Tuesday, June 2, 2009

the Immortal Iron Fist #22-25 "Escape from the Eight city"

Marvel's "the Immortal Iron Fist" has just concluded it's latest story arc, featuring the talents of regular writer Duane Swierczynski and artist Travel Foreman. 

Following the publication of a one shot "Tales of the Iron Fist" issue designed to give the penciler more time to spend on the arc, Marvel believed that the publication of "Escape from the Eight city" will be less troubled than it's similarly-titled predecessor. And while "the Seven capital cities of Heaven" remains so far unequaled when it comes to delays and fill ins, the publisher still had to place an inventory story in the middle of the story arc, in order to give Foreman more time to pencil the remaining chapters. The result turned into a strange coincidence, as both "Tales of the Iron Fist" stories link thematically to the "Escape from the Eight city" epic in an unintended way. Ostenably dealing with the Chinese history (and future), the two short stories provide interesting context which highlights the ambitiousness of the multi-part tale's creators.

Namely, both one shots deal with unlikely champions that bring salvation to their people using their special talents. The longer piece poses a much more complex moral dilemma to the title character, when compared to the legends of the warriors who whore the same mantle. In fact, it's easy to understand Foreman's delays and Marvel's decision to hire fill-in artists on the portions of the story not featuring Danny Rand himself. The scope of "Escape from the Eight city" is just as broad as it's morality, featuring complicated set pieces with dozens of characters, with most of them being new designs to further complicate things on the artist's end. Foreman manages the responsibility, in that his work features a lot of energy and stronger definition than before, thanks to the use of more traditional layouts.

Compared to the previous "Immortal Iron Fist" stories, this one is the most straight-forward, taking place chiefly in the eponymous Eight capital city of Heaven, actually a hellish, nightmare realm, only hinted at before. This effectively turns the book into outright fantasy, with only the Iron Fist's re imagined mythology to balance the experience. Taking a cue from the aforementioned Brubaker/Fraction story arc, Swiercyznski centers the conflict on the dishonesty pervading the legend of Iron Fist. The difference in the first creative team's approach is most evident by the absence of Orson Randall, with the current writer substituting him with the first Iron Fist, an individual no less complex than the Golden Age Iron Fist.

The hard choices forced upon Danny Rand, and his need to sort out through the half-truths to make a difficult decision regarding Kun' Lun are always the narrative center of the book, with to the detriment of the book's famous kung fu fights. The unique challenges that are forced on Iron Fist and his allies in their hellish surroundings are actively centered around their fighting abilities, due to the story's focus  for most of the time remain afterthoughts. The signature moves and their over the top names have always been part of the title's charm, which is the greatest indicator of the seriousness that pervades the arc.

The particular focus is also the reason why the storyline doesn't cohere. The nightmare Eight city needed to be much better developed, for the authors to try to present it as ages-old, retroactively fitting with the Iron Fist origins. The inhabitants are visually varied and consistent in some of their various factions, but due to the lack of space, only their leader gets the definition needed to feel like a physical presence. 

Of course, in the plot-oriented story tying back to the very first Iron Fist, the setting doesn't have to be as prominent, when the book sport such a colorful supporting cast. Dispensing entirely with Luke Cage and Misty Knight, the creators deliberately stayed away from Marvel Universe at large, in order to exploit the title's premise to it's best, hence spotlighting the seven Immortal Weapons. Danny's cohorts are perfectly placed, starring in the story that keeps believing in the book's particular mythology, instead of focusing on the publisher's current "Dark Reign" event direction. Still, the fast pacing and focus on Danny mean that his fellow warriors get very little time to develop beyond their background role. The obvious favorite Fat Cobra is once again the most prominent, while most of the others admittedly have a role, it's a very light one. Perhaps Marvel would've been better advise to have published the soon to come "Immortal weapons" mini-series before this arc, because as of right now, the champions feel little developed since their remarkable debut.

That may have been the book's biggest problem, that it jumped to follow up what was presumably one of Brubaker/Fraction's last ideas. As in the last arc, Swierczynski gave his best to flesh out the idea to it's best, but this time around, he may just have hurried too much with the execution in the first place. Spotlighting the Eight Celestial City would have worked much better if the other planes adjacent to Kun' Lun have been already developed, along with their respective champions. By showing the reader the last mysterious realm first, the creators seem as in hurry to get to the next high concept idea. Ideally, marrying the concept of the Eight city with their original take on the first Iron Fist, seem like a well-founded move, but it comes to the expense of ignoring major parts of the recent mythology.

"The Immortal Iron Fist" is poised to release only one more issue before the book goes on hiatus, to be continued by the previously-mentioned mini-series. The title's future is to be determined by Marvel's future publishing decisions, but they would be well advised to keep the current creative team, as the book is currently one of their most interesting and original offerings, showing no signs of stopping to both interest and entertain it's readers in the character that was long considered to be out of fashion.

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