Funnybook Babylon

August 30, 2007

Autopsy Report – The Immortal Iron Fist: The Last Iron Fist Story

Filed under: Reviews — Matt Jett @ 2:09 am

Ladies and Gentlemen, Danny Rand

Written by Ed Brubaker and Matt Fraction
Drawn by David Aja
Collects The Immortal Iron Fist 1 – 6.

The Last Iron Fist Story is not about the Iron Fist, nor Danny Rand. Rand may be the protagonist but the story, and the series to date, is about the rich legacy of the Iron Fist itself, not simply about those who have wielded it. The name, passed from warrior to warrior, generation to generation, is brought fully to the fore and given a rich character and history all its own.

The genius part about this is that for the first thirty-plus years of the character’s existence, there was no grand Iron Fist history. Danny Rand existed, K’un L’un was there, but everything else about the Iron Fist concept was a fairly bland mish-mash of martial arts genre tropes and ill-thought out attempts at character development. Once the Brubaker/Fraction team took over and launched The Immortal Iron Fist, that all changed.

An Early Iron Fist

Brubaker and Fraction invented an entire mythology out of the fragments of Danny Rand’s background and identity, and did it in such a seamless way that your average reader, having done no research into Rand’s origin or exploits, has no idea that the level of intricacy and the depth of the history presented is solely the work of these two men. Their efforts make Danny Rand, and nearly every Iron Fist of old mentioned in the book, a far more compelling character, one that you want to follow as he delves into the real meanings and responsibilities associated with his mantle.

The quality of the writing and the ideas presented in each issue are more than enough to recommend The Immortal Iron Fist to anyone who enjoys comics, but the title’s great qualities are not limited to the words in each issue. David Aja, the artist for the majority of the pages in the series, and Matt Hollingsworth, the colorist, combine their efforts to produce some of the most interesting, innovative art this side of J.H. Williams III.

An example of panel composition

The panel composition on each page is striking, lending an incredibly kinetic feel to every scene. One of the best examples is linked above. The seemingly arbitrary dividing lines break the three images used here into film cell-esque blocks of movement, forcing your eye to take each segment in rapid succession instead of absorbing it all at once. This turns the static medium of the printed page into something much more fluid. The technique is used repeatedly throughout the series, making each fight scene truly dynamic and giving the reader the feeling that he’s watching a kung-fu movie instead of simply reading a comic.

Hollingsworth adds a muted color palette, which makes the colorful costumes of Iron Fist and his adversaries jump off the page. He is also very good at using a monotone palette, saturating specific scenes with specific colors, and carrying that through the entire series. Davos, the primary villain of the series appears in panels that are almost exclusively red, green or purple, depending on the other forces involved in the scene. Flashbacks to previous Iron Fists have the vividness of their color noticeably heightened, lending weight to them and emphasizing their disconnection from the main narrative. Examples litter every page, as the color of each scene was clearly not an afterthought to the creation process.

ironfist3.png

In addition to the technical factors behind the quality of The Immortal Iron Fist, the title is also a great read because Brubaker and Fraction very clearly have a story they want to tell with this character and his history. Nothing is done arbitrarily, and there seems to be a long-term plan involved. This allows the writing team to drop hints and plant seeds for future stories while remaining as self-contained as an ongoing, serial narrative can. The first arc reads like a movie, with clearly defined acts and a cliffhanger that, instead of being gratuitous, is a natural break point and a compelling lead into the next arc. The pacing is tight, juxtaposing all-out action scenes with moments of quiet reflection, and the authors show a refreshing willingness to leave captions and dialogue out of many panels, letting Aja’s command of body language and expressions tell the story.

The style is everything for Iron Fist, from the specifics of the art and the writing to the more nebulous qualities like the tone and the feelings elicited when reading the book, either for the first time or for a fourth or fifth re-read. Every little thing about the craftsmanship that went into making this comic combine to create an incredibly cohesive, compelling read that is well worth a spot on your bookshelf.

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