Sunday, September 26, 2004

Quick comic review!

Sweet Christmas — 17 bucks for 600 pages of swingin' '70s kung-fu superhero goodness? That's what you get in Essential Iron Fist Vol. 1, one of the latest in Marvel's hefty "phone book" series of black-and-white classic reprints. This sucker collects more than 30 comics starring Marvel's kung fu white boy, Iron Fist, from his first appearances in Marvel Premiere to his own 15-issue solo run to the first issues of the team-up with jive-talking bulletproof Luke Cage in "Power Man and Iron Fist." It's a blast of a book, vintage Marvel '70s style and kookiness with a compelling, coherent plot running throughout. Unlike some of the other "Essential" volumes, I'd never read any of these comics, but this stuff holds up pretty well. We meet Danny Rand, who is taken in by one of those mysterious Himalayan secret kung-fu cults that seem to be so commonplace in the 1970s after his parents are murdered. Rand is trained by the masters of "K'un L'un" to learn kick-ass kung fu, including the mysterious "Iron Fist," which turns him into a living weapon. When Iron Fist decides to return to human society to revenge himself upon his parents' killers, he finds a world far different than the sheltered society of K'un L'un.

The stories in "Essential" take a little while to build up steam -- the early issues feature a rotating cast of writers and artists, some pretty darned poor, before it settles into Chris Claremont on words and John Byrne on art. Both were younger and IMHO far better than they are now, and the work shows the same spark as their more famous "X-Men" work. Byrne has innovative, dynamic panel layouts that really pop in black-and-white, and there's a sense of fun to it all the Claremont and Byrne work-for-hire lacks today. I think what I liked most about "Essential Iron Fist" is we really see Danny Rand change during his adventures as Iron Fist, learning revenge ain't fulfilling and forming bonds with kung-fu vixens like Misty Knight and Colleen Wing. He's a likeable, naive character and plays well off the more outrageous villains and companions. There's also cameos by all kinds of Marvel heroes in unforced ways, from Iron Man (how fitting!) to Spider-Man to the X-Men back before they took over comic books. "Essential Iron Fist" is a hefty block of reading at a decent price, and although a couple issues here suffer the poor quality reproduction that pops up in some of these "Essential" books, most are great, and you can't complain too much considering what a mountain o' comics this is. Grade: B+

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