valentino’s Shadowhawk
Marc Silvesti’s Cyberforce
Whilce Portacio’s Westworks
Erik Larsen’s Savage Dragon
Jim Lee’s WildC.A.T.S.
Athough McFarlane and Larsen were consistent about their products, the others suffered delays, inconsistent art and release schedules and other problems that can be seen with new publishers. Within a year or two, Liefeld was forced out and the different studios diverged further away from one another, each with it’s own style, tropes and stable of talent. Eventually Jim Lee’s Wildstorm studio was sold to DC for a large sum and a high up corporate position and Lee’s business acumen became more apparent. Like many comics publishers, they suffered the boom and bust of the 90’s comics industry and often victim of the excessive of that time too. The reason that I mention them is that one thing they did do was open the doors to smaller publishers to compete in the same market against Marvel and DC who had owned the direct market since it’s inception. From Image we got things like Defiant, the resurgence of Dark Horse comics, Malibu’s Ultraverse and Valiant. Corporate owned super heroes were still the bread and butter of the comic industry, but Image opened the doors to creator owned projects and personal stories. These days, Image is still around and doing great work, focusing more on writing quality than the art obsessed founders and many of the ‘big two’s’ stable of talent moonlight there producing excellently written and well drawn work that they own outright. After Vertigo sort of faltered, the best place to find new and interesting creator owned work can be Image, with such modern classics as The Walking Dead, Invincible, Sex Criminals and Saga.
I is for Infinity Inc