Marvel has a brand new Iron Fist #1 out, hot on the heels of Netflix’s major dud of a white savior trope in the form of a TV show.
Yes, Iron Fist has been savaged by critics over the course of the last week for everything from its central trope to its lackluster script and boring fight choreography. It’s a shame to see Danny Rand’s good name tainted by the show’s performance (and by actor Finn Jones), as in comic form he’s always been a compelling character who has long since moved past his white savior beginnings to something more complex.
Forty years of comics continuity will do that to you!
Since his debut in 1974, Iron Fist has been a partner to Luke Cage, a Hero for Hire, an Avenger, and a Defender. However, his best story to date is definitely in the 2006 to 2009 series The Immortal Iron Fist. The series fleshed out the Iron Fist legend with a brand new cast of interesting (and mostly Asian) characters, and established the Fist as just one of a group of several Immortal Weapons – each with their own deadly martial arts superpowers.
Since then Iron Fist hasn’t been great on his own, with a Kaare Andrews series that undid almost all of the interesting work of Immortal. While he’s been fun to read in David Walker’s Power Man and Iron Fist, we’re now approaching a decade without another definitive Iron Fist solo story!
Will a new written by Ed Brisson with art from Mike Perkins change that? Letterer-turned-author Brisson has a slim Marvel track record, but Perkins has the perfect kind grounded style to go with a strong Iron Fist story.
Is their first issue on the road to being as memorable Immortal Iron Fist or will it be a series I’d rather forget, like The Living Weapon?
Iron Fist #1 (digital)
Written by Ed Brisson with line art by Mike Perkins, color art by Andy Troy, and letters by Travis Lanham. Cover art by Jeff Dekal.
Iron Fist #1 is a quick read that feels more like a prologue than an exiting first issue. Luckily, artist Mike Perkins might have been born ready to draw this title. (Or, at least, he’s wanted to draw it since he was 10 years old, per his note at the back of the book).
Nearly every panel of this issue looks awesome. Perkins draws a rough-edged, lived in world that is perfect for Danny Rand. Yet, Perkins’ art can be tricky to color. Too much bright color and modern digital shine tends to overwhelm his lines. The wrong colorist can add a gawkiness to his figures and disarm his art of its compelling realism.
Colorist Andy Troy is on the right track in this first issue. It starts with his palette, which is grounded in earthy tones (aside from the alien blue light of an airplane flight). The bigger asset is the way he carefully uses highlights to bring out the three-dimensional qualities of Perkin’s illustrations. These don’t feel like flat panels on a page, but windows into tiny dioramas that Perkins and Troy have built and carefully photographed.
Only once or twice in the final fight sequence does the line art feel swallowed up by color. It’s no coincidence that those panels are some of the most vividly saturated in the issue.
Perkins and Troy may already be a hit on Iron Fist, but it’s too early to tell if author Ed Brisson is an equally good fit.
Brisson has the unenviable task of building a new mythology around Iron Fist after his rich history and supporting cast were razed to the ground by his last series, Iron Fist: The Living Weapon, which could have easily been called “Iron Fist: Disassembled.”
Spoiler alert (but not really): Iron Fist’s new raison d’etre is going to involve a lot of fist fights.
Brisson spends most of the issue with Rand trolling a global, underground network of seedy fight clubs. He’s feeling directionless after the ordeal of his last series, which has left him looking for a worthy competitor to reawaken the warrior within him.
It’s a character beat that makes sense, but Brisson spends an awful lot of time on it, spending a quarter of the issue just cuing up the first fight! That makes for a lot of really impressive panels from Brisson and Troy, but not a lot of story content.
The two other scenes in the comic don’t add much beyond that, aside from a mysterious stranger who just might have the fight club to light Danny Rand’s fire.
It’s not all Brisson’s fault. He’s stuck playing the only card available to him, which is explaining that Rand is disconnected from his power due to the destruction of K’un-Lun. That adds an interesting twist to all the fighting – Iron Fist isn’t even at full power as he’s dispatching dozens of the best fighters in the world! I don’t know if we needed a full issue for that revelation.
Iron Fist #1 sets the stage for what might be an epic Iron Fist adventure, but I think we would have been better served starting with whatever issue #2 has in store for us. With a $3.99 cover price on a hero without a terrific track record of solo series (and the stink of Netflix’s critical flop hanging over the character), Brisson and his team really can’t afford a slow burn story.